Saturday, 21 July 2018

FIBA 3x3 World Tour keeps Huskies alums in the game

Nolan Brudehl fires up a shot from downtown.
    A year ago, they received a well-deserved heroes’ welcome.
    Way back on March 21, 2010, Michael Linklater, Michael Lieffers and Nolan Brudehl helped the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s basketball team down the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds 91-81 for the U Sports national title at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa. That marked the first time and to date the only time the Huskies have captured a national title in men’s basketball.
    That contest was the last time that trio played together as members of the Huskies as Linklater exhausted his U Sports eligibility. Back on that day when the Huskies were crowned national champions, no one would suspect that trio would be playing together seven to eight years down the road.
Michael Lieffers looks to dish off the ball.
    In 2012, Linklater and Lieffers began playing in three-versus-three basketball tournaments and quickly qualified for the FIBA 3x3 World Tour. Brudehl joined his former Huskies teammates on the circuit in 2015. Last year, they rounded out their four-player team adding Steve Sir, who is a star outside sharpshooter from Edmonton, Alta.
    Playing on the FIBA tour as Team Saskatoon, the players built a following from “The Bridge City,” who tracked their every move.
    A year ago, the foursome of Linklater, Lieffers, Brudehl and Sir finally got to play in front of a home crowd as downtown Saskatoon hosted a FIBA 3x3 World Tour Saskatoon Masters tournament. For the Huskies grads, it marked the first time they played together as a unit in Saskatoon since that 2009-10 U Sports national title campaign.
    When Team Saskatoon hit the court for the two-day event at the intersection of Fourth Avenue and 21st Street, the two sections of stands that were brought in from the SaskTel Centre that could seat 1,000 spectators were filled, and an overflow crowd of people circled the half court.
The local fans backed Team Saskatoon last year.
    The cheers the local team received were deafening and special all at the same time. For the trio of former Huskies, the cheers were a flashback to their days playing at the Physical Activity Complex on the grounds of the University of Saskatchewan.
    The cheers carried the feelings of a thank you for the accomplishments the players brought to the city in the past. There was a feeling that it was great to see them playing in a competitive environment again and there was a will by the fans to help push the players on to greater heights in the present and future.
Steve Sir (#3) drives the lane for Team Saskatoon.
    It seemed like the feeling of attachment and support for the players was stronger than it had ever been.
    Team Saskatoon didn’t disappoint.
    They won four straight games to qualify for the tournament’s championship final. During that run, they claimed an electric 14-13 overtime victory over Team Hamilton to close the first day of competition.
    In the final, Team Saskatoon fell to 21-14 to Team Ljubljana from Slovenia.
Michael Linklater (#4) goes for a shot from beyond the arch.
    While Team Saskatoon wasn’t able to pull out a win in the final, their local follows got to see firsthand that the four players on the squad found an outlet to continue their playing careers after university. For the trio that played for the Huskies, it is normal for players that graduate from the U Sports ranks to transition to a phase of life as a non-athlete.
    A handful of grads might play in Canada’s national team system or professionally.
    Today, Team Saskatoon gets to live that experience of being the home favourites once again. Saskatoon again hosts a FIBA 3x3 World Tour Masters basketball tournament with action slated to start at 12 p.m.
    Team Saskatoon faces Team Montreal at 3:15 p.m. and Team Riga from Latvia at 5 p.m.
    The tournament concludes on Sunday with all the playoff games. The action starts at 12 p.m. and the championship final is slated for 4:15 p.m.
Team Saskatoon plans to deliver thrills for the hometown supporters.
    The field at this year’s tournament is expected to be harder than last year’s event. The players on Team Saskatoon will be hard pressed to repeat their magic from a year ago.
    With the backing of a supportive and vocal hometown crowd, the local squad might ride that wave of enthusiasm to victory in Sunday’s championship final.

    If you want to follow the exploits of Team Saskatoon now and after Saskatoon’s FIBA 3x3 World Tour Masters tournament wraps up, you can follow Linklaters Instagram account at michael_linklater or his Twitter account @MrLinklater.
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