Duo Brings Home Gold To Transylvania - Brevard NC
Arnold "Bird" Nicholson and Jim Groves, two key members of the six-man North Carolina "Land of Waterfalls" squad, often bridesmaids in the bi-annual tournament, finally won gold with a remarkable run of eight wins in four days against some of the best competition in the country.
"It's still hard for me to comprehend," Nicholson said of winning the title. "We've played on the best 65-and-older team in the U.S. It takes awhile to sink in."
Groves, too, is excited by the victory.
"I really enjoyed it," Groves said. "I've been to three national championships, and every time I go it's like high school or college again - you get butterflies."
Groves, who describes himself as the "ball-handler, passer and distributor," calmed down long enough to pour in 56 points in the Land of Waterfalls' third win of pool play.
Nicholson and Groves, both former Blue Devils and Tornado basketball players, have attended the tournament five times, finishing second twice, and took gold last week in Minneapolis, Minn.
The closest they came to an overall title in the past was a one-point loss to Houston in overtime after fighting through the losing bracket. The two have won the state title many times, often teaming up with locals Larry and Lyndon Clayton and Charlie Owenby. Nicholson dedicated the win to his local teammates.
"Even though they're not on the court with us, they're experiencing it, too," Nicholson said. "Lyndon's the one that got me started back playing basketball. As soon as I turned 55 he said 'come on!'"
The three-on-three tournament consisted of two days of pool play, with the top two moving onto the double elimination tournament.
After going undefeated the first two days, Nicholson and Groves' team earned a first round bye.
They cruised through the second round, but met up with an undefeated Connecticut team in the quarterfinals.
"They were the second best team in the tournament," Nicholson said. "That game could have gone the other way."
The North Carolinians won by a slim seven-point margin.
That brought up another undefeated team from Ohio in the semifinals.
They knocked off that team 54-32, sending the Ohioans to the consolation bracket, earning Nicholson, Groves and their four teammates much-needed breathing space. They rested while the loser's bracket fought it out for a trip to the finals. Connecticut beat Ohio 57-46 for the right to a rematch with North Carolina. This time it was no contest, as the Tar Heels cruised to a 19-point victory, 56-37.
"I knew we had a dern good chance at a gold," Groves said. "They came out of the losers' bracket wore out. They just didn't have enough gas in the tank to keep going."
The men played in a three-on-three, half-court format, with special rules that govern rebounds and court position. The teams play two 15-minute halves, with unlimited substitutions.
"You have to have six players," Groves said, to combat the inevitable injuries and overall fatigue.
The North Carolinians lost their big man to a pulled hamstring on the first day, and another player broke an extender tendon on one of his fingers. Nicholson also suffered from a tweak in his Achilles tendon.
"We were down to three (players) by the second day," Groves said. "But they've got good medical facilities there."
Since the team continued winning and earning byes, they were able to rest their center on the second day and have him near full strength by the finals on the fourth day.
Groves credits the team's defense with winning the title, as the tournament format favors quick three-point shots and offensive trading.
"That's the thing our team does better, I think," Groves said. "We make the other team work for their points. All six guys play very good defense.
"Maybe it's a little something they've never seen before. A lot of them want to swap points with you."
With a gold medal and a pair of silvers under their belts, the question remains: will they repeat? Groves hopes so. While the team has one ex-professional (European league) and a player from East Carolina, a 7-footer is waiting in the wings.
He, too, has experience in the European leagues and currently lives in Wilson.
Fans shouldn't expect high-flying dunks like the NBA.
"This game is mostly played on the floor," Groves said. "But if you're 7 feet tall, even if you get tired, you're still tall."
"You also gotta be a little bit lucky, too," he added. "Good teams still get beat."
The next senior games tournament will not be held until 2017.