Saskatoon's own 3x3 basketball star brings the FIBA world tour home

Competing in his hometown of Saskatoon has its perks for Michael Linklater, the number one-ranked 3x3 basketball player in Canada.

Michael Linklater, ranked tops in Canada, plays in front of hometown crowd

Team Saskatoon's Michael Linklater, centre, in a game against Winnipeg Saturday at the FIBA 3x3 basketball world tour event in Saskatoon. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Normally playing in a FIBA 3x3 basketball world tour event would require air travel and taking a couple of days to get acclimatized.

But competing in his hometown of Saskatoon has its perks for Michael Linklater, the number one-ranked 3x3 basketball player in Canada.

"We've been sleeping in our own beds the past week," he said with a laugh.

In fact, this will be the first time his team has played together in Saskatoon in front of a crowd since they played for the Huskies at the University of Saskatchewan back in 2010. Having family, friends and supporters come out to cheer them on will make the Saskatoon Masters event special.

"It's going to be a lot of fun to play in our hometown," he said.

A '10-minute sprint'

Linklater is from the Thunderchild First Nation and grew up in Saskatoon. He says he first picked up a basketball at the age of 12 while attending St. Mary's School.

Michael Linklater, a member of the Thunderchild First Nation who grew up in Saskatoon, is the top-ranked 3x3 basketball player in Canada. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

He said as he kept on playing, the benefits of playing sports began accruing — he walked with more confidence and becoming comfortable playing in public translated into comfort speaking in front of people. As his skills developed, he scored another benefit: getting to see the world on the 3x3 basketball tour circuit.

He describes 3x3 games as a "10-minute sprint." The game is played on a half-court and each team has three players and one sub.

At the Saskatoon event, the first in this year's tour, 12 teams are competing for a prize purse worth $20,000 US and a chance to qualify for the finals in Beijing in October.

Team Saskatoon has been on the tour for the last five years and is ranked number three in the world. Often, it's the only Canadian team at world tour events.

Linklater said he's been bugging the organizers to stage an event in his hometown, though he credits Tourism Saskatoon with putting together a convincing bid to bring a world tour stop here.

"A lot of the places we've been they've always asked 'Where is Saskatoon?' So this is a great opportunity for them to get visuals and see how beautiful not only Canada but Saskatoon is."

Iconic backdrops

Taking over the intersection of Fourth Avenue and 21st Street near the Delta Bessborough is typical for a FIBA event, he said, adding the group likes staging the free event before iconic backdrops in central locations.

"They want a lot of foot traffic to stop by and enjoy the festivities," he said.

Michael Linklater (no. 4) bugged FIBA organizers to stage a world tour event in his hometown. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

"The great thing about 3 on 3 basketball and the world tour is it's not just a basketball game, you're going to watch an event. You're a part of the action. You're a part of the event. There's a lot of interactive moments throughout the competition that involves the spectators as well."

The FIBA 3x3 Saskatoon Masters event runs July 15-16.

with files from Saskatchewan Weekend