NBA event comes to Baltimore

Hoop-It-Up gives teams chance to shine, hotshots opportunity to show stuff

August 25, 2002|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

The Wizards were here, small shooters in clean, baby-blue uniforms. There was a ragtag bunch in their 20s called Special Delivery -- so named, their team captain said, because "we're trying to deliver losses to people."

And there was "The Future," a team of 13-year-olds who play at the Cecil-Kirk Recreation Center in East Baltimore, coached by a hyped-up dad named Kevin Morton.

They flocked to Mondawmin Mall yesterday for the NBA Hoop-It-Up Tournament's 12th visit to Baltimore. Billed as the world's largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament, the traveling event attracted 2,000 players on 400 teams, from "top guns" with college experience to children as young as 8.

Today, the best teams in 50 divisions will meet in final games for trophies and prizes.

The mall's large parking lots were covered with more than 50 courts, with thin orange lines their only boundaries. The winner would be the first team to score 16 points and be ahead by two, or whichever was ahead after 30 minutes .

The aim of the tournament is simply to celebrate basketball. But the fouls, the disputed calls, the huddles to plan play and the sweat splashing the concrete suggested something more intense.

"You want to win," team captain Shawn Godfrey said after Special Delivery had put down a team called Ill Infantry by one point. "It is competitive. They say that you should have fun, but you really want to win."

Tamieca Hamlin of Glen Burnie named her team "Yo! We Got Next!!!" in honor of Next Sport, a new business she helps to run that sells sports clothing for women, including shirts featuring female basketball players dunking and talking trash.

"We're just old women coming out to play again," Hamlin said, wearing a screaming-yellow jersey the team had designed. "We just love the game."

There was a dunking contest, in which would-be Michael Jordans flew through the air -- missing the basket, more often than not, and subjecting themselves to humiliation from an announcer who ridiculed everything from their height to their shoes. The winner was Malcolm Thomas, 17, a 6-foot-4-inch Pikesville High School shooting guard whose floating slams earned perfect 10s from a crowd of onlookers who had been given numbers to rate the contestants.

The Future's day began with a silent stare-down of its first opponents, the Alexandria Ballers, outside a Subway shop in the mall. "I told you they didn't come all the way from Virginia to lose," Morton said as he shepherded his team past, trying for some early motivation.

Several hours later, the Ballers faced the Future on Court 6. And the Future wasn't looking too bright.

"Defense, guys! C'mon now!" called Morton, frenetic on the sidelines. "Play your game, and y'all gonna kill 'em!"

Things began to improve. Morton's son, Beloved Rogers, made a two-point shot from the back court. The Future pulled ahead -- and then lost its lead.

"Hey, coach, you got a brand-new game, baby!" called referee William Round as the Ballers made it 10-10.

When time ran out, the score was still tied, 15-15. That meant sudden death -- the first team to sink a basket would win. One after another, Morton's players aimed and came up empty. Finally, an Alexandria player drew a foul, launched a free throw and won the game.

The Future players left the court dejected.

"Listen up," Morton told his team. "You learn from everything. The thing we learned from that game is we let those kids outwork us."

As he spoke, his players drifted off, already headed for another court. When their next opponents forfeited, they learned they'd have another chance at redemption.

Today, they'll face the Alexandria Ballers one more time.

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