By Paul Esau (Sports Editor)
It may not have been Duke versus Arizona, Ohio versus Kentucky, or even Washington versus North Carolina, but UFV’s own 3-on-3 “March Madness” Tournament had its share of impossible victories, game-changing shots, and heart-breaking defeats. On March 26, UFV’s street-ballers, weekend warriors, and rec league players came together in a ferociously contested battle for champion status of the “3-on-3 division” (not one, unfortunately, recognized by the NCAA). They may not have been the “best of the best”, since varsity players are banned from playing in the tournament, but they were still men with a tremendous amount of skill and passion for the game of basketball.
When I walked into the gym on Saturday morning, basketball shoes clutched in one hand and camera in the other, I didn’t know what to expect. I’d been told that all eight teams were full and so I wouldn’t get a chance to play, but I’d brought my gear just in case, betting that someone wouldn’t show. It turned out that a whole team had dropped out Friday night, so I signed a bunch of waivers and joined “Team Gallinari”.
Named after an Italian NBA star, the team consisted of three other “walk-ins” like me–Alex “Gallinari” Newby, Dino Sehomerovic, and “Pho” (I think this was his secret agent codename). I knew two of them from late night encounters at the ARC open gym, so I knew I’d found a solid post in Alex, and a Globetrotters-worthy outside shooter in Dino, but I still figured our chances of progressing much farther than the round robin were mediocre. In addition, the absence of a three-point line (all shots were worth one point in the “robin”) really hurt Dino, who I figured was the one player on our team who could score with any sort of regularity. My outside shooting has always been atrocious, and the other two members of our team (Alex and Pho) didn’t seem much better at it, so Dino was going to have to carry us.
I’d done some scouting prior to the tournament, talking to few veterans, and there was one name everyone had mentioned: Wolfpack. As the 3-on-3 equivalent of the Los Angeles Lakers, the Wolfpack had been in the tourney finals in four of the previous events and won the whole thing three times. Once I saw their team on the floor–consisting of Masi Mahmood, Jesse Byman, Jacob Fauth, and the monstrous Josh Sharpe, I agreed with my sources that they were probably the favourites to win. I also had my eye on the “Mustard Tigers,” a team I’d previously played against at the ARC, and, although consisting entirely of volleyball players (I’d usually say “pansies” but that was before I met Peter van Broderode), they looked pretty darn scary.
The Round Robin
Despite being thrown together last minute, and employing a washed-up small forward in yours truly, Team Gallinari utterly destroyed the competition. We were up 3-0 in less time than it takes to say “Cinderella story”, leaving a trail of bruised pride and angry disbelief in our wake. I’d like to say that it was my sick skills that carried us, but that would be denying Dino a magical streak where he shot 80% or so from the floor. Things were going great until…
Team Gallinari vs. Team Baker House
The Baker House boys were a smooth mix of skill and sportsmanship which scored them a quick 8-2 lead and kept us from hating them for it. With big man Eric Anderson banging hard in the post, and the charismatic Jeremy Doron outside, they were well on the path to victory. That is until Dino and Agent Pho launched a crazy comeback that, when the dust settled, kept us rolling in W’s. Final score: 11-8 Gallinari.
Team Gallinari vs. The Mustard Tigers:
We lost this game because of a soft-spoken man with an unpronouncable last name: Kyle Lienweber. Team Gallinari was out-worked, out-hustled, and generally out-performed, although I’m proud to say we out-fouled the Tigers by a considerable margin. Final score 5-11 Tigers.
Team Gallinari vs. THE WOLFPACK
Coming into this game, Team Gallinari was 4-1 while the Wolves had accumulated a perfect five wins. Their gameplan was to throw it inside to the Incredible Hulk (a.k.a. Josh Sharpe) and watch him ravage the opposition. Our plan started with “D”, ended with “ino”, and was wearing an attractive pair of purple shorts. Final score: Tie 10-10
We’d done it! We’d killed the giant, or at least fought him to a draw. Time to celebrate with pizza and pop courtesy of Student Life, and watch a good ol’ fashioned Dunk Comp. The highlight of this event was Masi Mahmood, whose perfect throws were the envy of every amateur dunker in the house. Someone’s been practicing on the nine-foot hoops, eh Masi?
With the elimination round came the return of the three-point line, a blessing that Dino would abuse considerably. Baker House, Team Gallinari’s first opponent, gave us some stiff competition, but they eventually succumbed to our good looks and high-tempo style. In the second round, team Mustard Tiger took us to a nail-biting 10-9 endgame, providing the opportunity for me, Paul Esau, to try an ill-timed spin move into Peter van Bredode’s left pectoral. In the ensuing scramble, falling out of bounds, I threw up a prayer which incredibly, impossibly, sank. It was the only shot I hit all game, and yet the only one I needed.
Showdown: Team Gallinari vs. THE WOLFPACK
This was it, best two out of three, with everything on the line. At point we had Dino against alpha wolf Jacob Fauth, at post Alex against Masi, and at wing me against Josh Sharpe. The good news was that Josh Sharpe had dislocated his finger, the bad news was it had just made him angry.
Game 1: Dino conjures up a heap of physics-bending insanity, which despite some of the best defense I’ve ever seen on the part of Jacob Fauth, gives Team Gallinari an easy lead. Agent Pho subs in and wins the Asian showdown against the Wolfpack’s Steve Kim. Alex hits a three. Mr. Sharpe takes me to school, and teaches me a little move called the spin-hook. Score: 11-7 Gallinari.
Game 2: The wolves come out snarling and quickly grab a dominating lead. We counter by adopting the innovative technique of “hack-a-shaq”, or, in our case, “hack-a-sharpe”. I score a beautiful four-foot jumper to improve my overall shooting ration to 3%. It’s a massacre. Score: 11-1 Wolfpack
Game 3: Sharpe scores, Dino scores, Sharpe scores, Dino scores, Sharpe scores, Dino scores. And yet Sharpe has the rest of the pack to back him up, while Dino has only a secret agent, a sport journalist, and the dapper Mr. Newby. In the end, the superior stamina of the Wolfpack spurr them to a commanding 11-7 victory.
Champion: THE WOLFPACK
Well, it was fun while it lasted, and second is a pretty good placing for a team thrown together five minutes before the beginning of the tournament. We all got medals, and Dino took home a much-deserved MVP.
After the presentations, I went over to talk to the brains and beauty of the Wolfpack juggernaut, Jacob Fauth and Masi Mahmood respectively. Both are tourney veterans who’ve shown the ability to lead multiple teams to victory. Jacob said something that I thought was very wise, after experiencing the grueling nature of the tournament first-hand:
“I think one thing that took over was the fact that we were a very deep team. Being in this tournament I know it’s a war of attrition, so I made sure I brought people who were bruisers, defenders, hard workers, because overall, you’re playing three games at the end. You’ve got to have the conditioning.”
After playing six hours of basketball I have a deep respect for words like “conditioning” – especially after witnessing Jacob’s oppressive defense in the final. The man deserved another title, and even though I’m a competitive guy, I don’t begrudge him the win.
But next year…Go Team Gallinari!