State Democrats show off basketball skills at local tournament

State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias competes in the championship game of the Sponsorship Spotlight during the opening night of the Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament in downtown Champaign Friday. Steve Contorno

State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias competes in the championship game of the Sponsorship Spotlight during the opening night of the Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament in downtown Champaign Friday. Steve Contorno

By Steve Contorno

State Democrats were slapping high fives and celebrating, but it wasn’t about the passage of a state budget. Though the budget remains in limbo, there was plenty for several Illinois Democrats to cheer about on a basketball court in Champaign. State Sen. Mike Frerichs of Champaign teamed up with State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and state Sen. Kwame Raoul of Chicago to compete in the Sponsorship Spotlight of the Gus Macker 3-on-3 Tournament in downtown Champaign on Friday night.

The trio, aptly named State Democrats, were joined by state representative candidate Lori DeYoung and Sara Wojcicki, Giannoulias’ communications director, and didn’t just compete in the mixed event – they took home the championship.

“This game has been a blast,” Frerichs said. “We really enjoyed playing. It’s a great community event.”

The event is a nationwide traveling tournament that will be in town all weekend. The tournament, which features about 700 participants in the Champaign event, usually divides players by age, height and experience. However, in the exhibition-style spotlight, such rules were obviously thrown out. Frerichs towered over his competition and Giannoulias, a former collegiate baller at Boston University and professional player in Greece, was a jump step ahead of most players.

Though they seemed to have a leg up on the competition, it wasn’t just about basketball.

“For me, it’s supporting a colleague,” Raoul said of Frerichs. “We’ve developed a friendship from the time when he was a candidate. I contributed to his campaign because we want to see a good Democrat come out of this district. We’re not disappointed. He’s come down here. He’s got a lot of integrity. There are issues that we differ on, but I understand that. He’s got to do a good job for the state and his constituency, and he’s done just that.”

Getting along on the hardwood – or in this case, a rubber court – is sometimes easier than in the statehouse.

“We all happen to be very good friends. But even if we weren’t, it’s basketball,” Giannoulias said. “You find a way to get along. And since we’re here, we might as well win this whole thing.”

Frerichs, Giannoulias and Raoul were never on the court at the same time as rules required at least one member of the opposite sex be in the game at all times. But with at least two playing, the State Democrats were able to defeat the likes of local media outlets and businesses and roll to the title.

“I just came to have fun, but sometimes the competitive juices take over,” Giannoulias said.

Still, there were bumps along the way – as is often the case with Illinois state legislators. Early in the tournament and down by two with seconds to go, Giannoulias rallied a comeback, hitting a two-pointer to send the game into overtime. It’s a script all too familiar in Springfield, and one the state would have liked to avoid this year. But on the basketball court, overtime makes for good drama.

“I just think it’s fun to play some basketball with people you see in the Capitol and always wearing suits,” Giannoulias said. “It’s nice to be able to come out on a Friday night and play some hoops and just hang out.”