Hoops Heaven

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 20, 2003

Basketball fanatics, this is your weekend.

The 8th Annual Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball Jam is Saturday and Sunday in the front parking lot of Albert Lea’s Northbridge Mall, offering almost nonstop hoops action for players of nearly every age and ability. Games begin at 8 a.m. Saturday and conclude Sunday evening.

Although an exact number of teams entered was not known as of Thursday, event chairperson Dennis Dieser said he expected another nice turnout and was hopeful of surpassing last year’s total of 290, the most ever for an Albert Lea Gus Macker.

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For some locals, the tournament has turned into an annual tradition.

That’s the case for Dave Klatt, a State Farm Insurance agent who has sponsored a team that has placed first in the 35-and-over or 40-and-over division three years in a row. His teammates travel from the metro area for the event. All played college basketball.

&uot;They play in the Twin Cities all year long,&uot; said Klatt. &uot;They’ve won the (35-and-over) state championship several years in a row. They like to come down here, play their games early, and play golf late. Really, for us, it’s just kind of an annual get-together. It’s kind of become a tradition.&uot;

While Klatt himself can’t participate this year because one of his sons is playing in a baseball tournament at Northfield, his teammates &045; or at least two of them, Lani Stewart and Eddie Cassidy &045; will be back to defend their title. The third &045; 6-foot-11 1/2 Mike Davis, who played college basketball at Marquette &045; broke his leg playing volleyball Wednesday night. Klatt’s spot on the team is being filled by Jeff Pierce of Bricelyn.

Klatt will spend time at the tournament, though, with two sons and a daughter competing. He said that while a Macker may not be the best setting to teach full-court basketball skills, the tournament has had a positive impact on the sport locally.

&uot;Every year, the kids look forward to this,&uot; said Klatt. &uot;Every year, they keep adding teams and

it keeps improving. I think it’s even starting to show at the varsity level. The more kids play, the better they get.&uot;

The Albert Lea Family Y is again hosting the Mini-Macker on conjunction with the Gus Macker. It’s for 7, 8 and 9-year-olds. There will also be a court set up for kids even younger than that to shoot baskets, according to Dieser.

There’s also a weekend-long free throw contest, a three-point shooting contest, and the always popular slam dunk competition.