After a summer of long road trips in a rented van to prove they are one of the best 3-on-3 basketball teams in North America, "Team Winnipeg" was finally able to crack a spot in next week's FIBA World Tour Masters tournament in Chicago.
Oh, and they did it in Winnipeg.
Yes, the 3x3 Hoop It Up tournament made its way to Manitoba last week for a qualifier that included teams from across Canada and the United States competing for a single spot in the Chicago Masters.
The top two teams from Chicago will move onto the world tour finals in Tokyo to tip-off with the top two teams from every other region around the world.
Darcy Coss, Wyatt Anders, Graham Bodnar and Xavier Smith are the four players who will be representing Winnipeg and Canada in Chicago. They breezed through the qualification tournament in the parking lot of Garden City Shopping Centre without dropping a game.
Coss and Smith are former University of Manitoba Bisons players, while Anders still plays for the Bisons. Bodnar on the hand, played at Providence College.
"I obviously take it really seriously, it's a way for me to stay in shape," team captain Coss, 31, said. "But (also) to kind of keep that connection with something competitive. Once you're done playing college basketball in Canada, there's not a lot of pro opportunities for people to play in their country.
"So this is an opportunity for me do something on a serious stage and that's what brought us here."
Coss and Anders came across FIBA's 3x3 website earlier this year and decided to form a team and give it a shot. They started practising in April. Since then the team has met with some success and will be the No. 1 ranked Canadian squad heading into Chicago.
They will be one of three Canadian squads gunning for the $10,000 top prize and a trip to Tokyo.
This summer they travelled to tournaments in Toronto and Edmonton, finishing first in Toronto and fourth in Edmonton. They also competed in another master's qualifier in Denver, Colo., and ended up second.
The intensity is high in 3-on-3 basketball, which is played on a half-court with only one basket. The game has a 12-second shot rather than the traditional 24 seconds. After every point the ball is live, placing an emphasis on solid rebounding, especially for defenders, who have to clear the ball past a certain line to go on the offensive.
"We wanted to make a team of guys who were committed and wanted to play," Anders, 23, said. "Xavier and Bodnar, they both worked hard, they both wanted to go further since their college careers were over... There's going to be some really good teams, a couple teams that used to play pro. It's a little bit of excitement, but it's also a big test, since none of us have taken that extra step after university."
Anders said they named themselves Team Winnipeg out of pride, but also to give themselves a goal to shoot for, because when each qualifying team goes to the tournament, their name is based on the place they're from.
"We want to represent Winnipeg and put it on the map as much as we can," Anders said. "We have Team Winnipeg gear, jerseys that say 'Winnipeg.' I think they also supply us with jerseys that say 'Winnipeg 3x3.' Our main goal is just to represent Winnipeg and give a good showing."