June 19, 2014
By David Harpster
Since he has played basketball most of his life, and traveled to more summer league games or 3-on-3 tournaments than he can probably remember, Morgan Wenger has kept a pretty full mental notebook on what makes for a good summer basketball experience.
“When I started running this nine years ago, I had gone to things like it for years and played in them for as long I could remember,” Wenger said earlier this week. “I took bits and pieces of all the ones I’d attended in the past, and I just tried to make my tournament the best in every area.”
Wenger doesn’t need to blow his own horn. As the director of both the Dawg Days 3-on-3 Tournament and the Dawg Days Summer League in Dalton, the numbers indicate he has built quite a brand when it comes to offering high-quality summer hoops.
The ninth edition of the 3-on-3 tournament is scheduled for July 12 at Dalton’s Village Green Park (the rain site is Dalton High School). The tournament will feature action in five divisions: grades 3-4, grades 5-6, grades 7-8, grades 9-12 and an open, or “Top Dawg” division.
The Top Dawg division normally attracts teams filled with any number of recognizable faces to area basketball fans.
Former Massillon star Angelo Edwards has won four Dawg Days 3-on-3 tournaments, including the first three, with his Canton Ballers team. Last year’s champions, Team Vandervaart, featured former Hoover and College of Wooster standout Tim Vandervaart. N’Gai Evans, another former Hoover standout who played his college ball at Wright State, was named MVP for last year’s 3-on-3 tournament.
With the winning four-person team pocketing at least $1,200, the action on the court sometimes can get as heated as the air temperature.
“That’s been one of the calling cards of the tournament and it’s helped bring in some talent, the fact they’re playing for cash,” Wenger said. “The winning team this year will either get $1,200 or 80 percent of what all the entry fees are, whichever is larger.”
While the payout is certainly nice, Wenger feels there are several other factors that lead many teams to come back summer after summer to chase the top prize. From the facilities at Village Green Park, to the competition, to the fact that games are officiated by licensed referees, Wenger wants to make sure players are treated right.
“I just think it adds a lot of professionalism if you actually have licensed officials,” Wenger said. “They’re not going to take any abuse, and they’re used to hearing certain things and letting things roll off their backs and still call the game. I’ve put a special emphasis on everyone getting a fair shot. A lot of places may want their own local team to win, even if it’s a kids’ division. I stay away from all of that. The event is in Wayne County, but most of the refs aren’t from around here.
“The facilities are nice for an outdoor court, the hoops are great shooting hoops and the surface is good. The combination of all those factors, and that we try to run it all in as professional manner as possible are why teams keep coming back year after year.”
More teams have been coming to Dalton for other reasons as well.
First, Wenger credited the explosion of youth basketball for helping draw even younger players to the 3-on-3 tournament. And, now in its fifth year, the Dawg Days Summer League helps provide a competitive outlet for those players who still want to play some hoops with their friends.
“What’s really made the 3-on-3 tournament explode is just the popularity of youth basketball in general,” Wenger said. “When I first started, it would be hard to fill up divisions in the youth level. Now, we have three divisions for grades 3-8 and a high-school division for grades 9-12.”
With nine teams playing this season, the summer league — which plays games every Monday and Wednesday through June — is more popular than it ever has been, Wenger said.
“The summer league has nine teams this year, which is the biggest it has ever been, so we’re trending in the right direction by gaining teams,” Wenger said. “Plus, the talent this year is better than it’s ever been. One team, Team Miller, pretty much has all Division II scholarship players on their roster.
“The summer league has provided an outlet for more of the rec league players to play, just in case they were a little intimidated by the level of players that were in the 3-on-3 tournament.”
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