WYBT a treat for out-of-town­ers

West Hawaii Today - - Sports - BY J.R. DE GROOTE WEST HAWAII TO­DAY jde­g­roote@west­hawai­ito­day.com WIN­TERS/ WEST HAWAII TO­DAY

KAILUA-KONA — The com­pe­ti­tion is al­ways solid at the World Youth Bas­ket­ball Tour­na­ment.

A list of NBA alumni that in­cludes names like for­mer No. 1 over­all picks Dwight Howard and An­drew Bogut, as well as NBA cham­pi­ons Mario Chalmers and JR Smith, is ev­i­dence of that.

But the tour­na­ment has gained a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing about a whole lot more than bas­ket­ball for the teams that travel thou­sands of miles to take to the hard­wood at Kekuaokalani Gym­na­sium.

The an­nual tour­ney — which has both win­ter and sum­mer edi­tions — of­fers out-of-town­ers not only a glimpse at the lo­cal bas­ket­ball tal­ent, but also the is­land’s cul­ture through its open­ing cer­e­monies and cir­cle-is­land tour.

“Th­ese mem­o­ries with all our friends will be un­for­get­table, for sure,” said Ge­or­gia Lavin­der, a player with the Wash­ing­ton-based White River team play­ing in the girls high school di­vi­sion.

“I have re­ally en­joyed learn­ing about the cul­ture and his­tory of Hawaii,” added her sis­ter, Sofia Lavin­der, ref­er­enc­ing the tour, which in­cluded stops at Akaka Falls, Vol­cano and some Kealakekua cof­fee farms, just to name a few. “But they tried to teach us how to dance hula at the open­ing cer­e­monies and it was so em­bar­rass­ing.”

It’s be­come a tra­di­tion at the event to have vis­it­ing

play­ers try their hand at hula. As proof, there is a video float­ing out there of a young Dwight Howard try­ing to learn the finer points of the tra­di­tional dance in 2002. It’s about as good as his free throw shoot­ing.

On a more se­ri­ous note, the trip can be a life-changer for some, like mem­bers of the Philly Spurs. Ac­cord­ing to their coach/team spon­sor An­toine Gar­diner, four of his five play­ers had never even been on plane be­fore com­ing to Kona. On the nearly 5,000-mile trip to get to the WYBT, they prob­a­bly got more than they could han­dle of air-travel.

“Some of them had never been out of their ur­ban ar­eas around Philadel­phia,” Gar­diner said. “Then we get to go on this tour and see all th­ese things. No joke — I think they took 350-plus pic­tures.”

The Spurs don’t have a lot of room for foul trou­ble, bring­ing just five play­ers to the Big Isle. But the lack of a bench is be­cause Gar­diner said there is no play­ing around when it comes to aca­demics. Com­ing to the WYBT was the pay­off for those play­ers that met the re­quire­ments.

“I’m very big on grades,” said Gar­diner, a for­mer school teacher turned real es­tate in­vestor. “We have won a lot of hard­ware at tour­na­ments this sum­mer, but the mes­sage I want to try to send to the kids is if you don’t have the grades and put in the work in the class­room, it’s go­ing to be re­ally hard to go any­where in this sport. The ones that are here are dead tired af­ter the games, but they have sucked it up and are play­ing great bas­ket­ball.”

For the White River squad, the tour­na­ment is a re­ward for hard work.

“We play a lot of bas­ket­ball and wanted to do some­thing nice for the girls for all they do for us dur­ing the year and the com­mit­ment that they show, even dur­ing the sum­mer time,” Gib­son said. “What bet­ter place to go than Hawaii, right? Now it’s about find­ing that bal­ance of tourism and bas­ket­ball.”

Both the Philly Spurs and White River squads have been do­ing that well. They are un­de­feated head­ing into the fi­nal day of play to­day and have a good shot at the tour­ney ti­tles in their di­vi­sions, which goes to the team with the best record in the round robin for­mat.

“It is a lit­tle lower key on the com­pe­ti­tion, but the peo­ple are so friendly and so nice,” said Gib­son. “And it’s great for our kids to come here and ex­pe­ri­ence the cul­ture of the is­lands. The whole trip has been in­cred­i­ble.”

Gar­diner had a sim­i­lar take­away.

“Ev­ery­body has been so in­cred­i­bly nice — from the teams we play, to se­cu­rity guards and peo­ple work­ing in the restau­rants,” he said. “You can’t beat it.”

The sec­ond stint of the sum­mer tour­ney runs from Aug. 2-6 in Kona.

RICK

White River’s Sofia Lavin­der moves the ball up the court in the WYBT tour­na­ment on Sat­ur­day at Old Air­port Park’s Kekuaokalani Gym.

WIN­TERS/ WEST HAWAII TO­DAY RICK

White River’s Kara Mare­cle looks for a hole in the de­fense in the WYBT tour­na­ment.

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