UX- As I Saw It- Basketball

The planning of the basketball tournament started way before we got to
Beijing. There were at least three teams that were training hard and raising
lots of money just to be able to compete in this tournament. We needed, and
got, the assurance of the organizers that basketball would be considered an
important event.

Hockey had a similar situation. So, Rolf Sanders and I (Alberto) communicated
pre-UNICON to split the assigned time between hockey and basketball. Rolf
encountered some technical problems, not of his own doing, that delayed the
start of hockey, affecting basketball in two ways, both positive.

Basketball got 17 teams, more than expected, and we got an extra night to
play games.

There were teams that attended UX exclusively or primarily for basketball. There
were teams that had never played basketball in unicycles and saw UX as a unique
opportunity to try it. There were some teams that had good riders and good
basketball players, but had never put them both together. There were teams made
up by (obviously because of their physical game) hockey players. And there were
the Japanese princesses.

We were glad to have them all. To be fair, we split the 17 teams into 4
groups, including 8 seeds. Each group played a round robin so that every
team would play at least three or four games. The top two finishers would go
on to quarterfinals. Except for the first night, we were able to post the
starting time of each game and kept very close to the schedule. So, players
did not really have to stay all that long. Many of them did anyway and they
were glad they did.

The Japanese B team consisted of some very young (and small) female players who
were excellent riders and had played some basketball. The pre-game practice
drill would include some stand-up gliding penetration so they could be closer to
the basket and reach it. They were also very fast and extremely enthusiastic.
Their opponents usually were twice their size. They showed some amazing
unicycling skills, score some great baskets, and actually won a game. Typically,
they would zoom in past an opposing player, steal the ball, turn around and say
“Sorry . . . !”.

The Chinese team showed an excellent, fast, well-coached team. Most of the
players were quite small. In a very exciting game, they lost the bronze medal by
one point to the USA.

The USA tied with European United for the bronze medal. The USA featured the
tallest team, some excellent players who are top riders. Once they can practice
together they will be a tough team to contend. European United had some tough
players who obviously had played together and followed a system.

The finals were between the Semcycle team, that was the reigning World
Champions, and Puerto Rico. At half-time, Semcycle was ahead by two points, but
Puerto Rico came from behind to win a close, tough match. There were lots of
chanting fans by the end of the game.

The success of basketball at UX will raise the skill level for future UNICONs.
Semcycle wants a rematch with Puerto Rico and said that they will practice
weekly to recapture the title. Puerto Rico knows that it must improve to keep
its title. The Chinese will grow, and their lack of size seemed to be their only
weakness. Team USA, centered around some Minnesota riders, can be a serious
contender. I suspect that we will be seeing a European League in the future. The
Japanese girls may be able to teach their male counterparts. And, who knows, we
might see some rapid improvement from some of those teams that just wanted to
try basketball and liked it.

I would like to thank all the people that helped to manage the tournament,
including the three Abrahams brothers, Charles Perez, some of the other Semcycle
and Puerto Rico players, the Chinese manager of the gym, and the Chinese
translators, Ping Ping and Jane Sue. But, especially I want to thank the over
100 riders who participated in what probably was the largest basketball in
unicycle tournament ever.

Remember that you can see pictures of UX at the web, including:
www.unicycling.com/ofoto/ www.javier.unicyclist.com
www.vimes.u-net.com/photos.html www.javier.unicyclist.com/more_pics/

I hope that you all get a chance to attend UXI (or U11) to be held in July or
August, 2002 at North Bend, Washington, USA, in the Seattle area.

Alberto Ruiz