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Macker draws top field; Buffalo event in hunt for biggest in nation

Who knows who one might run into at the annual Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament.

There most certainly were spectators and players who did double takes last year when they saw someone who looked like Stanley Cup-champion Patrick Kane hooping it up with nearly 4,000 other basketball players.

Turns out that indeed was South Buffalo's Kane, just two weeks removed from scoring the Cup-clinching goal, firing shots of a different sort at a higher target.

Will there be any stars of Kane's stature hooping it up during the 21st edition of the Macker in Buffalo today in Niagara Square and along Delaware Avenue from Eagle to Cary Street?

"I don't know," said Bill Loecher, chairman for Gus Macker of Buffalo event.

One thing is certain: the more than 3,600 participants (875 teams) will make the Macker a star-studded event whether or not anyone of Kane's stature shows up. They are the people trying to make the Buffalo Gus Macker the king of all 50 Macker tournaments nationwide in terms of overall participation for the fourth year in a row.

The two-day tournament begins this morning at 8 with opening ceremonies in front of City Hall. Games start at 8:30 a.m.

The championship games in the top two men's divisions, whose games will be played in front of New Era's headquarters on Delaware Avenue at Huron Street, are at 5 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday. Should the team from the loser's bracket win, then the teams will play each other again 30 minutes later to determine the champion.

The top women's division title game is Sunday at 1:30 p.m. (2 p.m., if necessary game) in Niagara Square.

Proceeds from the event and concessions go to the Police Athletic League of Buffalo. All participants receive T-shirts, while one-third of the teams get trophies for winning titles (winner's and toilet-bowl bracket champions). Court champions from the 59 divisions (ages 7-59) also receive special hats from New Era.

A championship is one of the reasons Immaculata graduate and current RIT basketball player Anne Wapshare, 21, keeps participating in the Macker. She wants to win one.

"It would be sweet to win," said Wapshare, who will play for The Secret's Out. "It's a lot of fun. Everyone you know who plays basketball is there."

Her sister, 24-year-old Melissa, will play in the event for the first time but not as a teammate. The Iroquois modified girls basketball coach will play for Hot Shotz.

"I get to watch all the time coaching," she said, "so getting to play again will be fun."

Former NBAer Damone Brown is one of the many talented players in what figures to be an ultra-competitive top men's division (36 teams, two courts). He'll be playing for Darling Paint, along with Jason Rowe, Ka'Ron Barnes and Karl Rainey. Last year's members of the championship Darling Paint team -- Charlie Comerford, Fran Snyder and Nick Parisi -- will play for Timon Canisius, which also consists of Canisius High School coach Kyle Husband.

Past Macker champion and former Canisius College big man Andy Bush will play for Body Blocks, which is in the same group as Timon Canisius. He said playing in the Macker is the perfect way to start the summer.

"There's nothing more that brings the crowds and all the players together," said Bush, a physical education teacher for the Buffalo Public Schools. "I think it's just the excitement, to go against good competition. It's a little flashback, to see if I still have it."

"I believe our reputation for putting on a good tournament keeps bringing players from all over and keeps bringing people back to Buffalo," said Susan M. Gonzalez, executive director of the PAL. "It's such an enthusiastic basketball city."