Suffolk wins Birdsong’s final tournament

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 29, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

It was going to happen.

As Suffolk’s Hampton Roads Pro-Am team’s battle with the Portsmouth All-Stars in the finals of the Suffolk Invitational Tournament wound down Thursday night at Birdsong Recreation Center, everyone in attendance should have known that the host squad would pull out the victory.

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Not only because they had Tony Smith, Lamont Strothers, Derrick Bryant, and some of the other greatest players the city had ever seen. Not because the locals had never won the tournament before. Simply because it would be the last tournament ever played at the old recreational center – and there was no way that fate was going to let this city be disappointed. A storybook ending, perhaps, but one that simply had to occur. Birdsong is scheduled to be torn down later this summer to make way for the 2005 opening of the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.

Suffolk led for the entire second half, but the Portsmouth squad refused to stay down, knotting the score at 51 with 29 seconds to play. Then Brandon Brooks yanked in an air ball and put it right back up to go back ahead, and Portsmouth was called for a technical, allowing Smith to extend the lead to 55-51. Strothers pushed in two more one-pointers, and Smith scored the last-ever competitive point at the Center, a free throw with 14 seconds left that ended a 58-51 win.

&uot;We wanted to win for Birdsong and for the whole city of Suffolk!&uot; said Smith, whose game-leading 23 points secured him the tournament Most Valuable Player award. &uot;All the guys wanted to come together, because this is our home gym. We’ll miss Birdsong.&uot; Smith himself started playing at the center when he was eight, before his days at Suffolk High School and North Carolina’s Pfeiffer University. &uot;Knowing I made the last basket is something I can always cherish.&uot;

&uot;We weren’t going to lose,&uot; said Strothers. &uot;This is where it all started for me, and this is where it ends.&uot;

Watching the starts of the present, past and future charge up and down the aging hardcourt, tournament coordinator Sean Miller looked toward the future. &uot;This is a special occasion just because the guys out there playing on the team,&uot; said Miller, who along with the rest of the Parks and Recreation Department will move to Wilroy Industrial Park with the center’s demolition. &uot;Everyone comes together on an occasion like this. This is the best going away present the center could receive.&uot;