Steve Willis, a Belleair recreation leader and former University of Nebraska point guard, will run the Belleair’s Got Air three-on-three basketball tournament Aug. 10.
BELLEAIR – Calling all youths who love to show what they can do on the basketball court: Bring it. The town’s three-on-three basketball tournament is set for Saturday, Aug. 10.
The inaugural Belleair’s Got Air is modeled after Hoop It Up, a street ball tournament established by the NBA in 1989. It will be run by former Hoop It Up world champion, coach Steve Willis, a Belleair recreation leader.
Registration is underway for the tournament, featuring about 32 teams vying in four brackets – fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades.
Willis and town Special Events Coordinator Sara Borger have been talking about having a tournament for a couple of years. The town has league play in the fall and the spring and interest in basketball has been increasing.
“I said, ‘Well, let’s do it this year.’ And so he’s (Willis) got a ton of basketball players who really wanted to do something like this, so we are doing it,” Borger said.
Each team, consisting of four players, will play at least three games, which generally will run 16 minutes each in the elimination tournament. Every basket counts as a point, except three-point shots, which are two points, Borger said.
“It’s just a different atmosphere, three on three,” Willis said. “It’s a bit more intimate.”
The tournament will be played inside the Dimmitt Center, but the games can be played on the tennis courts if necessary. Females can participate, too.
“It’s going to be a really fun atmosphere. Lots of music. There is a lot of competition outside the game. There is a free throw contest, hot shot contest and tons of prizes,” Borger said.
Borger said Willis has the “cool factor and kids love that.”
“At this age group, 6th, 7th and 8th grade, sometimes you tend to lose the teenagers because they are really busy doing other things … But Steve keeps them very interested and very engaged. He brings enthusiasm, professionalism. He’s a very good athlete himself and very good basketball player. So he has got a lot of knowledge and he really teaches kids the game of basketball at a very high level,” Borger said.
Willis grew up in Indianapolis, playing basketball most of his life.
“I saved up money and the only thing I wanted for Christmas was a nice basketball. I got the best ball out there,” he said.
The older players would let him compete if somebody got hurt.
“They’d say let ‘little man play since he bought the ball,’” Willis said.
Consequently, he improved rapidly and the game became easy for him, playing point guard for the University of Nebraska.
He went on to play for a three-on-three team in Orlando, winning the Hoop It Up championship in Dallas in 1994. The following year the team had a free seven-day trip to Hawaii to defend the championship. They didn’t defend the title, but the trip was unforgettable, Willis said.
“It was fabulous. An all-expenses paid,” Willis said.
With interest increasing among Belleair youths in basketball, both Willis and Borger expect the tournament to become an annual event. The cost for tournament, which will be from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., is $80 per team. Participants do not have to be town residents. To register, call 518-3728.
“I think from the interest we are getting it’s going to be something that will be a very neat Belleair tradition,” Borger said.
Belleair offers youth basketball league
The Belleair Parks and Recreation Department is offering a fall youth basketball league for ages 5-17.
This recreational league is designed to teach and enhance basketball knowledge and skills in a fun atmosphere. Games are played on Saturdays and practices are held once a week for an hour. Evaluations will be held on Saturday, Sept. 7.
The 10-week season will start on Monday, Sept. 16, and conclude on Saturday, Nov. 16. League fee for members is $75 and $90 for nonmembers. Games will be held at the Dimmitt Community Center at 918 Osceola Road in Belleair.