[Full Disclosure: Subjects of this article include Senior Editor of The Miscellany News Mack Liederman, Sports Editor Myles Olmsted and Columnist Emmett O’Malley.]
Standing just behind the three-point line, junior Mack Liederman readied himself to shoot. Somehow in the swarm of five other bodies, the ball found Liederman in the corner, standing more open than Acrop. He collected the pass, loaded and launched for the game winner.
Two hours earlier, six teams warmed up in the AFC, but four wouldn’t make it past 5 p.m. Brown paper bags from Express lay scattered on the gymnasium floor, bounce passes ran errant and wayward jump shots built brick houses. In just a few short hours, one of these teams would be crowned champion of the fourth Vassar Intramural 3-on-3 basketball tournament.
From Harlem’s famous Rucker Park to Vassar’s AFC, pick-up is the lifeblood of basketball. With three players operating in the tight geometry of half-court sets, there is little need or room for specialization. In these make-it-take-it streets, each possession could be your last with the ball. Hustle and rebounding are placed at a premium. If you get outworked, you’ll soon find yourself out of the competition.
The tournament ran by classic pick-up rules: make-it-take-it after baskets, 1’s and 2’s and call your own fouls. The six teams—Subtle Asian Traits (SATs), Stay Humble, All Hail Zion (named after the future chosen son of the NBA), FanTAstic, BIGBALLERZ and Woha—would need to survive a double-elimination gauntlet. One loss would send them to the loser’s bracket, where if they staved off another defeat, they could work their way all the way back to the championship game.
There were no refs in this tournament, and it showed. Two failed alley-oops by Subtle Asians Traits turned into leisurely strolls that went uncalled. Shoes crossed the two-point line more readily than attempts were made. One egregious late-round travel, a dribble-gather hop step followed by a gather jump and then a pivot—committed by senior Emmett O’Malley of Stay Humble—went unnoticed. (Rumor has it NBA Referee Twitter has already supported the no-call.) Finally, consumed by the frenetic, entropic play, junior Hunter Gettings of FanTAstic screamed out, “Love the intensity but if we don’t tone it down, we’re gonna have a problem!”
There was plenty of reason to tone it down. Before the tournament started, Assistant Athletic Director Mike Callahan warned the mostly first-year intramural supervisors that, “In the semi-finals last year, we had guys basically tackling each other.” Even after being eliminated, junior Dane Marshall of SATs stayed close by to prevent things from getting testy. “Yeah, Mike wanted me to stick around should that situation present itself again. I brought my whistle just in case.”
This is where I point out that I was practically living out every sports journalist’s dream. Button-up professionals like Zach Lowe or Kevin Arnovitz may claim to prefer breaking down how the finer points of attacking weak side help defense with the pick and roll, but I promise you they’d rather cover the fight seen from Slap Shot or scream the poetically alliterative damnation, “DOUBLE DOINK!”
Around 4:15 p.m., the action began. SAT’s took the early win over first-year-laden squad BIGBALLERZ. However, both found early exits in the loser’s bracket. FanTAstic won their first bout over Woha but was overpowered by All Hail Zion. In the loser’s bracket, FanTAstic found their groove. They rattled off three straight wins, defeating BB’s, Woha and, avenging their earlier loss, All Hail Zion. Their perfect record in the loser’s bracket secured them a spot in the championship game against Stay Humble.
This is, dear reader of DIII intramural drama, where we enter into a little bit of faux journalistic paradoxia. Stay Humble, the favored and even feared number one seed, included two Miscellany News staff members: columnist, Emmett O’Malley and my sports editor, Myles Olmsted. You would think it would be in my interest to root for the team whose player is editing the piece you are reading at this moment. However, Mack Liederman, Senior Editor of the paper, was on opposing FanTAstic. The true trial that day was maintaining my journalistic empiricism with so much on the line.
The action was tight from the gates. O’Malley shot one from deep and got the friendly roll to tie it up 4-4. From there, scoring ground to a halt. Olmsted got a timely steal but Stay Humble couldn’t capitalize. After a series of errant plays, an unidentified spectator heckled, “Y’all tired? that must be it.” The teams battled their way to 11 when, finally, junior Owen Murray of FanTAstic got a strong lay-up to win it.
The action wasn’t over. Stay Humble hadn’t lost a match-up yet, so FanTAstic had to win twice to earn the title. The stage was set for the championship game. “This [is] all the excitement you could ever dream of,” exclaimed first-year Sulekh Fernando-Peiris. “Now it’s the actual championship game,” veteran first-year intramural referee Max Swan noticed insightfully.
Game two began with a reverse layup by Liederman, who followed the bucket up with a nasty steal off the inbound, which he turned into a pocket pass assist to Murray. Stay Humble responded with a corner two coming off a half-spinning O’Malley chest past. They promptly followed it up with a two from Olmsted. After answering with a two-point bucket, Liederman yelled, “Who’s on the fucking court now!” Evidently, not Liederman, who called for a sub just after.
Stay Humble responded with a now-patented Olmsted corner two. Murray came back with a strong drive but got hacked on the way. Someone from the crowd yelled out, “He need some milk!” The will to win was infinite on both sides. At one critical point, Vassar faculty partner and Old School legend Winston Bailey took it to the hoop. FanTAstic called a travel on the play, Stay Humble disputed, and the tension boiled. Bailey wasn’t satisfied: “Where am I traveling to?” he probed.
Down 9-8, Liederman stepped back in with his team up one. At the top of the key, O’Malley had the ball matched up on Murray. He drove hard to the rim but coughed up the ball. It bounced amid the scrum, but Winston pounced on it and called a timeout. Up one and playing to 11, FanTAstic needed just one two-pointer to end it. Twice they dished to an open Liederman, but he couldn’t hit the dagger. “I was a little cold, they were begging me to shoot…but I missed a couple.”
So there he was, standing precariously between out of bounds and the two-point line. Liederman collected the ball, let it fly and watched his uncontested game winner sink through the hoop. FanTAstic were champions.
Liederman went to shake his fellow writer O’Malley’s hand. Maybe there was smack talk exchanged, maybe there wasn’t. Someone thought they heard Liederman say, “See you next year,” striking a chord with the senior O’Malley, and in the agony of defeat, a hold-me-back moment ensued. O’Malley gave Liederman an open-palm shiver, and the two were separated.
After the fallout, the champions rejoiced. “We came here for one thing. I think everyone knows what that one is,” Liederman boasted. “I put in too many hours of work to miss three straight threes, and we’re champions.” I asked Murray, a former Vassar varsity athlete, where this placed in his athletic accomplishments. “Is this the pinnacle of your athletic achievement?” I inquired. He responded, “By far, no question, no further questions.”