Some of the top masters basketball players in the country are set to tip off in Finland.
Toronto residents Jude Kelly and Norman Clarke, as well as Mississauga’s Paul Manning, will represent the red and white in the World Maxibasketball Championships, taking place in Espoo beginning this weekend.
Joined by a handful of elite veteran hoopsters, the local trio are looking to continue what has been a successful run for their squad.
“Six years ago, we competed in our first international championship at the World Masters Games in Torino, Italy,” Kelly said. “We won our division, taking the gold in the 50-plus division. We beat a team from Australia in the final and went 6-0.
“It was just a great experience and after that, we were all still healthy enough and in good shape and enthusiastic about playing basketball as much as we can.”
They’ll have their hands full in Finland, taking on some truly elite basketball players from around the world.
“You’re talking international athletes, the best masters athletes in the world,” Kelly said. “All of the teams will have former all-stars and pros, and there are some former NBA players, too. Not necessarily NBA all-stars, but guys who had good careers there and are still in good shape.
“Every team is going to be big, competitive, fast, strong and smart, so we need to have our A+ game to have a chance to win this thing.”
But the ‘Stooges’ – who get their name from their original sponsor, a bar in Hamilton – are no slouches themselves.
“We think we’re Canada’s most successful masters basketball team,” Kelly said. “We’ve won tournaments in New York City, all across Canada and the U.S., and we’ve won in Europe. We travel and combine tourism and sport. It’s a great life.”
They’re excited to get the opportunity to play and connect with some fellow athletes from their international fraternity.
“It’s more than a bond,” Kelly said. “It’s a friendship. A lot of the players, especially the Americans since we go down there to compete in their tournaments and they come up here to play in ours, we socialize with them. We’ve made some really good international friends, and now we get to compete against them in a foreign country.
“After the game, win or lose, we’ll go and socialize and reminisce and support each other.”
Photo courtesy of Jude Kelly – The Stooges have won many international tournaments, including one in New York City in 2018.