By Bobby Ciafardini
Rock Hill, NY – Maybe age is just a number after all.
From the sidelines of the 2nd Annual Still Hoopin’ 3-on-3 Classic, several former pros and some talented weekend warriors proved that competitive basketball is not exclusive to players under the age of 35 anymore. Athletes nowadays are lasting longer and finding some of their best years in what was once referred to as the “twilight” of a player’s career.
The tournament in Iroquois Springs featured 16 teams vying for a championship trophy and a first place grand prize of $125,000. On the hardwood at Kutcher’s Sports Academy – now home to the original floor of the old Boston Garden – there was three-time NBA All-Star Glen Rice, former Arizona standout Khalid Reeves and one-time Knicks forward Charles Smith, among the top players in attendance. The weekend tournament held its first round of qualifying games outdoors Saturday, Aug. 25 at a private sports camp in scenic Rock Hill, NY before moving the action to nearby Monticello and Kutcher’s for championship Sunday.
Teams from all across the country made their way to the tournament, looking to dethrone last year’s champs from New York. Streetball legend James “Speedy” Williams and former Knick great Michael Ray Richardson hoisted the trophy last summer, but several teams, including last year’s runner-up, Atlanta, came in hungry for the crown. Williams, fresh off his Last Man Standing One-on-One championship at Madison Square Garden, returned to Rock Hill for a chance at back-to-back titles, but this time he would be without Richardson. In his place, he brought Smith and a team of stars that included fellow streetball legend “Black Jack” Ryan and former Boston College standout Troy Bowers.
“We have players from all across the country. Many that have starred in the NBA and in college,” said event founder Robert Marder, a former Hoop It Up baller who decided to create his own tournament. “But for us, it’s not all about the individual players and the prize money; it’s about the camaraderie and bringing these players together. I think they learn a lot about life from the weekend retreat.”
Marder was one of the final cuts from the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team during his college days, but says he fulfilled his hoop dreams playing in pro-am tournaments, and now by bringing players from all walks of life together. “The players learn a lot about life through the game and their travels, and they’ve brought those lessons here to share with each other,” said Marder, who organized the event with former Wisconsin star and NBA player Cory Blackwell and Bernard Bowen, among others. “It’s a special event.” The players arrived Friday night in the Catskill Mountains, unpacked and took part in a welcome ceremony over dinner. The games started early Saturday morning and continued all afternoon until seeding was determined for Sunday. Eight of the 16 teams advanced.
Saturday night the organization honored Ryan with a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to the game of basketball. Former NBA great Chris Mullin once described Ryan as the best shooter he’d ever seen who hadn’t played in the league. His story is one of redemption. Ryan was a great high school and college player, but his career was marred by alcohol abuse and several poor life decisions. He never made the NBA, but he has enjoyed a successful career in basketball as an entertainer.
A feature film about his life is in the works and he premiered a moving documentary about his life, titled Release, during the weekend. The inspiring documentary was mentioned in a recent issue of Slam magazine.
“We’re all ballplayers. We’re here to get that ultimate sweat, and of course to try and win the whole thing,” said Ryan, who now delights both young and old as the traveling Hoop Wizard. “I thank everyone for their support and recognition and I’m very happy to be part of the tournament.”
Jason Curry, a well-known coach and player from the courts at West 4th Street in New York City, also suited up for the tournament. He described the level of competition. “It’s tremendous,” he said. “Everybody here is in tip-top condition. A lot of these guys might be in their mid to late thirties, but they’re still playing like their in their twenties. All the teams are put together well and it’s made for a great tournament.”
Curry, who today is president of Big Apple Basketball, a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting young people in attaining their educational and professional goals, added: “This is a great event that Still Hoopin’ has put together. Coming up here, we get a chance to get away from the city and bond with the guys. This tournament is valuable on so many levels. It’s important not only for physical health, but mental health, too. As you get older, a lot of players lose sight of some things like basketball, because of family and work obligations. This retreat is healthy all the way around.” Especially on the court, where each team played aggressively and with fire.
Defending champion New York, known simply as “Charles Smith’s team,” lost two games on Day 1, leaving them little room for error on the tournament’s final day. New York would come back and win two straight before dropping a heart-breaker to Glen Rice and company in the late rounds. The final day was double elimination and New York would have to win out to defend its crown.
Charles Smith and company bounced back from the loss to Rice’s squad and would later beat his team in the semifinals to advance to the championship. The semifinal matchup was one of the best games played during the tournament.
“Taking three or four years off, not playing at all after my career, and then being able to spend some time healing up and working out, it’s fun to get back out on the court,” said Smith, who enjoyed a solid pro career, but unfortunately is remembered most for missing four consecutive shots under the basket as he attempted to tie Game 5 of the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals against the Chicago Bulls. Today, Smith, who retired in 1997 due to knee injuries, works in business. “The camaraderie was great and the competition was fierce.”
Rice said it was a tremendous honor participating. “Still Hoopin’ is doing is a great thing for everyone involved,” he said. “This tournament goes to show that the guys over 35 still got it. We’re just trying to have some fun.”
New York would meet Atlanta in the final, but after taking an early lead, Atlanta stormed back and took the championship 21-16, avenging last summer’s loss in the inaugural tournament.
Among the famous people on hand to see the games were David “Big Daddy D” Lattin, who was recently inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame along with the rest of his 1966 Texas Western championship teammates. Lattin, a former NBA and ABA player, gave a motivational speech during the weekend and was on hand to sign copies of his latest book, Slam Dunk to Glory, which tells the story of the 1966 UTEP team – the first in NCAA history with an all-black starting lineup.
One of the sons of the late, great “Pistol” Pete Maravich, Josh Maravich, was also on hand. The younger Maravich, who like his father played for Louisiana State University, played in the NBA Development League. Today, he is CEO of Pistol Pete Enterprises and markets a series of better basketball training videos featuring his Hall of Fame father.
“It truly was a special weekend that reached beyond basketball,” said Bowen, who’s known as “The Mayor Events in New York,” having been part of the organizing of several major basketball tournaments this summer. “We look forward to coming back next year.”
Still Hoopin’ was sponsored by Zico, Firstborn, Beach Tennis USA, Marquis Jet and Ariel Mutual Funds. For more information, visit www.stillhoopin.com