Basketball for all at 3-on-3 tournament

The Champaign Ballers and P-Town Magic compete in the semifinals of the Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament on Saturday. Wes Anderson

The Champaign Ballers and P-Town Magic compete in the semifinals of the Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament on Saturday. Wes Anderson

By Steve Contorno

Ryan Dimler and Brennan Bishop are veterans on the tournament circuit. The duo came with their team – P-Town Magic – all the way from Peoria, Ill., to play in Champaign’s Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament this weekend. Dimler, competing in his fourth Macker tourney, said it was one of the best he had been to, and, except for a little rain Saturday morning which made for slippery courts, it was nearly a flawless weekend for basketball.

And make no mistake, Dimler and Bishop were in it to win it. Twelve-year-olds can be pretty competitive.

“This one has been a lot more fun and a little easier because we’re the older kids in the group,” Dimler and Bishop said, trading off talking. “The competition is fun, and it’s fun to hang out with friends and play basketball.”

The Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament is a nationwide event that stops in dozens of cities in the U.S. every summer. For the second-straight year, the event made an appearance in Champaign where more than 700 players came out to compete in the two-day tournament. The event returned to Champaign in 2007 after a hiatus of several years.

Spectators flocked to West Side Park to watch the event as the participants competed on makeshift courts set up on State and Church streets where traffic had been blocked off. Hosts of the event considered it a great success.

“Last year we had such positive feedback, and people had such a good time, we wanted to see how much we could make this grow,” said Katie Flint, the special event manager for the Champaign Park District, who co-hosted the event with the Champaign County Sports Commission. “It’s so great to see such a diverse mix of people – young and old – enjoying a nice day and being active.”

The tournament is in its 35th year.Though founder Scott McNeal said his game hasn’t improved during that time span, the tournament certainly has. What started out as 18 friends playing in his driveway has boomed into the event it is today, with hundreds of participants at each stop and entire cities pausing for a day to partake in the festivities.

“We’re completely amazed by the growth of it,” said McNeal, who goes by the alias “Gus Macker” – thus the name – at the event. “The intention was always for it to be a pickup game that anyone could play in. You didn’t have to try out. It’s the most wide-spread and diverse group of people you’ll see at a sporting event, and I think that’s the reason it’s kept its flavor.”

The tournament is designed so participants are matched up against players of similar height, age and experience. It’s “common-guy basketball,” as McNeal described it, “for players that were legends on their driveways, or in my case, my own mind.”

Though the event is described as a family event, the competition was fierce at every court, no matter the ages. Games were heated; it was clear everyone was there to win. So, unlike most driveway games, there were referees. Among the volunteer refs were several Illinois football players, who enjoyed being away from football.

“We got a lot of players out here help coaching and refing and taking scores and just trying to help out with the community and do the best we can right before we get ready for this big season and Camp (Rantoul),” junior receiver Jeff Cumberland said.

Cumberland also competed in the slam dunk contest Saturday, winning it for the second year in a row. Several other fan-friendly events took place throughout the weekend, including a three-point shooutout and a sponsorship exhibition tournament Friday that featured several state Democrats invited by Sen. Mike Frerichs of Champaign. Frerichs, who won the tournament with his fellow Democrats, was just happy to see the event become so popular in the last two years.

“I’m glad to see this back,” Frerichs said. “It’s such a great community event. I hope to keep it here.”