The members of Three Land T know how awesome -- and how hard -- it is to win in the top men's division of the Gus Macker 3-on-3 Tournament of Buffalo. It's something the crew did four years ago.
But even they didn't know what they were getting into when they played their first game of the 21st edition of the Buffalo tournament on Saturday morning against the Fromunda Crew. Three Land T endured what it considered a shocking defeat at the hands of a team filled with 40-somethings.
Cagey veterans who know how to move with and without the basketball. Gunslingers who know how to set up quality shots. Veterans who not only know how to take a charge but, most important, know how to win games.
Three Land T learned the hard way that Fromunda Crew, captained by St. Bonaventure Athletic Director Steve Watson, isn't some over-the-hill gang. It's a team whose members may someday wind up in the Gus Macker Hall of Fame.
"They're very good," said Three Land 31-year-old Ed Benedoraitis of Chicago. "You can tell they've been playing in these tournaments for years and years. I wouldn't be surprised to see them [today] in the championship."
Top men's division title games will both start at 5:30 p.m. in front of New Era at Delaware Avenue and Huron Street, while the top women's final is slated for 1:30 p.m. in Niagara Square.
If Fromunda winds up playing for the title in one of the two top men's divisions today, it wouldn't be the first time Watson and his boys have been in a championship game.
Watson, 43; his older brother Jake, 44; longtime friend Jeff Haskell, 44; and former Bowling Green teammate Derek Kizer, 42, have combined to win seven Macker titles nationwide since participating in their first during the mid-1990s. Steve Watson and Haskell were on a team that won the Macker event in Warren, Pa., just three weeks ago. The Watsons and Haskell have also been a part of five other winning teams in Macker play.
But they're trying to do something they haven't done before, win the Gus Macker of Buffalo Tournament in their first try.
"We just wanted to play in the biggest [Macker]," Steve Watson said regarding why his team opted to play in Buffalo this year. "As we get older and our kids get older, there are only so many years we can keep playing in the top men."
"We tell our wives each year this is our last year," added Haskell.
More than 3,600 players took to the courts on Niagara Square and Delaware Avenue for the first day of the Macker. While it was windy and overcast throughout the day, the weather didn't rain on anyone's parade. Basketball junkies got their fill of dazzling spin moves, passes and, on the top men's court, dunks.
They also got to see some professional athletic stars, including Riverside product and Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Williams, who played in two games for the South Buffalo Celtics.
Still, competitors like former UB women's basketball great Kourtney Brown, former Mount Mercy standouts Clare Crowley and Andrea Muszynski and Sacred Heart alum turned assistant coach Rachel Michalek are the mainstays of the Macker.
Fromunda, meanwhile, will have to come out of the loser's bracket today in order to add to its title collection. After a 2-0 start, the team ran into a Mack truck of a team, Darling Paint, that featured former Western New York Player of the Year and current professional Jason Rowe, former Turner-Carroll and Cornell standout Ka'Ron Barnes and former UB Bull and Riverside player Karl Rainey.
Fromunda kept it close for a while, but Darling Paint made way more shots than they missed in a 20-11 triumph -- a game that at one point was so close that a few among the hundreds of fans surrounding the court couldn't believe the blowout hadn't come, yet.
But the beatdown came in the blink of an eye. Still, the defeat didn't completely spoil the day for members of Fromunda -- especially since playing against Rowe created another nostalgic moment.
Steve Watson, a scorer with a sweet outside jumper who can also finish in the paint, played against Rowe's uncle, Lester, during his professional basketball days in France.
Haskell's daughters, Allyson and Danielle, were on a team that won the girls 10-and-under title on Saturday -- their second Macker title this month. Steve Watson watched his son Jackson hit the game-winning free throw in overtime during a 10-and-under boys game.
"It's a fun day," Watson said. "It's enjoyable. More than anything, it's getting together with friends."
Friends who still have game and are determined to prove it one more time.
"We'll see what happens," Watson said. "We're not conceding anything."