Canadian basketball fans have had a lot to cheer about lately.
Not only did the True North produce Anthony Bennett, picked first overall in the 2013 NBA Draft, it has also spawned 18-year-old Vaughan, Ont., wunderkind Anthony Wiggins, who has been heralded, variously, as the "next LeBron James."
But a Hamilton-based men's team wants to prove that the youngsters aren't the only Canadians who can dominate the court on the world stage. The Hamilton Stooges are in Turin, Italy this week for the 2013 World Masters Games, an international multi-sport tournament for athletes over 35.
'We wouldn't be here if we didn't think we could win it.' —Jude Kelly, Hamilton Stooges
Made up of players who grew up in Hamilton and went on to play college or university ball, the team is competing in a division for men age 50 and up.
"We wouldn't be here if we didn't think we could win it," said Jude Kelly, a communications officer with Emergency Management Ontario and the team's de facto spokesman. "We have a lot of great shooters, we have a solid big man and we have some great guards. We will be competitive."
And they have been competitive, racking up a win in each of their first two contests of the tournament. On Friday, the Stooges beat a team from Montenegro by a 20-point margin. And on Sunday, they came out on top in a 73-31 rout over a squad from Australia.
The tournament is structured as a "double round-robin," Kelly said. Each team in the Stooges' division will have played each other twice. The top two teams in the standings face each other in a playoff for the top prize.
Team's first Masters
The Stooges, Kelly said, have been together for years, playing in local men's leagues and making the occasional weekend road trip to compete farther afield.
"We all grew up in Hamilton and then we picked up a couple of guys that we liked and we respected from various tournaments and invited them to the team," he said.
They got their name from a bar that, years ago, sponsored the squad. The moniker, despite its slapstick connotation, stuck. "Just as long as you don't put 'three' in front of 'Stooges,' then we'll be happy," Kelly laughed.
The idea to compete in Italy came from the team's success at a recent tournament in Guelph, Ont. "We'd had such a good time that we said, 'Why not enter this team to the Masters coming up in Turin?' So we started planning and here we are."
Of the seven Stooges who made it to Turin — two had to drop out last minute — only University of Manitoba alum Terry Garrow had ever participated in a World Masters Games.
The competition is perhaps the largest competition of its kind. The 2009 edition in Sydney drew more than 30,000 athletes, according to the International Masters Games Association. In comparison, the 2012 Summer Olympics in London hosted around 10,500 competitors.
Canada has played a key role in the development of the tournament. Toronto hosted the inaugural World Masters Games in 1985, and Edmonton held them in 2005.
The scale of the games came as a surprise to Brian Fuller, the athletic director at Saltfleet District High School in Stoney Creek and the Stooges' team captain.
"I thought we were going to come and it would be sort of just another tournament of just a bunch of pals," he said, speaking on the phone from the competition's opening ceremonies on Saturday. "There's got to be 20,000 people in one of these 400-year-old piazzas, the pedestrian plazas here. There's a 500-year-old building in front of us and they have all these acrobats doing tricks right now."
Fuller said he was also struck by the amount of "Canadian pride" on display. "You should see the amount of Canada flags here. It's unbelievable."
(In fact, in the sport of basketball alone, there are over a dozen Canadian teams — boasting men and women of different ages and skill levels — competing in Turin.)
The experience has Fuller thinking about the next World Masters Games, to be held in Auckland, New Zealand in 2017. The team, he said, has talked about holding fundraisers to help finance what promises to be a much pricier trip.
Turin also has him mulling what he should pack next time around — to make sure he and his teammates appear as festive as their compatriots.
"I want to get the Canadian hats and beach balls going," he said. "We'll have a little different situation then."