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They laced up their high-tops Saturday and strayed from basketball courts in city playgrounds and suburban driveways for their annual pilgrimage downtown.

Some 4,100 basketball players -- men, women and children of all ages and sizes -- joined thousands more fans along Delaware Avenue and Niagara Square, where more than 60 makeshift courts were set up for Buffalo's 11th annual Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament.

The tournament -- which continues today for the 1,050 teams that weren't eliminated in Saturday's round -- has been the area's premier event for young hoopsters to size up their basketball skills against others in Western New York.

For some of the old-timers, it's an opportunity to show they've still got game.

"Oh, he played for Sweet Home, must have been '81-'82," recalled Marvin Hall, pointing out one of the tournament players. "He was a bad boy. He was a force to be reckoned with."

The rain briefly delayed the tournament's Saturday morning start, and didn't help the teams playing first. But the weather did provide a good excuse for those who lost.

"We were first to play, and it was pouring out," said Nolan DuPree, 17, of Angola, whose Derby Destroyers dumped their first game. "I think that's why we lost. We could have beaten these guys."

The weather cleared, but the rain-slicked courts made it slippery for the players, many of whom hobbled on sprained ankles to medical tents for ice or bandages. Some wily Gus Macker veterans such as Hall, though, know they have to come ready for anything.

"We've been playing here for nine years now, and you can't take a lot of sharp cuts to the hole anyway, just a lot of pick-and-rolls," said Hall, 38, of Lackawanna.

What began in Lowell, Mich., in 1974, with 18 neighborhood buddies playing basketball in a driveway, has grown to include more than 80 cities across the country, with Buffalo being one of the largest tournaments, organizers said.

The two-day event, which blocked off Delaware Avenue from West Eagle to Cary streets, raises money for Cradle Beach Camp.

The venue switched this year from Washington Street because the layout is more convenient along Delaware and Niagara Square, said Joe LaLonde, one of the event organizers.

Much of the fan attention clearly was focused on the courts in front of City Hall, where top men's and women's teams were battling each other.

"Yo, that kid's got serious game," said one onlooker.

"Oh! Good pick, good pick," said another spectator. "Y'all look like the Lakers out there."

But the best thing about Gus Macker is that teams are matched according to size, skills and age, so it's good, fun competition, said Jen Stachura, 30, of Lancaster.

"Yeah, the upper core is going to be the attraction," said Stachura, whose team, Injured Reserves, lost their opening game.

Tournament veteran Frank Tedesco of Niagara Falls can attest to that. At 50, Tedesco is the youngest player on his team.

"The combined age of this team is 206," said Tedesco's teammate Tim Armstrong, 53, of Amherst. "We've got to be the oldest team in this tournament."

On the other hand, it was the first year for Kelsey Schneider, Melissa Graham, Bridget McDonnell and Ann Milks, a team of 9- and 10-year-olds from East Aurora known as the Bandits.

The girls were giddy Saturday even though they lost their first game by one point in the rain. Bridget just shrugged.

"We all love basketball," she said.

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