The Louis Saunders Memorial Basketball Tournament in Roxbury

Last year, Ian McCarthy, the general manager of the PBL team in Manchester, asked if I would come and photograph his team as they participated in a summer money tournament in Boston.  I had a free weekend, and Ian’s a good guy, so I said sure.  This meant traveling to Boston for the weekend, and photographing the Louis Saunders Memorial Basketball Tournament at Madison Park High School in Roxbury, Massachusetts.  Each team buys into the tournament, with the winning team receiving $10,000.  At the same time, the teams and their fans all pay respect to Louis Saunders, a basketball coach and icon in Boston’s Roxbury district.

I photographed the tournament last year and blogged about it on my old blogspot website.  This year, Ian said he’s bringing the big guns to the tournament, in the hopes of defeating the dominant two-time-champion Mission Hill team and winning the big bucks.

I knew he was bringing some of his players from last year, as well as some other PBL talent.  When Ian he ran down the lineup of guys on his team, I immediately knew his team was going to kick some serious tail.

“We’ve got Eric Gilchrese from Halifax,” he told me.  Gilchrese was the Premier Basketball League Rookie of the Year last season, and played in the PBL All-Star Game.

“We also got Keith Friel from the Razorsharks.”  Friel could hit 3-pointers from anywhere on the court, and was a major part of Rochester’s three championships in four years – the Sharks are one of the few minor league hoops teams, along with the D-League’s Dakota Wizards, to win championships in more than one professional basketball circuit.

Ian also mentioned that Kenyon Gamble, who played in Manchester two years ago, and last year’s Millrat all-star Stanley Ocitti, would be on the team.

“And we also got T.J. Thompson,” Ian told me.

Hold up – you got T.J. Thompson?  The Albany Patroons’ 5’10” mighty mite, the sharpshooter who once scored 50 points in a game against the Gary Steelheads?  That T.J. Thompson, who has spent the last few years making serious euros in France?  The T.J. Thompson who was drafted #1 in the 2005 CBA draft by the returning Albany Patroons?  That T.J. Thompson?

“Yeah, Chuck, you ever hear of him?” Ian asked.

“A little,” I wisecracked.

True story.  During the 2006-07 CBA basketball season, in which the Patroons made it to the championship finals, I worked an arrangement with the souvenir stand to provide photographs for a 16-card set of Albany Patroons trading cards.  The playing lineup for the cards included T.J. Thompson, Jamario Moon, Carl Mitchell, John Strickland, Kwan Johnson, Chris Sockwell, Kareem Reid – mind you, this was a solid team.  Three cards were devoted to non-players – head coach Micheal Ray Richardson, assistant coach Derrick Rowland, and a mascot card for Lido the Panda.

Of the 16 cards in the set, I was able to get 13 of the cards autographed.  I didn’t get the Lido card autographed because I couldn’t tell if the Lido in the costume was Ed from the A Few Cards Short of a Deck trivia team, or his shorter, slower replacement.

I didn’t get Micheal Ray Richardson to autograph the card while he was with the Patroons; partially because I had heard a rumor that he was in a bad mood one day and someone handed him his trading card and he tore it up.  I’ll wait until he’s in a better mood before I ask him.

And the third card that didn’t get autographed was T.J. Thompson’s.  Partially because by the time the cards came out, he was in France on an overseas basketball contract.  So this would be the first time I would see him in over three years.

Sure I’m bringing the card and a Sharpie.  Wouldn’t you?

Now as for the tournament.  Nine teams each paid an entrance fee to participate in the tourney, including the two-time champion Mission Hill squad.  Ian’s team put in their fee, as did a team from the WBA Exposure League (the Jacksonville Blue Waves).  A team calling themselves “Unknown” had at least one VERY WELL KNOWN player on their squad – the Boston Celtics’ “Big Baby,” Glen Davis.

Glen "Big Baby" Davis (right) being interviewed on camera by tournament organizer James Hall. Photo by Chuck Miller.

I should mention that there were several other PBL veterans in the tournament, as guys like Kendrick Price (Vermont), Dwight Brewington (Manchester), Nigel Moore (Rochester), Anthony Anderson (Manchester) and P.J. Young (Manchester) got some playing time in the weekend tourney.

The tournament began, and it was clear that some teams were hopelessly outclassed.  The Mission Hill and Big Baby teams were clobbering their competition, while Ian’s squad did well on the first day of play.  Now if a team got eliminated on the first day, they have the opportunity to “buy back” into the tournament, essentially by paying another entry fee.  Some teams bought back in – only to get beaten by larger margins.

On Sunday, seven teams were left.  After the first three games, any losing team that had not previously “bought back” into the tourney would have their name placed in a hat, and a random draw would allow them to play one more game in the final qualifier.  That random draw game went to Ian’s team, who lost against Mission Hill in the quarterfinals earlier that day, and were too weary to play in the last quarterfinal game and got pummeled.

By the final game, it was Big Baby’s squad against Mission Hill.  Both teams had already played two games that day, so this would be essentially the third part of a tripleheader for them.  You try playing three basketball games in a single day.  Then check back with me after you finally get off the gurney.

The gymnasium at Madison Park High School in Roxbury was filled to capacity, and several warnings were issued by the announcers to keep fans who couldn’t find a seat from standing too close to the court or blocking the fire lanes.  Musical entertainment was provided by a crew of DJ’s, while an MC named Twizzlo did color commentary throughout the game. (“I see you, KG… hey, hey, no way, hey, hey…”).

The final game was nip and tuck all the way, but in the end, Big Baby’s team stopped the two-time champion Mission Hill squad 64-53, and won the tournament – and $10,000 in cash for the winning squad.  Big Baby celebrated by pouring a bottle of Gatorade over the coach’s head, and everybody had a good time at the event.  And congrats to PBL players Kendrick Price and Anthony Anderson, who were on the Big Baby winning team.

I took a ton of pictures over the two-day event, and thankfully I packed enough EN-EL3e batteries to keep my Nikon D700 going through nearly a dozen contests.  A slideshow of the game action and atmosphere can be seen below.

Much thanks and appreciation to James Hall and his staff for producing another well-run tournament.  What this guy does to preserve the name and legacy of Louis Saunders (in Albany terms, think Milton Horne) should be admired and respected.  I’m looking forward to the 2011 tournament to see if Mission Hill can avenge their championship loss, or if Ian can bring another batch of minor league hammers to the tourney.

Oh, and one final note – I was able to get T.J. Thompson to autograph his trading card.   As soon as I get Micheal Ray Richardson to autograph his card (preferably after a win, when he’s in a good mood), then I’ll have a complete set.