STORY: Matt Caputo

PHOTOS: Ben Tifa

Saturday is a great day to get out of the city. I realize though that with the rising cost of fruit roll-ups, you can only get so far. Not that this is Travel + Leisure or anything…but in my opinion Orchard Beach and City Island are probably the two most underrated spots within the city limits. City Island for the seafood and Orchard Beach for the basketball in the summer time. For the hoop diehards who’ve been indoors all winter, The Hoops In The Sun tournament is the perfect change of pace.

While basketball on the beach isn’t a new concept at all (some cats in Venice Beach will tell you about that) H. I.T.S reminded me of something I’d seen before. Right around the turn of the century (98, 99, 00), ESPN aired three seasons of “Pro Beach Hockey.” Pro hockey players, some with NHL experience, played a short season in one rink in Huntington Beach, California. Although the concept was pretty weird, the ramped rink, two-point goal line, cheesy 90’s team names and frequent fighting certainly made the action entertaining. H.I.T.S is kinda like that except no violence and dope K1X uniforms.

From what I’ve estimated these courts were made by the Parks Department and they tend to make basketball courts imperfect all around the city. Naturally, the court is short and not wide enough for any traditional game. The wind carries the ball in different directions and it does get really hot. However, there is a scoreboard and shot clock keeping NBA time. With rosters including former NBA players, streetball legends, and soon to be big time college studs, the Hoops In The Sun tournament is bringing the game into a unique atmosphere for New York City and the closest anyone should come to doing a “Pro Beach Basketball” tour (however, I do have it trademarked).

This season K1X has blessed the league by becoming its official sponsor. One of the players signed with K1X is, Cory “The Undertaker” Underwood is playing today and the co-announcer G-Stacks calls him a “stretball legend.” Today there is a current or former NBA guy or two. Looking out at the court, there are a few guys I know or at that least remember from growing up in the city. Besides Underwood, there is Antwan Dobie, who played at LIU-Brooklyn, Kevin Johnson who played at UNC-Charlotte and even a kid I went to high school with named Stanley Milien, who played at D2 is here. So, if you follow high school basketball around the city, you’ll see a lot of names from the past.

Today, one-time NBA guard Kenny Satterfield is here playing with Erving Walker of Christ the King who is headed to the University of Florida. The 5”9’ Walker commands the floor like a pro and isn’t distracted by the rough play or the fact that the bench and the stands are one in the same. He sees the pass ahead of time and with Satterfield and the Undertaker handling the scoring load, he’s hustle-first, thinking-pass and in control. A coach once told me that Walker was the “best fifth grader he’d ever seen” and I agreed. He’s getting ready to play for Billy Donovan and that will only make him better.

Satterfield was shooting around alone before his teammates rushed the bench behind on time. He spent three years in the NBA and was the MVP of last year’s H.I.T.S. His time in the NBA may be behind him, but his steps are long from lost. He makes open jumpers, athletic shots on the run and is crafty at times on defense. He and Walker were worth the $8 I paid to park.

Besides the court size and the fact that the game is being played on a beach, the game is pretty aggressive and more “pure streetball” than most commercialized forms of the genre. Though paying to park sucks, but admission is free and the beverages companies co-sponsoring the events keep everyone generously hydrated, myself included. I felt at home because, Bobby C and G-Stack the announcers, were shouting out SLAM on the PA all game. Bobby C actually sounds like he’s calling the NBA finals.

Most of all the competition is entertaining. Most of the players are pros somewhere or played college ball. Tournaments like this are kind of like small minor leagues all playing in New York City, except with women in bathing suites all over the place. In any case, the competition is at a high level and maybe if the Knicks took a hint and played a few games on a beach people would like them more. For now, the league at Orchard Beach is a place where tough players that are both coming into and going-out-of their prime shine together.