SFFD Basketball Team – Discovers Gold in Arizona
By Ricky Hui

Mesa, Arizona 2003 - With the retirement of long-time “SFFD basketball legend,” Tom Kurpinsky, I will try to continue in his tradition by reporting back on the happenings with the SFFD Basketball Team.

The SFFD Basketball Team went on the road to participate in the 2003 Arizona Police & Fire Games. The team was coming off two poor showing at both the California Police/Fire and the California Firefighter’s Olympics. In both tournaments the team’s so called, “high-octane offense” was looking more like an old relief piece, Ward Le France, sputtering on low grade diesel gas. In fact, it’s been a long drought in terms of medals for the basketball team. The last Gold medal came back in 1999, when the “veterans” such as Garry Bradford, Danny Armenta, Tom Kurpinsky, Truit Sperry, Dave Long, and the like were still entrenched in their starting positions. As with most good teams, the “changing of the guards” is always a difficult transition, but great teams can’t be kept down forever.

The tournament began with pool play vs. Mesa PD. A sluggish start and cold shooting from the outside resulted in a small half-time lead. The team regrouped and came out with a 7-0 scoring run in the 2nd half, led in part by Shon Buford (E25) who pounded the offensive boards and raised the overall intensity of the team. Soon the lead was double-digits and finally the “showtime offense” was in full effect. Mesa was never able to get their big men involved (6’ 5” and 6’ 7” collectively) and every missed Mesa jumpshot led to a jail break going the other way with at least two or three SF players attacking the rim. SF built up a 20 + point lead before winning 66 – 47 against last years Silver Medal Team. Then a forfeit against Californian Corrections … maybe they had the scouting report on us and decided they better not to show up at all.

Our next game against Phoenix again started with a sluggish opening half. Again a small half time lead and again, the team responded by opening the 2nd half with an offensive blitz. By the time Phoenix called a timeout, SF was up almost 20. However, wholesale player substitutions and the refs allowing overly physical tactics (assault charges are still pending) led to a Phoenix comeback, making the outcome closer than it should be. However, we were able to hold on 69 – 62 … with our 3-0 pool play record, we were able to secure the 2nd seed in the double elimination tournament. Our next opponent was a fundamentally sound, Las Vegas PD team, which featured a dominant big man surrounded by a fleet of guards that could shoot the 3’s as well as slash to the basket. They looked impressive in warm-ups as well as their last game against the 1st seed Houston PD, who featured two NBA castoffs look-a-likes (Brian Shaw and Avery Johnson) ... and the biggest man in the tourney at 6’ 8”, 275 +… but, back to Vegas. In the previous game, Vegas had effectively run the pick and roll with their big man. This would not be the case vs. SF. Dave Long (E35) kept him in check early and took him completely out of the game. The team speed on defense disrupted everything Vegas tried to set up. Again, SF set the tone w/ fast break after fast break and won easily 69 – 56.

Our next game against Houston would be our biggest test. The loser of this game would be sent to the loser’s bracket and have to win 3 more games to win the Gold. The game started bad for us, as Houston’s big men dominated the paint and the team was out of sync on offense. A small half time deficit became a 10 point deficit late into the second half, but in great managing move, Chet Spirlin (T7) put in “Monster Zero”, our 3-Headed Offensive Monster, Eric Newman (Richmond Fire, long-time suffering basketball player with SFFD team), Scott “Scotty Do” Darmstadt a.k.a. “No good probie scum-bag (T9)…” and Justin “Hook” Brown (T7) on the court and resulted in a small run to get us back into the game. Then in a horrific strategic move, Godzilla, I mean Houston, nursing a mere 3 point lead with almost 6 minutes to go, decided to try and play slow down and run clock. This led to a 5 second call and a turnover. With only 32 seconds, SF was down 2 when our now famous, Play #1, opened up “E” on a drive to the basket … to tie the score 50 – 50 and one, with 9 seconds left. But, the missed free throw led to a mad scramble under the basket…and again, into the mitts of “E” … who missed one of his patented, unorthodox, flip shots, but was fouled. After hitting one of two… a Houston turnover on their attempted long inbounds play … all that was left was to get the ball inbounds to run off the last 2 seconds … ”E” went “trick play” and bounced the inbounds off the defenders back as time expired … a great comeback win, 51 - 50 … and the type of tough game this team really needed. The team, more mentally tough, was able to rest back at the hotel and wait for the championship game.

Upon returning to the gym … we again found Houston waiting for us … a little more tired, because they had to play another game to reach this point, but dangerous just the same. As soon as the game started, it became clear what Houston’s game plan would be … as they walked the ball down court and dumped the ball into their two dominant big men. It was also obvious that the extra game had worn down this team and without much of a bench, this team was ready to be beat. Again, SF came out running, but only held a small half time lead. Early in the 2nd half, 3 clutch 3-pointers by Scotty Do, helped SF build an 11-point lead with 3:58 to go. On the bench, the instructions in the huddle was, “NO 3’s…” but, maybe the team heard, “NO D…” because for the next two minutes, Houston played the “fouling game” to conserve time and force us to earn it from the stripe and SF allowed Houston to drive unabated to the rim time and time again … and slowly close the gap, as we missed 3 consecutive 1 and 1 free throw attempts. A “fired up” Justin Brown, came into the huddle and made it known in no uncertain terms … that we need to make our “%$@&” free throws … true to Newton’s law … ”Hook” promptly missed on his next two attempts … just to keep the game interesting … a drive, a foul, and a made free throw put Houston within 3 pts … however, with time running down a drive and flip shot down the lane by “E” and our free throws down the stretch started dropping. Houston ran out of miracles and fell to SF, 59 – 54.

All in all, it was a great tournament, as SF is back on top and the future looks bright with the new injection of youthful talent mixed in well with the veteran squad. Some miscellaneous blurbs, thoughts, and highlights ESPN style … Danny “Bad Lieutenant” Armenta’s finding the calm on the court and in the huddle in the midst of the storm, “Yoda-style” ... Greg “G-Mack” McFarland’s “no look passes, no spin 3’s … making his kin folk proud…”, Scott “Scotty Do” Darmstadt … ”straight up bringing the noise!” … Justin “Hook” Brown … ”as cool as the other side of the pillow … ”…Shon Buford… ”bringing intensity to a whole ‘nother level…” Dave Long … ”old school skills, baby” … Eric “E” Newman … ”bringing the BEEF … on and off the court…”…Ricky “Rhaq” Hui…”getting no love from the refs” … and finally, Chet “Dawg” Spirlin...”doing it all for the love of the game!” Peace out … till next time!!!

Photos provided by Ricky Hui


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