EAST MONTPELIER — Playing 112 minutes of basketball, with extra incentive to score after steals, makes for a long day with plenty of potential to crash and burn.
Some athletes live for the challenge. But only a select few will hang around until the end at Saturday’s Gallison Hill Run and Gun Tournament.
The fifth annual event kicks off at 8 a.m. at U-32, showcasing many of Vermont’s best varsity boys teams. The Raiders’ gym is big enough to have two 5-on-5 games at once, so pool play in the morning will be fast and furious. There will be a short break to determine playoff seedings before quarterfinal, semifinal and championship action in the afternoon.
The idea was the brain child of U-32 varsity boys coach Dan Gauthier, who was inspired by similar competitions like the’ Brickhouse tourney and the Castleton Team Camp. Burlington won the inaugural crown at the Run and Gun. This year, U-32 will field separate Blue and White teams, while CVU, Mount Mansfield, Spaulding, Lamoille, Oxbow and Montpelier fill out the bracket.
“We’ve had an interesting mix of JV teams, small schools and large schools over the years,” Gauthier said. “This year we ended up with a couple of small schools and mostly larger schools, with no JV teams. And each school plans to bring their best players and their best team. Of course some players here and there have a conflict. But for the most part we do get the best version of each of those teams.”
Squads from Plattsburgh, New York, have also participated, adding another twist to the unique atmosphere. For many athletes, the Run and Gun is a chance to size up the competition and form an early scouting report five months before the winter season. Bragging rights are another big motivator, especially for players or teams who may have been overlooked or underestimated.
“Our event provides a lot of opportunities for schools and coaches to match up against schools and coaches they wouldn’t see during the winter,” Gauthier said. “I don’t know that Montpelier plays CVU, or Oxbow plays Mount Mansfield. So it’s a nice opportunity to get outside of your traditional schedule and play someone different. And it does provide a place where unproven teams or unproven players can really test themselves against the heavy-hitters.
”CVU and Mount Mansfield are both perennial Final Four teams in Division I. Montpelier had a terrific season last year and they were a top team in Division II. And in other years we’ve had teams like Burlington, Hazen and Williamstown that have come to our event. I think our centralized location provides a nice setting for unfamiliar opponents to match up.”
The format also has a throwback to the Vermont Frost Heaves and their stint in the America Basketball Association from 2005-2008. The Barre-based team was famous for capitalizing on the ABA’s 3D rule, which allowed the defending team to score extra points after forcing a turnover. The Run and Gun tourney offers the same reward, making a 3-pointer worth four points while field goals count for three.
“We’re trying to entice that full-court, fast-paced mentality,” Gauthier said.
For teams executing a successful press or trap, the prize for scoring quick points in transition can be substantial. But pacing will also be crucial as competitors play the equivalent of three-and-a-half high school games. Each contest will last 16 minutes leading up to the 32-minute championship.
“Given that the pool play games and the quarterfinals and semifinals are only 16 minutes, I think it allows you to maybe go a little bit harder and empty the tank a little bit earlier,” Gauthier said. “There will be sufficient rest prior to the final, and it’s going to be interesting to see how each team decides to approach this. ... So we’re excited to see how this new format plays out, how the teams approach it and what the end result is.”
Previous Run and Guns were limited to pool play, with teams typically playing three games each in a round-robin setting. After receiving feedback from other coaches, Gauthier made the change to an elimination format in the afternoon. With some teams playing six games, it also made sense to switch to eight-minute halves.
“The shorter time frame is going to allow teams to pick up full-court,” Gauthier said. “And you have a shorter roster, so that won’t be as big of an issue. And it’s going to allow you to press for a longer period of time and make better use of that run-and-gun mentality or that 3D rule.”
With Spaulding, Montpelier and U-32 in the mix, Saturday’s action could be a litmus test for things to come in the Capital region. Some former teammates will suit up for opposing teams, and the majority of participants already recognize each other from competing at the youth level. The ultimate goal is for local rivalries to be less bitter and more friendly.
“In today’s world I’m always surprised when two invested basketball players don’t know each other,” Gauthier said. “With AAU and social media and all that stuff, most of these kids know each other. I actually had one of our players who texted me and asked what time the gym would be open that morning, because he and a player from Lamoille want to get in and get some extra shots up before the Run and Gun starts. ... It is a nice opportunity and it’s fun to welcome all these schools to our campus and spend the day together. We’re doing something that obviously the kids, the coaches and the families love.”