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By AJ MAZZOLINI
HERMISTON — After a week in which each day came packaged with its own rendition of stormy weather — the rains, the winds and thunder — the skies over downtown Hermiston on Saturday were noticeably empty.
No clouds. No lightning. Just one shining orb.
Saturday’s were ideal conditions for Hermiston to show off some of its basketball culture, a concept that doesn’t take long to buy into even for lovers of the game coming in from out of town.
Such was the case for second-year Hermiston High boys’ basketball coach Adam Strom, who played on the team 2 Coaches 2 Players in the 6-foot and under elite men’s division.
“You know last year I was here and I couldn’t tell you who I was walking by, which kids played high school basketball,” said Strom, who was hired by the district last May out of Wapato, Wash. “This year, with the luxury of trying to implement a program, I could probably pick out somebody from third grade all the way up to adult walking around that’s somehow been associated with the program.”
The community support for athletics — on full display this weekend in the four closed off blocks of Main Street between Highway 395 and Fourth Street — was a main draw for Strom to leave Wapato where he’d coached for 10 years. The basketball enthusiasm, in the form of Takin’ it to the Streets in this instance, also brought 215 teams to Hermiston for a weekend this year for half-court action.
Teams ranged from mostly local 3rd graders having fun with their schoolyard pals to some experienced ball handlers flashing highlight plays that sparked applause from the gathering crowd.
Last year’s winners of the Coors Light Men’s Open, a division of ultra competitive basketball, were back on Saturday to defend their title. Team Coca Cola, a sponsored unit out of Spokane, Wash., that travels to 3-on-3 tournaments around the region and country, looked well on its way to a similar finish with a pair of strong showings on the first day of competition.
The Washingtonians have success in street style games despite not playing with the drive-to-the-hoop mentality of most half court games, said team member Ryan Erickson. Team Coca Cola relies on the 3-point shot.
“We’re not really street ball players, we’re full court kind of guys,” Ericksen said. “It’s a little different out here for everybody to play us.”
Ericksen flashed the long-distance kill shots in the mid-day, 3-point competition — coming in second — before he and his teammates lit up the air against the Goon Squad in their second game of the day.
The Spokane men won 20-5, sinking eight 2-point shots, the equivalent of a 3-pointer in street ball.
Between Ericksen, David Kielian and Justin Shamion, the team’s No. 4 player Adam Allen said his job as the big man in the middle is simple: pass it outside.
“Those three can shoot,” said Allen, the only new player on the team from last year’s squad. “I don’t have to worry about it because they’re going to make, like, 70 percent of their shots.”
Day 2 of tournament action starts again at 9 a.m. today and runs into the late afternoon.
Mauricio Leon won the 3-point shootout by making 15 baskets in the alloted one minute, just a single shot ahead of Ericksen’s mark.
In the Bellinger Farm's Melon Slam dunk contest, ballers Jake Sierra and Mitchell Zapien each put up perfect 30s in the final round to tie. Sierra used a friend as a prop, leaping completely over the man’s head and dunking the ball on his second try. Zapien came from the left for a windmill dunk on his turn.
In the second go-around of the finals, Zapien prevailed with an alley-oop pass to himself followed by a 360-spin and dunk. The judges awarded 28 points for the jam.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839.