Hoopfest - Teams to Watch

by Cary Rosenbaum II, Ted S. McGregor Jr., Luke Baumgarten, Joel Smith and Michale Bowen & r & & r & Rez Warriors & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & L & lt;/span & ast year, the Rez Woyers from Inchelium, Wash., were runners-up in the men's 6-foot-and-under elite bracket at Hoopfest. The unheralded, unsponsored group of three pals who grew up together in the tiny Eastern Washington town beat a series of carefully assembled teams made up of well-known college basketball players. For people who follow Hoopfest closely, it was the kind of underdog run that makes the tournament what it is.

Even the Rez Woyers were a little awed. Three-point specialist Joe Finley recalls showing up for the final game at Center Court, surrounded by thousands of people.

"When they announced the player names at the start of the championship game it went: Ryan Hansen, Eastern Washington University basketball; Eric Avery, Whitworth College basketball; Darrell Walker and Winston Brooks, Gonzaga basketball," says Finley of his opponents. "Then there's us. They just say our names. I played college golf, and Chris [Burch] plays college football."

They lost that game -- the only one they lost in the tournament -- but a year later they think they know why, and they're back this year for another try at the championship.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & hough they have many disadvantages in comparison with teams brought together by college scholarships and trained by top coaches, the Rez Woyers have an advantage most other teams do not possess.

"Rez Ball," the style of basketball played on the Colville Indian Reservation and most others in the West, helped the team become mentally and physically prepared for Hoopfest.

"It's more of a bruiser's game," Finley says. "We have an advantage in that aspect because that's the way we've always played. On the Rez, it's a lot of run-and-gun and a lot of banging. Not a lot of fouls are called, but you don't whine about it. You just keep playing."

Jacolby Simpson, son of player/coach Lonnie Simpson Sr. and current EWU student, remembers the grueling battles between him and his father in one-on-one games.

"Growing up, our games were physical. My mom couldn't even watch," Simpson says. "I was quicker, so he resorted to fouling. Playing against him made me a tougher competitor. If you finish [after being fouled], you don't have to shoot the free throw."

Lonnie Simpson, an incurable sports fan who was a lead rusher on the State B championship football team of 1983, says he let his son learn basketball the hard way.

"I never let him win until he could actually beat me," says Lonnie. "We used to go to war. Now I can't compete -- he just shoots right over me.

Simpson met future teammate Finley when they were kids. "I was in first grade, and he was in third," Simpson says. "We played with the sixth graders. We've always performed at a higher level than others our age."

That was saying something, because on the reservation, "Basketball was the thing to do," says Finley. "There wasn't a lot to do there, but there was always a court and a community center with a gym where we could shoot. There weren't enough kids to play baseball, but there was enough to play two-on-two basketball or even three-on-three."

It wasn't until later, in the eighth grade, that the pair met Chris Burch, the third member of the team. In the tiny town of Inchelium, with or against each other, they were always battling in tournaments.

Burch, who's finishing up his physical education health major at Central Washington University, will be starting at outside linebacker for the Wildcats in the fall. Burch made the high school varsity basketball squad.

With nearly a decade playing together, the trio has developed some serious chemistry. "We know what everyone's going to do before they do it," Finley says. "We play all 'feel.' If I can see an opening and they can, too, we're going to go for it."

"Our biggest thing is our defense," Burch adds. "When you can get in someone's face in 90-degree weather, they will get frustrated and agitated and they won't perform."

Lonnie Simpson is listed on the official program as the fourth player, but anymore he works mostly as coach and seldom puts himself into the game. He provides more than 30 years of sports experience, which he condenses into a constant stream of advice shouted from the sidelines.

"If someone's messing up, Lonnie's not afraid to tell them that they are and what we need to fix it," Finley says. "We respond to him and buy into his strategies. I know if I listen to him that he will be right about whatever it is. He's played the game for so long. He knows the ins and outs -- what you need to do to win."

"In a way, he's our MVP," Burch says. "That stands for 'Most Vigorous Person.' He's always up, always talking, and always has a plan for the current situation."

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he Rez Woyers went into the tourney last year with a game plan of dominating the paint and letting Finley take the three-pointers.

"You can't win without a game plan," Finley says. "If you go there just to play, you won't beat the good teams."

The bracket and teams were pretty intimidating for the team, but they persevered against the best. "They got sponsored teams there," Lonnie says. "We had three in our bracket and beat them all."

By the time they won their bracket, many from the Rez were there to support their team on Center Court. "Word travels fast," Finley says, "and there's a lot of people from Indian Country because it's so small."

With four teams left, the team played against another bracket winner in the single-elimination portion of the overall championships. It was a smaller team, which fit perfectly into their game plan. It ended up being their biggest win.

Next, though, they faced the champions for two years running, Hoop Hearted, which consisted of four players who were known across the state. The Rez Woyers entered the game tired but with hopes of becoming the next underdog legends.

The game started off poorly. The Rez Woyers missed three layups right off the bat, which forced them off their game plan.

Hoop Hearted scored on nearly every possession and utilized the larger court to spread the Rez Woyer defense, making them less effective. The game ended 20-9, crowning Hoop Hearted as champions again.

The Rez Woyers unanimously agreed that if they had stuck to their game plan and been able to convert points on each possession, they would've provided a better match-up.

"I look back on that game quite a bit," Finley says. "We haven't been beaten badly very often. Once you get beat bad a time or two, you think about it for a long time. And you try to do anything you can to make sure that doesn't happen again."

A more physically and mentally prepared Rez Woyers team will enter the elite tournament this year in hopes of winning their first championship.

"Our run in last year's Hoopfest says a lot for the talent level of small places. Just because you play in a 4A school doesn't make you better than a player in a B school," says Lonnie Simpson. "Our story proves it." -- Cary Rosenbaum II

The Beach & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & B & lt;/span & ack in the old days, Scottish clans would gather to toss the taber and gnaw on a wee bit o' haggis to have their fun. These days in Spokane, at least one clan gathers every year to toss the basketball into the hoop. The McFauls, a family with members scattered from Puyallup to Denver, have turned Hoopfest into their de facto family reunion -- as soon as the games get over, of course.

"I'm the ninth of 10 kids, and normally it's a wedding that gets us all together," says David McFaul, who'll be playing with his team the Beach this weekend. "What Hoopfest has done is give the family another chance to see each other. There's even a printed itinerary telling us where to go every night."

McFaul, 37, will be playing with his younger brother Tom, 35, and two nephews from Puyallup, Patrick and Collin Henderson (of WSU football fame), who are in their twenties. Last year, the McFauls' six-foot-and-under squad included older brother Gerry, 46, and a childhood neighbor from Pullman, Don Worthy. (Another kid on the block was Brady Crook, Hoopfest's executive director.)

"It was a hard-fought win -- we had three games go down to the last basket -- but we sent Gerry out in style," says McFaul. "So this year, he'll be spending Hoopfest watching his kids play. He played for 12 years, and that was a lot of fun, but he couldn't be around to watch his kids."

And so the circle of Hoopfest continues.

The good news for the remaining McFauls is they get a youth movement out of the deal. But the team strategy will stay pretty much the same: "We're usually undersized, so we have a fast-break mentality -- we shoot first and ask questions later."

The McFauls' dad, Gerry Sr., coached and taught at Pullman High School after a basketball career at Gonzaga University in the 1940s. Since then, the clan has spread out. Uncle Ted was noted as the oldest Hoopfest participant a few years back. Daughter Janie married some guy named Dennis who became mayor of Spokane. Now, after 11 years living in Portland, David is participating as a Spokane resident, having just moved back.

"I couldn't be happier to be back in Spokane," says McFaul. "I've played in other three-on-three tournaments, but you don't see anything this organized anywhere in the Northwest." -- Ted S. McGregor Jr.

Double-Stuffed Oreos & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & t's a seemingly sweet name for such a hard-nosed, veteran sixth-grade girls squad, but the defending Hoopfest champs' coach, Shayne Redmond, says the name isn't about cookies, and it certainly has nothing to do with sugar and spice. "They're the Oreos because two of the girls [Jade and Aaliyah] are black and two [Kaycee and Megan] are white." Each have their unique skills, and, after playing together for two years, the girls play an unselfish, throwback style.

Jade Redmond & r & Age: 10 | Height: 4'9" & r & Position: Point Guard & r & Strengths: Ball handling, scrappiness. "Jade tries to post up the big girls, but she's really tiny." & r & Weaknesses: "Playing under control ... She needs to understand her abilities," says Shayne. "I'm her mother -- it's OK for me to say that."

Aaliyah Ashley-Meek & r & Age: 11 | Height: 4'11" & r & Position: Off Guard & r & Strengths: Ball handling, outside shooting & r & Weaknesses: Taking it strong: "She needs to get better at driving to the basket."

Kaycee Hert & r & Age: 11 | Height: 5'0" & r & Position: Forward/Guard & r & Strengths: Post presence & r & Weaknesses: Outside shooting and ball handling

Megan Ulias & r & Age: 11 | Height: 5'0" & r & Position: Forward/Guard & r & Strengths: Rebounding & r & Weaknesses: Dribbling; developing an outside jumper

Tourney Experience: "They started young -- like, third grade -- so this'll be their fourth year," says Shayne, but they've been playing together as a unit for two. Last year, in addition to winning their Hoopfest bracket, the Oreos won four other tournaments in the area.

Playing up: This quartet of Oreos form the core of their AAU team and are so dominant in their age group, says Shayne, that she has "to play them up a year." Though the girls are heading into sixth grade this year, and their opponents are heading into seventh, the team is still in the thick of their AAU summer league with a 2-2 record. This summer, they played up a grade at the Shoot for the Sun tournament and made the championship round before losing. "When they play [girls from] their own grade, they're pretty unstoppable," says Shayne. That doesn't bode well for teams in their bracket.

Offense: "We have a couple of inbound set plays," says Shayne, but that's about it. For the most part, the girls rely on screening and moving without the ball, something that's rare for a high school JV team, let alone a group of sixth-graders. "They understand each other really well ... I taught them a lot of fundamentals when they were younger, so it makes my job really easy now."

One Possible Weakness: Superstition. The girls are very particular about what they wear, says Shayne: "They like to wear their dark purple jerseys." Coach Redmond reveals, however, that someone close to the team is creating surprise new uniforms, She's unsure what they'll look like, but "it'll be something to do with Oreos, so maybe two black shirts and two white ones." You other sixth graders better hope the wardrobe change throws them off their game. -- Luke Baumgarten

Highline & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & H & lt;/span & ighline got its start when Jeanna Swanson and Wanda Walsh played together last year on two teams in the women's competitive brackets. Amber Reardon played on one of those teams; Darcy Kelly, on the other. Despite playing nine games over the course of the weekend, the two teams placed second and third. This year, the quartet of women -- who play regularly at the downtown YMCA -- have joined forces.

Jeanna Swanson & r & Age: 31 & r & Height: 5'9" & r & Occupation: Stay-at-home mom. Experienced dietitian. Coached Mount Spokane freshman girls last year. & r & High school: Played on Mead High School teams that finished second at state in '91 and as state champions in '92. & r & College experience: Threw the hammer on the WSU track team. & r & Hoopfest experience: Five years. & r & Shoes: Nike Shox & r & Self-assessment on shooting: "Do I think every shot is going in? Yeah. Does that sound snotty? But I don't take a shot unless I think it has a chance of going in." & r & On roughness of play: "There's no name-calling, nothing like that. But the thing with women is, they don't ever want to call a foul. So then they just get angry and retaliate. There's lots of grabbing and shoving and holding.... After a Hoopfest weekend, our arms are just totally bruised, our knees are all beat up from falling on the asphalt." & r & Team scouting report: "What we're lacking is a really tall player who can dominate inside." & r & Uniforms: "Just gray sleeveless shirts"

Amber Reardon & r & Age: 27 & r & Height: 5'10" & r & Occupation: Operates a restaurant and catering business in Lewiston, Idaho. & r & Experience: Played basketball at Cal State Fullerton. & r & Shoes: Adidas & r & Scouting report: Good inside threat.

Darcy Kelly & r & Age: 48 & r & Height: 5'10" & r & Occupation: Director of the Fourth Avenue Chiropractic Clinic. & r & Experience: Played basketball at WSU. & r & Shoes: Adidas & r & Scouting report: "A great spot shooter. She plays bigger than she is.... Darcy is in better shape than anyone on our team. She doesn't look anywhere near her age."

Wanda Walsh & r & Age: 39 & r & Height: 5'0" & r & Experience: Played basketball for the Taos (N.M.) High School Tigers. Played two years of softball for the Claremont College (Calif.) Sagehens. & r & Education and occupation: Engineering degrees from both New Mexico State and the University of New Mexico. Now a computer engineer at Agilent Technologies, where she also plays for the softball team. & r & Position: Point guard and designated outside shooter -- "but I try to penetrate and dish a lot." & r & Shoes: Nike Shox (white). & r & Emblem of wear and tear: "One of those lace-up ankle braces."Game plan: "We just do a lot of pass-and-screen-away. We don't get too wild."

On playing taller, more experienced teams: "When you get into Sunday, you run into players who played four years of Division I, Division II basketball. We see a lot of women who are 5'11", 6'1" -- 6'2", even. The good thing is that most of them are around our age. The bad thing is that they stayed in shape." -- Michael Bowen

Gecko Groupies & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & D & lt;/span & on't think for a moment that the wheelchair division of Hoopfest is any easier, gentler or less organized. Each year, the Gecko Groupies, accomplished athletes in multiple sports, compete in tournaments from Seattle to Omaha against opponents who aren't afraid to throw an elbow ("They, like, kill you," one player says) -- and they've got the scrapes, bruises and jammed fingers to prove it. Flying around on custom wheelchairs, sponsored by St. Luke's Rehabilitation Center and the Children's Miracle Network, they pick, pass and shoot every bit as aggressively as the rest -- all while maneuvering on a standard-size court, all while staying seated. You think you're tired at the end of game day? Pssh...

Krystle Horton & r & Age: 17 & r & Height: 4'11" & r & Weight: 98 lbs. & r & Shoots: Right & r & Hoopfests played: two & r & School: Central Valley High & r & Strength: Horton excels as a ball-handler and professes she has a sweet shot from the elbow. Her teammates say she's the go-to girl when they need to get the rock in the hole. & r & Weakness: Picking & r & Athleticism: Horton also participates in track and field, road-racing and weightlifting, with a power press of 65 pounds. Defense beware. & r & Pre-game ritual: Getting psyched. "We say we're gonna win. We get more pumped up than other teams."

Todd Sander & r & Age: 27 & r & Height: 5'5" & r & Weight: 235 lbs. & r & Shoots: Left & r & Hoopfests Played: None, though he's played basketball for years. & r & School: Mead High & r & Strength: Speed. Sander's big frame gets him around the court quickly, making him a strong asset under the boards. & r & Weakness: Speed. Sander doesn't use a wheelchair off the court, so he's not really used to it. Though he can move fast in the open, he says his newness to the chair makes him "clumsy" on tight maneuvers. "If somebody gets in my way, it really slows me down."

Jordan Clyburn & r & Age: 16 & r & Height: 5'1" & r & Weight: 94 lbs. & r & Shoots: Both hands (Pay attention, defense -- she could fool you.) & r & Hoopfests played: three & r & School: North Central High & r & Strength: Clyburn's known for her defense, holding back the hardest-charging offensive player. & r & Weakness: Shooting. If given the choice, she'll pass before she shoots. She also has some trouble getting away from defenders. & r & Training: The team practices once or twice a week, though Clyburn says she plays outside of organized practices, too. -- Joel Smith

Suds & Science: The Martian @ Golden Handle Brewing Co.

Sat., Feb. 4, 7-9 p.m.
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