Sunday, 16 July 2017

Huskies nostalgia tour takes over FIBA 3x3 tourney

Host Saskatoon side thrills fans on run to final

Nolan Brudehl (#6) and Michael Lieffers (#5) celebrate an OT win.
    The Huskies heroes almost wrote a storybook end to a gallant homecoming.
    For a couple of days, Michael Linklater, Michael Lieffers and Nolan Brudehl seemed to relive their time playing hoops at the University of Saskatchewan. Joining forces with Edmonton product Steve Sir, the foursome made up the local entry at the FIBA 3x3 World Tour Saskatoon Masters tournament.
    The trio of Linklater, Lieffers and Brudehl were all members of the U of S Huskies Men’s basketball team that won the U Sports national championship in 2010. At the moment, that year marks the only time the Huskies in their history have won a U Sports national title in men’s basketball.
Michael Lieffers crushes a jam for Team Saskatoon.
    On Saturday and Sunday at the intersection of Fourth Avenue and 21st Street in downtown Saskatoon, droves of people turned out to see the local side play. Two sets of portable stands were brought in from the SaskTel Centre and some smaller sets of stands were built to accommodate the spectators. When Team Saskatoon played, the stands overflowed and people were jam packed in the streets leading up to the venue.
    It was obvious a lot of the locals still remembered what took place with the Huskies in 2010. A number of faces were in the crowd that are regulars at Huskies basketball games.
    When athletes graduate from the Canadian university ranks, it is not very often they continue their athletic career at an elite or high level. Moving on to another phase of life as a non-athlete is the norm.
Michael Linklater drives the lane for Team Saskatoon.
    Over the past five years, the Saskatoon side has played on the FIBA 3x3 World Tour winning two event titles and posting three second place finishes. Word spread in Saskatoon that the Huskies grads were doing well on the circuit.
    The World Tour stop marked the first time the trio would play competitive games together as a unit in Saskatoon since the 2010 U Sports championship win. There was a big curiosity factor to see how Team Saskatoon would do. Could a team made up of mostly Huskies grads stand up in an elite three-versus-three tournament run by FIBA containing some top teams from around the world?
    To the joy of the local fans, Team Saskatoon won four straight games to advance to Sunday’s tournament championship game. In the final, they fell 21-14 to Team Ljubljana from Slovenia.
Nolan Brudehl goes in to hit a layup for Team Saskatoon.
    While a victory by Team Saskatoon would have put a nice capper to the weekend’s events, the local fans had every right to leave proud knowing their side fits right in with the best the FIBA 3x3 World Tour circuit has to offer.
    When the local side hit the court for their two round robin games on the event’s opening day on Saturday, the atmosphere had a very Huskies nostalgic feel to it. The giant Huskies blow-up dog was at the entrance of a fan fest area, the Huskies had a booth in that area as well, and a number of people were wearing Huskies gear. It seemed the fans came to see the local side do all the things they used to do wearing Huskies green and white.
Steve Sir was a sharpshooter for Team Saskatoon.
    While Sir wasn’t from Saskatoon and had never been a member of the Huskies, he became an adopted Huskie when he dropped in seven points in Team Saskatoon’s 15-11 opening victory over Team Winnipeg.
    Team Saskatoon’s second game on Saturday had even more of a Huskies feel to it. The local side was introduced to the crowd pretty much in the same identical way the Huskies hoops teams are introduced for their games. The University of Saskatchewan Alumni Association handed out green and white thundersticks to the spectators.
    With the noise the crowd made, you felt like you were at a soldout or near soldout hoops playoff game at the Physical Activity Complex on the U of S campus. In that match with Team Hamilton, it seemed like the players from Team Saskatoon were trying too hard to make things happen at the start and missed a bunch of shots early on.
    After trailing early, the locals eased into the flow of the game and pulled out an electric 14-13 overtime win. When you saw the crowd rise to its feet and explode into pandemonium, it felt like the clock was turned back to the Huskies days in 2010.
    Team Saskatoon rolled off two more wins on Sunday, which featured all the playoff round action.
Michael Lieffers (#5) makes a block for Team Saskatoon.
    In the quarter-finals, the locals slipped past Team New York Harlem from the United States 17-15 and dumped Team Gurabo from Puerto Rico 21-10.
    As Team Saskatoon rolled, Sir was knocking down shots, Linklater was dishing out assists and driving to the rim, Lieffers was throwing down jams and Brudehl was scoring from the inside and the outside. They all showed great hustle on defence as well.
    A hot shooting Ljubljana squad stopped the host side’s homecoming from having a storybook ending. Tomo Cajic and Jasmin Hercegovac each scored eight points in the championship victory for the Slovenian side.
Fans salute Team Saskatoon after an OT win on Saturday night.
    Team Ljubljana, which posted a 5-0 record at the tourney, claimed a first place US$20,000 prize, and Hercegovac took tournament MVP honours.
    Linklater topped Saskatoon with six points in the championship game.
    Team Saskatoon took home a US$10,000 cheque for second.
    Overall, the FIBA 3x3 World Tour Saskatoon Masters tournament was a success in its first go.
    The overflow crowds that came out for the Team Saskatoon games ensure the stands were filled for all the event’s other matches.
The members of Team Saskatoon salute their fans.
    Organizers for the 2018 and 2019 editions of this tournament in Saskatoon have to be very optimistic about what is to come.
    For the inaugural event, the foursome that comprised Team Saskatoon made their mark.
    For the trio of Linklater, Lieffers and Brudehl, everything that happened on Saturday and Sunday had to be very spine tingling familiar.
    For a short two-day period, it was great to go back in time and relive the past.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to