A South­east rec cen­ter turns into an in­ter­na­tional court — of hoop dreams

Play­ers from around the world com­pete in three-on-three fi­nals

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - THE DIS­TRICT BY FREDRICK KUN­KLE fredrick.kun­kle@wash­post.com

They packed a gym in South­east Wash­ing­ton, dozens of bas­ket­ball play­ers from all over the planet who brought with them the spirit of pro ballers even if their skills and their game were a minia­ture ver­sion of the NBA’s.

It was three-on-three hoops Satur­day in an in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ment at the Barry Farm Re­cre­ation Cen­ter: two half­court games at a time, and eight min­utes a game or 21 points, which­ever came first.

Hip-hop thumped, an em­cee pro­vided play-by-play, and the fi­nals brack­ets read like the Olympics: 14 na­tions, in­clud­ing Canada, Kaza­khstan, Kosovo, South Africa, Rus­sia and the United States, to name a few. If you felt like it, you could get a trim in the bar­ber’s chair set up for free hair­cuts at half court. You could scream at the ref­eree un­til the ref yelled back. A U.S. team from Min­nesota walked away the win­ners with an $8,000 purse.

For the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year, the Dis­trict hosted the Red Bull Reign World Fi­nals in a South­east neigh­bor­hood whose courts and sum­mer league are renowned for street-ball le­gends and dream­ers, col­lege stand­outs and even the oc­ca­sional Wizard.

Red Bull also put on a U.S.-only women’s fi­nals com­pe­ti­tion, its first. The Mary­land Jew­els, rep­re­sent­ing the Wash­ing­ton­metro area, beat out At­lanta, Philadel­phia and New York.

More than 2,500 ath­letes — men and women — took part.

“Oh, it’s ex­cit­ing for us,” said Fikret Sha­tri, a player on Kosovo’s team. At 6-foot-5 and 44 years old, Sha­tri said he was play­ing out a dream. Not only did he make it to the fi­nals, he was vis­it­ing the United States for the first time, still thank­ful for its in­ter­ven­tion in the Balkan cri­sis more than two decades ago. “We love the United States. We have a dif­fer­ent coun­try be­cause of the United States,” he said.

Way on the other side of the gym, Mia Ou cheered for Tai­wan, the land of her birth. Ou, an MBA can­di­date at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity, said she also came out to sup­port her best friend’s best friend, who was on the Tai­wanese team.

“So I had to be here to cheer for him, and for Tai­wan, of course,” Ou said. She said she loved the way the tour­na­ment brought to­gether such a di­verse group and how they all seemed to be get­ting along.

“There’s a lot of pos­i­tiv­ity around the bas­ket­ball,” said An­to­nio Thomas, 36, view­ing the ac­tion from court­side as a bar­ber trimmed his beard. “Just that ball cre­ates a lot of pos­i­tiv­ity — it cre­ates a life.”

Thomas, a D.C. res­i­dent who drives a truck, said he was a kid when the leg­endary Ge­orge Goodman Bas­ket­ball League formed, fur­ther es­tab­lish­ing bas­ket­ball as a way up or out, or at least a way to stay busy.

“It keeps the kids off the street,” said An­to­nio Prince, a bar­ber who re­turned to his child­hood home to vol­un­teer his time with the clip­pers. Prince, 47, who lives in Hy­attsville, Md., said that with­out or­ga­nized bas­ket­ball, there were plenty of things to lead kids astray.

“You got peo­ple who are sell­ing drugs, who can rob you, kill you — all the neg­a­tiv­ity. It keeps them away from that,” he said.

The three-on-three tour­na­ment show­cased the sort of pickup game that can be found al­most any­where there’s a hoop, while the var­i­ous na­tion­al­i­ties show­cased dif­fer­ent styles of play. The Rus­sian team — fea­tur­ing 7-foot-2 Niko­lay Ro­gozkin — tended to stake out a perime­ter of gi­ants around the bas­ket while the Cana­dian team ran a pas­sand-ma­neu­ver attack.

No mat­ter the na­tion­al­ity, sev­eral play­ers ap­peared well past their prime, and a few seemed built more for first base than power for­ward.

Akiah Luceus, 26, whose New York team fin­ished fourth on Fri­day, said she saw tour­na­ments like th­ese as a way to maybe reach the pros. Mean­while, as sneak­ers squeaked and scuffed, and bod­ies ran and bod­ies fell (some­times in Acad­emy Award­wor­thy per­for­mances in­tended to draw a foul), she screamed her­self hoarse — first at the play­ers, then at a ref­eree.

“You get to ex­pe­ri­ence the world in one small week­end,” she said.

MICHAEL S. WIL­LIAMSON/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

The Kosovo (blue) and Nether­lands (white) teams fight over the ball dur­ing the Red Bull Reign World Fi­nals in South­east Wash­ing­ton on Satur­day. Bas­ket­ball play­ers from 14 na­tions took part.

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