Post up, ice down

>Senior Patrick Moote tracks a Blaine player during last week
>Senior Patrick Moote tracks a Blaine player during last week's playoff loss to Blaine. The Falcons did better Wednesday against Lakewood, winning 48-47.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

You won't find anyone faking a knee injury on the basketball court at Langley Middle School on Sunday afternoons.

With a gymnasium full of basketball players who are mostly in their 40s and 50s, there's nothing funny about pretending to come up lame to fool the opponent -- there are too many real injuries already. It is a rare player who doesn't take the court without a knee brace or an ankle wrap. The strains, bumps and bruises are just par for the course.

Besides, the men who play in this 35-and-over league sponsored by the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District have other things to think about, things like passing, shooting and running the court. While they may joke that the four-teams competing at the middle school each week are part of the "ice pack" league, the players are good. Though not as quick on the fast break as they were when they played in high school or college, these older players know when to make their shots and how to keep the other guy away from the basket.

It's called experience.

"I can't really give it up," said Ryan O'Keefe, a 35-and-over player who puts in court time both in the Sunday league and in Saturday's more serious men's recreational basketball league.

No longer a big fan of the fast break, O'Keefe, like many of the guys on the court, is a studied practitioner of the three-pointer and the fade-away shot.

Last Sunday, he arrived a few minutes early for his 2:30 p.m. game to watch the players for Allan's Hoopies and Price-Johnson Construction run the court in a lopsided game. Though the winless Hoopies were about 20 points behind in this, the eighth game of the season, the game was clearly one between gentlemen. With no officials to mediate, the players called their own fouls without argument, made room for one another when one player clearly had position over another and played the game perhaps more purely than most teams at the high school or college level.

Of course, they would never give themselves credit for being good players. Mark Noste, a Village Pizzeria player who filled in for an absent Hoopie in Sunday's first game, could not find one aspect of his game that has improved with age, experience and years of experience as a coach. However, he said, his jaw is in better shape than it used to be.

"We do a lot of talking," he said with a laugh.

The games the men in the league play can be grueling, especially when a team shows up with only five players and no one to bring in as substitutions. Forty minutes is a long time to go without a rest, for anybody. So when a team calls a timeout, it usually has less to do with planning strategy than it does with getting a breather.

Last weekend, the Johnson brothers of Price-Johnson -- Dave, Jeff and Mike -- monopolized the sub spot. Early in the game, Jeff Johnson took his seat on the bench, doubling the number of spectators in the stands by doing so. When Mike Johnson wound up almost doing the splits during a play in front of the bench, Jeff also got to play heckler.

"Holy cow! Did that hurt?" he said.

While all the players in the league have a number of reasons for being on the court, most of them list fun and family as the top two. O'Keefe said he is playing for the aptly named Too Young To Quit team because he wants his school-aged children to see him play. Dave Johnson, who does most of the laughing for his team, said he's just happy to get the workout.

"If you don't exercise, you've got to do something," he said.

Eight weeks into the season, nobody seems too concerned about who will be the champion of the four-team league. Too Young to Quit, which does seem to have the youngest players in the league, is 7-1 at this point, while Price-Johnson and Village Pizzeria are in the middle ground of the standings. The Hoopies, who are now 0-8, are clearly playing for fun this year, since glory has probably escaped them.

League play continues for another few weeks.

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