Lessons learned on the basketball court: You have to play defense

By March 17, 2017Juneau, Southeast, Sports
Yakutat's Martin Sensmeier (14) shoots over Angoon defenders during their B Bracket elimination game at the Juneau Lions Club 69th Gold Medal Basketball Tournament in 2015.

Yakutat’s Martin Sensmeier (14) shoots over Angoon defenders during their B Bracket elimination game at the Juneau Lions Club 69th Gold Medal Basketball Tournament in 2015. (Photo courtesy Klas Stolpe)

I once scored 32 points in a Gold Medal Tournament B bracket game. And we lost.

You see, you have to play defense, too, if you want to advance in the week-long tournament.

Defenses used against me at Gold Medal have resulted in my body being airborne on a layup and promptly undercut to the hardwood for concussion evaluations; being ridden into the opposing fans in the front bleachers; having said fans tug at my shorts while taking the ball out of bounds; and having a behemoth of an opponent with hands larger than my head holding my arms on a rebound.

The latter was captured in a photograph that the offender swears to this day was “fake news.”

Listen to Klas Stolpe describe his Gold Medal experience:

I spent some time absent from tournament play after that, instead pursuing a career of trying to deliver real news about this sport and others.

But while at these tournaments I always spoke with Monarch Lion Rev. Dr. Walter A. Soboleff, a tourney founder, its biggest fan and for whom an annual tournament award is named.

The debates always ended with me being on the losing end, but they always ended with a smile.

Walter Soboleff

The Rev. Dr. Walter Soboleff.

My first conversation with Soboleff was initiated by his asking why I wasn’t out on the court playing.

I replied that they don’t give tournament invitations to Petersburg anymore.

He said that was because, “Norwegians can’t shoot straight.”

I replied that I was Swedish.

To which he said without hesitation, “And Swedes can’t play defense.”

We then discussed some of the great Petersburg and Gold Medal teams and great players and shared a fry bread.

Over the years, discussions involved other players’ hoops deficiencies, and I had forgotten that conversation.

Until the 2011 Gold Medal Tournament.

I came out of retirement and Ben Gay-ed and atomic-bombed and excessively ointmented my 50-year-old joints to join the Hoonah Masters team. We had just won the championship game.

I was now on the baseline shooting photos of the remaining championships and, unfortunately for me, I would sometimes be in front of Soboleff’s view as he sat in his customary spot near the entrance and behind the backboard.

“Hey, there,” Soboleff yelled out to me. “When are you going to learn to play defense?”

And looking back I can still see his big smile.

It was his final tournament. He passed in May of that year.

The Juneau Lions Club 71st Annual Gold Medal Basketball Tournament begins 10 a.m. Sunday in the Juneau-Douglas High School gym.

If you can’t play defense, at least you can cheer your team in that endeavor, just like Soboleff.

Hoonah’s Melissa Fisher and Taryn White (24) challenge a shot by Angoon’s Tasha McCoy during their elimination game in the 2015 Juneau Lions Club Gold Medal Basketball Tournament.

Hoonah’s Melissa Fisher and Taryn White (24) challenge a shot by Angoon’s Tasha McCoy during their elimination game in the 2015 Juneau Lions Club Gold Medal Basketball Tournament. (Photo courtesy Klas Stolpe)

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