A North conference versus South conference battle will decide the finalists of the Hoop of Life Community Basketball League.
Of the 60 community teams throughout Trinidad and Tobago which began the competition four months ago, just four are left. They will battle for a $1 million first prize, a $500,000 second prize and a third place prize of $250,000.
Making the final four are South champions La Romaine and runners-up Marabella United, while North champions Laventille and runners-up Caledonia also won their way to the big money matches. It was announced that the winning team will earn 50 percent of the prize, to be paid in installments over a six-month period, while the other 50 percent will go to a community project.
"We are now into the final four of the Hoop of Life," League commissioner Keith Clement announced yesterday. "These four teams are vying for a one million dollar first prize. It's a best-of- two series with the team with the best average from each semifinal going to the final. The losers will battle for third. "
Yesterday, the Hoop of Life held its Big Four draw at its office on Tragarete Road, Woodbrook. There, both North teams drew home advantage in the first leg. Representing the Big 4 qualifiers were Derek Boxhill (La Romaine), Joel Marryshaw (Marabella), Wilt Vincent (Caledonia) and Laventille guard Kenneth Roberts
Roberts credited Hoop of Life for providing youths in his community with something to do by following the exploits of the basketballers. He said that while Hoop of Life cannot of itself stop crime, it at least gives youths in the communities some hope.
"We are playing this tournament for our community," Roberts said. "As you know the Laventille community is very stigmatised, so we have a lot to play for. We the players are accustomed to playing basketball, but as this is a community league, it gives some of the youth something to do when we are playing."
Likewise, South-based Marryshaw felt that Hoop of Life was a gift to his community.
"I living in Marabella on the train-line and everybody there is excited about the basketball. People come out to see us train. As long as Hoop of Life is there, everybody nice. Everybody gets a chance to play. My team is normally Marabella Raptors, but for this tournament we are Marabella United. We have six or seven players that play together regularly and we have joined these with guys from the community."
"They must be given an opportunity to play basketball," said commissioner Clement of the participation of relatively unknown community basketballers. "We had 180 players between ages 16 to 21 years old playing and we have made it mandatory that all teams field them within the first three quarters. The last quarter belongs to the coaches to do what they want."
Vincent, who campaigns with local Super 10 champions Defence Force, was pleased with the new talent emerging from the tournament.
"I see a lot of good new players that I never see before," the Army centre and Trinidad and Tobago national player said. "But as this is a community tournament you see some ups and some downs. On one hand there are some good new players who I have never seen before, as well as mediocre players who might need a little more coaching."
BIG 4 SCHEDULE
March 1 - Laventille v La Romaine, St Barbs
March 2 - Caledonia v Marabella United, Paradise Heights
March 3 - La Romaine v Laventille, Lucky Street, La Romaine
March 4 - Marabella United v Caledonia, Marabella
Matches start at 7 p.m.