Basketball is pride of Island

By Matt Phelps

Sports Beat

Northwest basketball was given an even higher profile last week with the National Basketball Association's annual draft of high school and collegiate athletes. Marvin Williams, formerly of Bainbridge Island High School, was taken by Atlanta as the No. 2 overall pick. Seattle Prep basketball star Martel Webster was taken sixth overall by the Portland Trail Blazers, who are owned by Island resident Paul Allen. And last, but certainly not least, was University of Washington stand out Nate Robinson. The 5-foot-8-inch guard was taken No. 21 overall by the Phoenix Suns and traded to the New York Knicks. Islander fans will remember Robinson for standing the way, or literally leaping over, players and teams from 3A KingCo during the state basketball tournament while playing at Rainier Beach High School.

But while the nation is finding out just how good players from the Northwest are, one of the biggest hotbeds for basketball in the Northwest, Mercer Island, is continuing to explode with talent.

One sign of the commitment these players have for the sport is the annual pilgrimage to Spokane, Wash. for Hoopfest. The Lid Challenge 3-on-3 tournament this Friday is another event on many Island players' calendar.

Over 20 teams and 100 players from the Island participated in Hoopfest this year, as entire families made the trip. Islander Blair Rasmussen and four of his kids, who were all on different teams, were one of those families.

``The number of MI teams and families seems to grow every year,'' said Rasmussen, who is a former NBA player and Mercer Island High School girls basketball coach. ``Just off the top of my head I can name 25 families from MI who were there.''

Rasmussen said that he saw players from families such as the Shuts, Zahnisers, Morses, Kristofs, Newhoffs (2), Kellys, Lewis, Galas, Sextons, Misras (2), O'Mearas, Eddys, Shaddles(2), Vogels, Versnels (2), Larsons, Swedstedts, Delays (2), Taylors (2), Lillys, Diamonds (2), Gastons, Balinbins, Chows and Nordales. That is a lot of Islanders.

``As a participant or just a fan of basketball, it's just a great event. Depending which street you are on, you'll walk by an adult elite men's game, a high school recreational boys game, a girls' high school or women's game, a wheelchair game.''

The diversity of athletes is one of the biggest draws.

This year the event played host to 24,112 players on 396 courts, as Hoopfest literally takes over downtown Spokane with 3-on-3 games and tournaments.

The first team ever from the Island to make the trip to Hoopfest went under the name of Kiss My Asphalt this year. Players Carter Newhof, Deven Lewis, Kael Kristof and David Kelly, won their bracket to bring home first place.

A third-grade team named the Islanders, comprised of just three players, Brandon Lawler, Josh Stenberg and Harrison Goonewardene, also took fist in their bracket. The team went 5-0in the process.

Another first place team from Mercer Island were a bit older but also went by the name Islanders. This Islanders team was comprised of Sam Rasmussen, Matt Schut, Evan Zahniser and Paul Morse and the y won their bracket for the third time in four years.

The MI Wildcats, Michael Lewis, Adam Jelinek, Jeremy Chow and Michael Diamond also took first in their division.

Islanders Rahul Misra, Tom Eddy and John O'meara took second in their tournament.

Each court has a 16 team bracket, so just getting to finals can be a big deal, especially in the hot Eastern Washington sun.

Win or lose the teams have fun. Daniel Marinello, Nate Schuler, Christopher Lawler and Jacob Stenberg comprised a fourth grade team that went 2-2 in their bracket.

Obviously this is just a sampling of the Mercer Island contingent at Hoopfest as I can't name them all. But it is not just boys that participate. The number of girls that compete in the Hoopfest games has risen over the 15 years the event has taken place.

One of those teams from Mercer Island was Ashley Larson, Lindsay Adams, Caroline Carfi and Molly Delay. All the girls attend Lakeridge Elementary and went by the name Lady Islanders. The team finished third overall in their bracket during just their second year of competition at Hoopfest.

Mercer Island's smaller version of Hoopfest takes place this Friday. Boys and girls from around the area, but mainly the Island, will compete at the Lid Challenge. As of Sunday, event organizer Bob Burmeister said that 22 teams have signed up so far but registration will continue until the start of the event.

``It's wonderful to be able to walk five minutes to great basketball and save on the cost of gas it takes to drive five hours,'' said Burmeister. ``I mean how many choruses of Kumbaya and John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt is that?''

Whether it is on the Island or at Hoopfest, basketball is a big part of the Mercer Island community and the Northwest.

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