Senior players hit the basketball court
HUNTINGTON -- Tournament officials for men's basketball in the 20th West Virginia Senior Sports Classic presented by St. Mary's Medical Center had all the bases covered before the start of play Saturday morning.
As the players filed into the YMCA-Phil Cline Center gym, they noticed vast amounts of ice-cold bottled water, towels and boxes of bananas, apples and oranges. Tournament directors Bob Hardwick and Bob Patton also informed players they had 911 on speed dial and EMTs had been alerted.
With players from age 50 all the way into their 80s, they didn't take any chances.
Despite the age differences and limited practices, players knocked down threes from all over the place, executed the pick and roll, ran back-door cuts for easy baskets, pump-faked defenders out of position and drove for scores, connected on hook shots, set effective picks, drew charges and, yes, took exception to calls by the referees. What men will do for a medal.
"This is fun. I enjoy it," said Mark Mullens, who played for the Zips in the age 50-55 bracket. "Being in shape is the issue. It shows."
Before the opening games, the officials explained the rules for the 3-on-3 half-court format. Teams played 12-minute halves. They got two timeouts. There was some confusion early and the officials halted play to clear up issues. As games progressed, officials didn't stop play and teams paid for their errors.
During a timeout, players hit the bottled water hard. However, no oxygen tanks were present.
Old Gold started the action in the 50-55 bracket with a 63-36 win over the Pony Express. It became clear the Charleston team was the gold medal favorite thanks to the outside shooting of John Mullins, inside play of Marvin Grayson and its depth as the team had five players active.
"Stay young," Grayson said of why he remains active on the court. "Health. Keep the weight down."
Mullins is the son of Jim Mullins, who coached junior basketball in Boone County for more than 40 years until he passed away. In 2008, the Madison Civic Center was renamed the Jim Mullins Civic Center and two portraits of him are inside the building. John Mullins painted one of the portraits.
"I can't get it out of my system," Mullins said of playing basketball. "It's the best way to stay in shape."
Old Gold beat YMCA, 81-37, in its second game as Mullins poured in trey after trey. During the late stages of the game, Old Gold had a 3-on-2 advantage as YMCA had one player foul out and another player was ejected. YMCA came out of the loser's bracket to meet Old Gold again for the gold medal. Old Gold prevailed, 62-33.
"I've got to have the competition," Mullins said. "It's hard to do it on your own. I've always been able to shoot. That's my strong point."
Pony Express beat the Zips for the bronze.
"Teams run to take the ball out, we walk," Mark Mullens said. "We got killed. We couldn't stop anyone. Right now I can hardly move. Next year I'll get in shape."
The WV Mountaineers beat the WV Generals and Almost Heaven to get the gold in the age 65-75 bracket. Almost Heaven was the only age 80-older team and received gold despite an 0-2 record.
The Mountaineers made the most of a height advantage as Bob Baker and Jeff Harlow dominated down low.
"Guys drive, draw a defender and dump it down low," Baker said.
"We don't call numbers," Harlow said about running set plays. "We do play together so much we do have a good pick and roll."
Harlow's known as the bionic man because he has two new hips and eight braces in his shoulders. He also won a battle against cancer (tonsil).
When Baker and Harlow, both 66, drew defenders, that left 69-year-old Tommy Miller open outside. Miller is in a battle with stomach cancer, but right now he said basketball is winning.
"I've always been a shooter," he said. "If guys are doubled down low, you get the ball back out. That's what your supposed to do. I've been fortunate."
"He's got a sweet shot," Harlow said of Miller.
For the Generals, Fred Duffield, 78, drew attention with his first shot -- a two-handed set shot. He connected for a few threes. He also said all team members are old Stonewall Jackson High School graduates.
"When I first started, that shot was very prominent," he said. "As the years go on, the one-hand shot comes in. I mess around with it. In senior ball, the two-hand shot works. I can't get the ball up there with one hand. As for the threes, teams live and die by the three."
For Almost Heaven, Tom Potter, 80, led the way. He made a move right on a dribble drive and banked a shot home. He drove the lane, did an up-and-under and got the roll for the score. Finally, on another drive to the basket, he tried a scoop shot and drew a foul. The pace at which Potter did these moves, needless to say, was not what it used to be. He hasn't missed a senior competition in the Mountain State and has played 10 times in the national games.
"I'm the big guy on the team. That's pretty sad," Potter said.
In addition to basketball, Potter runs and plays tennis.
"I stay in good shape. Basketball is the most fun," Potter said. "This competition is great."
Potter said teammates Bert Morris and Keith Holmes are of the bionic mode. Morris has a new shoulder and two new knees. Holmes has two new knees.
"All original parts," Potter said when asked about his makeup. "I try to get an open shot, it's just harder to do. We all try to do our best."