Stop the violence, bring on the hoops.
That has been the mantra of the Stop the Violence Basketball Tournament for 11 years. The effort to stamp out violence through basketball may be making gains.
One of the organizers of the 11th annual tournament noted that it has been a few years since a name has been added to the back of the shirts worn by all of its players. Those shirts list the names of Riverhead area residents who died in violent incidents.
The idea is to foster goodwill on a fun weekend of hoops.
“The purpose of the tournament is actually bringing people together, not only the players, but the people in the community,” said Larry Williams, the Riverhead tournament’s co-founder along with Dwayne Eleazer. “It’s gotten bigger and bigger each year.”
This weekend’s tournament had a new look to it in the form of a shiny new scoreboard at Horton Avenue Park. Bleachers and benches were also added for spectators and players.
Organizers estimated that between 800 and 900 people turned out for the double-elimination tournament involving eight teams identified only by shirt colors. Players came from as far away as New Jersey and New York City, including some who have played in the NBA developmental league and for NCAA Division I teams.
“The quality of basketball is great,” said Williams.
Eleazer said he never imagined the tournament would grow as it has.
“The strength that we get to do it is unreal,” he said. “It starts in April, you know, trying to get these teams in, and it doesn’t stop until 5 or 6 o’clock on Sunday afternoon when it’s all over.”
The new scoreboard wasn’t all that necessary for the final. The burgundy team had won the only three games it played heading into the championship game. The black team, on the other hand, took a 6-1 record into the final, but played its last five games with only five players, one of whom dealt with cramping issues.
It was no surprise that the men in burgundy ran out to leads of 10-1, 31-15 and 46-19 by halftime before the game was stopped about midway through the second half with the score 64-28.
It was the third title in a row and at least fifth overall for the team, led by tournament MVP J.J. Moore. The 6-foot-6 Moore, who played collegiately for Pittsburgh and Rutgers, was an NBA developmental league player as well as a member of the New Jersey Nets summer league team this year.
“Every year it’s getting better and better because we take it every year,” said Moore, who scored 18 of his 21 points in the first half on the pale blue court that matched the sunny sky above. “Everybody wants to compete with us.”
Regardless of the competition, players want to win, and this tournament was no different. The $5,000 first-place prize was a good motivator, too.
George Beamon, a burgundy player who has Manhattan College and the NBA developmental league on his playing résumé, said: “They got a great thing out here, man. I love it.”
As does Susan Miles, a volunteer whose myriad responsibilities included keeping the bracket sheet and presenting the MVP award. “My job is to do everything, make sure Dwayne and Larry are running things smoothly,” she said. “I love it or else I wouldn’t do it.”
Perhaps the same could be said for Eleazer. He said: “The last week before the tournament, my phone just rings, rings, rings, rings, rings … My wife tells me, ‘When you going to stop? Give it to somebody younger than you.’ No, it’s just fun.”
Photo caption: Antonio Scott of the black team tries to break down the burgundy team defense in the first half of the Stop the Violence Basketball Tournament final. (Credit: Bob Liepa)