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On Monday evening, championship-level basketball took to the hardwood of Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. No, it wasn't the Cleveland Cavaliers, the arena's usual basketball tenant – they won't start their season until mid-October. Instead, it was the top two teams from Hoops After Dark, an initiative launched in collaboration between the Cavaliers organization as well as the City of Cleveland several weeks ago.
But, before we get started, a quick housekeeping note. I'm riding again in this year's VeloSano to help in the ongoing battle against cancer! If you or anyone you know have been impacted by cancer, I'd appreciate your financial support by donating to my fundraiser page and sharing, if possible!
Here is a direct link to my fundraiser page. You have until October 1 to donate! Thank you for your support!
The idea behind Hoops After Dark was conceived between the Cavaliers organization and the City of Cleveland earlier this summer and hoped to create community, offer customized interventions and mitigate participation in crime through basketball. But, before players could take to the hardwood, they were required to attend life skills workshops an hour before each game. The workshops included a variety of topics such as job readiness, financial literacy, gun safety and much more. Participants were also connected to services that support optimal wellness in the areas of emotional, social, spiritual, physical, environmental as well as occupational health.
“Public safety is our number one priority, and we are focused on creating opportunities for our residents to participate in a variety of programs providing intervention and education,” said City of Cleveland Mayor Justin M. Bibb in a statement.
“The Hoops After Dark initiative to give young men in our community positive direction and opportunities to help them find the right path is the type of program we enthusiastically support,” said Cavaliers CEO Nic Barlage in a statement. “We are investing in the future of these men and in our city and neighborhoods.”
Games during the muli-week tournament were played at the Cudell Recreation Center and the Zelma George Neighborhood Recreation Center, which both featured refurbished basketball courts courtesy of the Cavaliers, twice a week. The initiative itself also included NBA-style activities such as tryouts, a draft, a championship game and other celebratory events.
While games were typically played on the West and East side neighborhood of Cleveland, for the inaugural championship game, the Cavaliers as well as the City of Cleveland wanted to pull out all the stops. The championship game between the tournament's top two teams was treated like a pseudo-Cavaliers game, complete with arena emcee Ahmaad Crump introducing the players, just like he would for a Cavaliers home game, on top of providing play-by-play coverage as well. Sitting courtside to partake in the festivities was Bibb, Barlage, Cavaliers President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman as the friends and family of the players on the court.
City of Cleveland Mayor Justin M. Bibb was in attendance for Monday's Hoops After Dark championship game alongside key members of Cleveland City Council and the Cleveland Cavaliers organization. Bibb expressed after the game he hopes to continue the basketball tournament for years to come. Photo credit: Cleveland Cavaliers
From wire to wire, the championship game between both squads was highly competitive. But, Team 3, who was designated as the away team on the scoreboard, walked away victorious 47-40. Team 3, which was coached by Lutheran East High School girls basketball coach and coaching legend Mel Burke, was led by Cleveland hoops stars Da'Juan Wagner, Da'Quan Phillips and Marcus Vazques. The trio maintained a balanced approach and provided some gritty defense throughout the game which, in turn, led to their championship win.
But, despite the star power Team 3 carried, they were challenged by Team 5 (the designated home team), who were coached by Mikki Smith. Team 5 featured notable names like Jose Peraza, Randy Coleman and Trevonte Epps. Unfortunately, the efforts on the home team's part weren't enough as Team 5 walked away as the first Hoops After Dark champions in the tournament's history.
Hoops After Dark is the first step in what's hopefully a long-term, multi-year collaboration between both the Cavaliers and the City of Cleveland. In the closing ceremonies, Mayor Bibb expressed that he is already looking forward to next year's tournament and for every tournament in the following years as well. Barlage, meanwhile, expressed similar feelings from the Cavaliers' side of things and echoed his sentiments from when Hoops After Dark was first announced.
"We think that basketball can be for all ages and basketball can be for all people," said Barlage. "We look at it as a platform to create change and create positive momentum and opportunities right here in Cleveland, Ohio."
While it's hard to exactly quantify the change that'll be made by Hoops After Dark in just a short span of time, it has set the foundation for years to come in Cleveland. Not only does it bring together the community through high-intensity basketball, but the impact on the floor is even greater. The Cavaliers and the City of Cleveland together providing resources for job readiness, financial literacy, gun safety and so much more will cause lasting ripples in the greater-Cleveland community. That always will be much bigger than basketball.
Featured image credit: Cleveland Cavaliers
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at email@example.com. Did you enjoy this edition of Right Down Euclid? You can get it in your inbox two to three times a week by subscribing here. All it takes is either your Facebook account or email address!
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