By MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — The stakes were low but the spirits were high Jan. 2 at Niskayuna High School — just the way they are supposed to be for the Frosty’s Roundball Classic, the Silver Warriors boys basketball program’s annual winter gathering of current players and alumni for a 3-on-3 tournament.
Varsity head coach Bryan Mattice said he’s not sure how long the get-together has been going on at Niskayuna. All he knows is that the tournament predates his involvement with the program and will continue as long as he has anything to say about it.
“I think, even for me, this tournament helps to give a sense of why we play this game in the first place,” he said. “They have fun, they compete; it’s about friendly competition and the friendships you make.”
Those ideas were on display at the latest edition of Frosty’s, as nearly 40 players, past and present, gathered early in the morning to engage in games featuring more friendly trash talk than defense. The day’s competitors were split into eight teams of four or five players, and it was the squad of alumnus AJ Akpanikat, current varsity players Jared Houghtaling and Pat O’Brien, freshman team member Ibrahim Osman, and Mattice that won the event’s championship title.
The championship encounter ended up in sudden-death overtime, where Akpanikat hit a step-back 3-pointer to win it for his team.
Minutes after being mobbed by his teammates and the final game’s onlookers, Akpanikat still wore a smile. He said he had missed last year’s tournament after playing in the five previous ones and had been excited to be back playing in the exhibition.
“I’ve been in the finals twice before, but I’ve never won,” he said. “And, [the game-winner] was my first basket in about five games, so that made me look good.”
Akpanikat, a 2011 graduate from Niskayuna, is in his senior year studying public health at Tulane University. He said getting to play in the Frosty’s tournament is one of the highlights of his winter break.
“I was trying to get more kids from my class to get out here,” he said. “This is always fun. It brings back memories.”
Part of family
Mattice agreed with that sentiment. The best part, he said, was getting to see alumni mixing in with the program’s younger players who showed up to play.
“It resonates to the idea that once you’re a part of this family, this fraternity, that never changes,” he said. “Having everybody here helps to sustain that and reconnect those family ties the alumni and current players have.”
Mattice helped to organize the day’s event and also got his chance to play against his past, present and future players. He made his share of baskets, admitted to carrying the basketball a few times, and also offered that he had done everything in his power — legal and illegal — to keep current Silver Warriors forward Anthony Fragnoli from making a basket at a critical moment in the Frosty’s championship game. “I definitely intentional fouled Frags on that one play,” Mattice said.
The coach ended up on the sideline not long after that play, leaving him off the court for Akpanikat’s game-winning shot. He said he was OK with getting a breather during the matchup’s decisive moment.
“That was a team decision,” Mattice deadpanned.