Young and Hoary Battled at Sportime

Tournament benefited Down syndrome foundation
Brian Marciniak, at left, arguably the tourney’s best player, was democratic in filling out the rosters of the eight teams. Craig Macnaughton

When this writer asked Lisa McKee at Saturday’s basketball tournament at the Sportime Arena where her son Kyle was, she pointed to the tiled floor, where he’d landed moments before, after having been decked trying to go to the hoop. “There.”

“Yes,” she said, answering a follow-up question, “the offensive players are supposed to call the fouls, but Kyle’s too polite. He doesn’t say anything.”

Nevertheless, she had to agree that her 15-year-old son’s rough treatment — at the hands of his cousins, Brian and JoeJoe Marciniak, among others — was probably good for his game.

Innocence and experience were mixed together in Saturday’s 5-on-5 tourney, a benefit for the Down Syndrome Research and Treatment Foundation that was contested by eight teams, and, most times, experience won.

To go to the hoop through traffic was not for timid souls. Better to stay on the perimeter — as David Hansen said he generally did when not leading the fast break — and offer shots up from the outside.

Hansen’s team, which wore light blue jerseys, and which boasted the tournament’s senior player, Kevin Coffey, who’ll turn 63 in September, made the final, as did the Yellow team, one of whose players, Mark Lieberman, wore the day’s most eye-catching knee brace.

“The finals are tomorrow?” Lieberman asked, tongue in cheek, as he made adjustments to the brace prior to taking the floor for the championship game.

Unfazed, Lieberman, who has played in weekend pickup games here for the past 30 years — games that have been played at the Springs and Amagansett Schools, as well as at East Hampton High School, and, as is the case now, on a court adjacent to Sportime — canned three successive midrange jumpers to get the Yellow team, which had barely survived a hard-fought semifinal with JoeJoe Marciniak’s Black team, off on the right foot.

In the end, the Yellows, who were to prevail 10-8 in the final, had a 16-year-old, Jack Healy, to thank.

It looked as if the Blues might be out of it, trailing as they were 9-6, but Hansen got one back with a fast-break layup, after which Seth Greengrass put back a Hansen miss for 9-8.

But it was Healy who knocked down the all-important 10th point, from 3-point range — after Coffey had missed a perimeter shot at the other end of the floor — thus capturing the crown for the Yellow team.

Afterward, the Churchill High School junior shooting guard, whose “3” had also won the Yellows’ semifinal, 11-9, said he practiced perimeter shooting regularly, here and in the city, circling the baskets with five rocks behind each of which he sends up 10 shots.

“I still can’t believe we lost,” Hansen was heard to say later in the parking lot.

The big winner that day, however, was the Down Syndrome Research and Treatment Foundation, for which $4,000 had been raised, said Anthony Providenti, who, with Brian Marciniak and Jason Grossman, oversaw the tournament, which is now in its second year at the Arena.

Providenti’s 11-year-old son, Troy, has Down syndrome — as does a Sicilian cousin of John Lupo, another of the tournament’s players.

The foundation, Providenti has said, “is trying to come up with pharmacological treatments that can improve cognition and memory so that those with Down syndrome can process information as we do. It’s a great charity, a great cause.”

Lupo, whose family runs Astro Pizza in Amagansett, and who has been working as a special education and social studies teacher in the East Hampton School District, agreed.

Those with Down syndrome “are very loving, they show emotion . . . happiness, anger . . . they’re very expressive,” said Lupo. “They have low I.Q.s. A lot of people write these kids off, but they’re human beings just like us. . . . Some, at the savant level, can assemble a 500-piece puzzle in less than two minutes.”

Lupo, a force down low, as he was as well in his high school days here, plays in basketball pickup games — at the middle school, high school, and in Amagansett — five times a week. He said he got his start in the summer weekend games when he was 8 years old, “at the cage behind the Amagansett School.”

Lupo that day played on a team with two fathers and sons — Cliff and Sam Teller, 16, and Jason and Reese Grossman, 15. “The kids ended up showing their age,” he said, referring to a 2-point loss to the team captained by Brian Marciniak, which knocked Lupo’s team out in the quarterfinal round. “We were happy to have them, though — they kept us in the game, but then Brian took over at the end [as most agreed he always did]. Anyway it’s all for a good cause.”

“It’s a mix of generations now,” said Lieberman, who lives part time in Montauk. “I’ve been playing with these guys since 1987. I’d drive up to Springs with my infant son, Jake, in the Jeep with a bottle in his mouth. He’d drop it, I’d run over and pick it up and put it back in. He’s 6-5 now. If he were here today, he’d be one of the best players. He’s been playing in this game since he was 14.”

When asked how East Hampton High School’s team would do next winter, Kyle McKee, who recently played on the winning team at a 5 Star camp tournament in New Jersey, smiled, knowing that two of his teammates, Brandon Kennedy-Gay and Kevin Fee, are battle-proven shooting guards like him.

The task apparently will lie in inspiring Bonac’s taller players, who are coming up from the junior varsity, not to back down in the battles under the boards. They should have been at Sportime that morning too.

Anthony Providenti, with the ball, was happy to report during a breather that $4,000 had been raised for the Down Syndrome Research and Treatment Foundation. Craig Macnaughton