The North Gymnasium on the third floor of the University Recreation Center is a whirl of activity. There are games going on simultaneously in every corner of the gym – four in all. The coed Liberty team (from metropolitan New York City) is facing a tough Wisconsin team, whose huge crowd – dressed in cheeseheads and doing the occasional wave – roar with every bucket.
It’s late in the game and Wisconsin goes ahead by more than double digits following a pretty backdoor pass on an inbounds play. Suddenly Liberty makes a late move, scoring first on a major post-up, then on a rebound put-back, and finally on a three-pointer. Wisconsin goes into a four-corner stall offense (modified to accommodate its lack of a fourth player – these games are 3-on-3), and the whistle blows to signal the game’s end, 29-21. Team Wisconsin and its fans are exultant. Wisconsin spectators videotape a mock-serious interview with Dan Benter, the Wisconsin coach, as he holds forth on his intricate and ingenious game plan.
Youth is served.
Another court contains the youngest and smallest players, mostly double-dribbling their way to the bucket, barely able to get the ball to the rim. This scene is duplicated on most of the other courts as well, under each basket, during times out and in between games.
The lobby between the North and South Gymnasiums is completely packed with both athletes and spectators. These are people of all ages, attitudes, shapes, sizes, and colors – as well as team colors. Some are standing still or sitting or leaning; others mill about. Some are talking about the games or transplants while others discuss movies, politics, and everything in between. Many of the 50 or so Team Michigan members are there, showing off their new orange and yellow psychedelic shirts. They’re more noticeable this year, and Team Manager Karen Baker says they’re doing well medal-wise so far as well.
One of the higher profile games of the evening involves Utah and the Virginias teams. An intense first-half battle ends at 32-32. Though Virginia seems poised to run away with it early in the second half, they are never quite able to accomplish this. They go inside against the smaller Utah team again and again, but then Utah hits a number of long three-pointers to keep it close. Each team is supported by a large and vociferous audience. As the game nears its conclusion, the Virginias team (sporting “Second Chance” on their uniform backs) is just too much to handle, finally wearing Utah down, 62-53.
Tough on the body.
In general, players on the court tonight – and especially the older men (over 50), of which there are many – seemed slowed more by the usual infirmities of age, such as bad knees, or eyes, or too much weight around the middle, than anything that might be related to difficulties stemming from organ transplants. Lots of these games look like any you might witness at lunchtime in any YMCA gym across the country.
The game pitting Team St. Louis against Team Texas seems an especially sportsmanlike venture. Players on both sides laugh and joke not only among themselves but also with the players on the other team. It’s 14-2, Texas, at halftime, and the game gets out of hand from there – in Texas’ favor – but the smiles and handshakes and back pats continue throughout.
Nations’ Capital vs. Upper Midwest features an intriguing series of mismatched battles that each team takes turns trying to ply to its advantage: young vs. old, tall vs. short, smart vs. inexperienced.
Team Alabama, dressed all in gray, is having fun warming up for its game, with each player going through his own routine to loosen up physically as well as get mentally ready to play. Deep knee bends. Long exhales. Staying loose by bouncing, shooting, and chasing after rebounds.
The “Spare Parts” team from Illinois – perennially in the championship game in this event - walk through an early round game against Kentucky and won going away (seemingly without breaking a sweat).
An impromptu pick-up game ensues on the only empty court in the South Gym. Four children play against two adults and it looks as if the kids are winning rather handily.
Nevada and Northern California are going at one another with vigor. But both are wearing white uniforms and it is difficult telling them apart. Who is on whose team?
Speed beats size.
Georgia possesses a great deal more size than Pittsburgh but is down 17-14 at halftime. Why? Hustle, smarts, quickness, and timely shooting. In the second half it’s more of the same, only more so. Pittsburgh methodically pulls away, 36-20.