Some 6,859 teams stormed 458 courts Saturday as the 25th installment of the world’s largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament engulfed downtown Spokane.
Many of the 26,810 Hoopfest players weren’t much bigger than the ball. Others had crossover dribbles that long since qualified for AARP.
The biggest winners were the spectators. The sky had patchy clouds to begin the day that were never able to mount so much as a sprinkle. The sun made a huge splash in the afternoon and the wind blew just enough to blame for some of those long-range misses.
“We got very lucky today. It was very nice to wake up and see sunshine,” said Rick Steltenpohl, the outgoing executive director of Hoopfest. “It’s the community’s event. Look at the fans. Look at the players. The magic is all of us.”
Hoopfest began in 1990 when many of Saturday’s players weren’t even born.
“There are a lot of volunteers who make this happen. The players self-monitor themselves very well,” Steltenpohl said. “We can come out as old men and little kids and just all play basketball.”
Mailmen fail to deliver
Four dudes from Sandpoint failed to notch a win Saturday, but at least their second loss came before a huge crowd at the elite high school center court in front of Riverfront Park.
They wore unbuttoned short-sleeved dress shirts, which didn’t do much more than remind people why others don’t wear dress shirts on the basketball court.
“We just wanted to be unique,” said Dylan Kuzmich, 17, of Sandpoint. “This shows a lot of skin. So it makes us look cool on a hot summer day.”
The Mailmen, which also included Broc Coppess, Michael Bilyeu and Matt Timothy, all 17, have played together since the seventh grade.
Asked why they lost a close game, all three of his teammates quickly pointed to Coppess, who frowned. With sweat dripping off their chins and the wind whipping their unbuttoned shirts – which they all scored Saturday morning from a thrift store – the teammates headed for a long return drive to Sandpoint.
“It’s a fun experience,” Kuzmich said. “It’s not that long of a drive.”
Missoula team feeling it
The following game on the court brought more success for a team of players mostly from Missoula who called themselves the “Four O Six Strokers.”
They seemed to follow their theme as headband clad Cameron Morton, 17, stroked a 2-pointer to beat “We Out Here” by a score of 20-12.
Unlike the Mailmen, the Strokers actually had a place to stay in Spokane. Their team included Elijah Redfern, Isaiah Bohlken, and Jacob Dargan, all 16.
“In our first game, we were a little rusty,” Redfern said of their opening loss.
Asked if the long-range shot that won the game was part of his game, the 6-foot-5 Morton said it was.
“I like to branch out. At the next level, unless I grow to be 6-9, I’ll probably play the 2 (shooting guard) or 3 (small forward).”
Morton moved last year to San Diego, but otherwise most of the team has been playing together since the third grade. All of them had played in Hoopfest before with Redfern making his sixth event.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “I love Hoopfest.”
Bohlken agreed. “It’s the best weekend of the year.”