A total of 21 teams showed up to the Princess Vermillion McBurney Recreation Center in Corbin this past Saturday to compete in the News Journal’s Fifth Annual NIBROC 3-on-3 basketball tournament.
Among those teams were defending champions L-Town (Mark Sandoval, Dalton Patterson and Kyle Neal), a trio of talented players from Lebanon, Tenn., and the Eagles (Travis Cowden, Isaac Wilson, Tyler Rogers, Robert Dalton and Carla Booth), a team comprised of both locals and out-of-towners who had come together in hopes of achieving 3-on-3 glory.
In the end, it was these two squads that ended up squaring off for this year’s championship trophies, as well as $500 cash and various other prizes. The Eagles were ultimately able to achieve their goal of walking away as champs of the 2017 tourney, but L-Town did not make it easy.
The Eagles’ path to victory started with a hard-fought 24-19 win over the team of 2 Live, which was captained by former Williamsburg Yellow Jacket Corey Shelton, and also featured former South Laurel Cardinal sharpshooter Jared Grubb, as well as former Jackson County and North Laurel standout Isaiah Collier.
The Eagles then picked up wins over Knox Gainz and Dunkin Doughnuts before meeting up with L-Town in the winner’s bracket finals. They were able to take down the defending champs by the final score of 25-16, but they would soon be faced with a rematch in the overall tournament finals.
L-Town started things off Saturday with a 25-21 win over Trilogy, another talented trio that was captained by former Barbourville Tiger Brent Perry. Victories over the Ostriches and Sauce Gods put them in the winner’s bracket championship, where they were handed their first defeat of the tournament courtesy of the Eagles.
L-Town had to defeat Trilogy a second time in the loser’s bracket championship in order to qualify for the overall tournament finals, and they were able to force a decisive game two with a 24-16 win over the Eagles. They couldn’t make it two in a row, however, falling in the championship game by the final score of 25-19.
“We could tell right away that it was going to be more competitive than last year,” L-Town captain Sandoval said of the 2017 tourney. “Even our first round match was a close game, and it really didn’t get much easier after that.”
Neal said of having to come out of the loser’s bracket this year, “You always want to stay out of the loser’s bracket if you can, because if you do make it back up you’re going to have to win twice. That’s hard to do.”
Patterson added, “As soon as we walked in we noticed that it was probably going to be a little bit tougher this year. It was a lot more fun, though. It was all-out every game.”
Winning a 3-on-3 championship title is the culmination of several years of hard work for the Eagles’ team captain Travis Cowden. When asked how it felt to finally hoist the first place trophy, he said, “First of all, I’m just blessed to be able to play with these guys. Isaac talked to me about getting them on the team, and I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but it turned out awesome.”
“There has been a lot of tough competition every year,” Cowden continued. “But this was by far the toughest that I’ve seen. It was exciting to get these guys on board with me and help win this thing, though, and now we’ve just got to start practicing and getting ready for next year.”
Wilson, a former Corbin Redhound and current head coach of the Lady Hounds basketball program, said, “If I’m happy for one individual it is Travis Cowden. He and I have stayed close ever since I left Corbin, and now that I’ve come back home I was able to play with him some over the summer. We got this team together, and I know that it’s made him very happy to win this tournament. I’m just happy to know that he’s happy.”
Booth, who has earned the distinction of being the very first female competitor in the tournament’s five-year history, is a former player at Martin County High School, Eastern Kentucky University and Alice Lloyd College. She said, “It’s always good to be the first. The tournament was very competitive, and very organized. I could see us coming back again next year.”
Rogers, a former player at Dunbar High School and Alice Lloyd College, returned to the tournament this year after competing in 2016. When asked to compare his experiences, the former Intercollegiate Athletic Conference First Team selection said, “The competition was a lot better this year. It wasn’t easy.”
Rogers added “Rise up Pippa,” which is a popular saying among Alice Lloyd athletes, and refers to the college’s hometown of Pippa Passes, KY.
Finally, Lawrence County High School’s all-time leading scorer and current Alice Lloyd Eagle Robert Dalton said, “Basketball has always been a lifestyle for me, and it has done amazing things for me in my life. This was my first time playing in this tournament, and it was very competitive. I have played in many similar tournaments, but the talent here was just amazing. It was very hard to get from our first game to our last, especially having to defeat the defending champions.”
Tournament organizer and News Journal Publisher Trent Knuckles was thrilled with how the tournament went in its fifth year, saying, “ This was the best, most competitive field we’ve seen so far. There were so many talented teams and players on the floor Saturday. It really was a treat to watch.”
“It was nice to see so many spectators stay until the very end of the tournament this year,” Knuckles added. “I think that speaks volumes about the quality of basketball that was being played.”
“I want to thank our returning champions for making the long drive from Lebanon, Tenn. to defend their 2016 title. It’s always more exciting when the top team returns and everyone gets another crack at them. They played well, and were in it right until the end.”
“I also want to personally congratulate the 2017 champions. It was a tough tournament, and they showed true grit and determination. I certainly hope they return in 2018 to defend their title. We’d love to have them back.”