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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Back2Bellingham Battle, a basketball reunion

Western alumnus Anye Turner shoots during the second annual Back 2 Bellingham Battle on Sunday, May 15 at the Wade King Recreation Center. The Bellingham Slam beat the Vikings Alumni 133-106. // Photo by Connor Jalbert
Western alumnus Anye Turner shoots during the second annual Back 2 Bellingham Battle on Sunday, May 15 at the Wade King Recreation Center. The Bellingham Slam beat the Vikings Alumni 133-106. // Photo by Connor Jalbert

The Vikings Alumni and the Bellingham Slam pose for a group photo after the second annual Back 2 Bellingham Battle exhibition game on Sunday, May 15 at the Wade King Recreation Center. // Photo by Connor Jalbert
The Vikings Alumni and the Bellingham Slam pose for a group photo after the second annual Back 2 Bellingham Battle exhibition game on Sunday, May 15 at the Wade King Recreation Center. // Photo by Connor Jalbert

As Western’s annual Back2Bellingham began to wind down Sunday, May 15, basketball fans were treated to a game featuring some familiar faces.

The Back2Bellingham Battle pits a team of Western alumni against the Bellingham Slam, a semi-pro team that plays in the International Basketball League.

Many of the Slam players are former Western basketball players, like Jacob and Jared Stevenson who are even in WWU Athletics Hall of Fame.

The Slam won last year’s inaugural game 108-100 in Carver Gymnasium and it was the last game played there before renovations started.

Kip Leonetti, the Bellingham Slam’s general manager and organizer of the game, created the event so basketball could be a part of the Back2Bellingham alumni weekend.

“A lot of these guys still compete at a pretty high level which we saw in the game last year,” Leonetti said. “Players who played college basketball 10-15 years ago were able to compete well against the Slam which had, generally speaking, much younger guys.”

This year, the Slam were again victorious, staging a comeback to seize a 133-106 victory over the Western Alumni.

The Western Alumni controlled the first quarter, leading 21-9 at one point, but saw its lead evaporate and by halftime the Slam were up 46-44. The highlight of the second quarter was a put-back dunk by Slam forward Austin Bragg.

A back and forth third quarter seemed to set the tone for a thrilling final quarter, but the Slam came out on fire. Slam player and coach Tyler Amaya led a fast break that ended with a vicious dunk to extend his team’s lead to 93-81. From there, starting point guard Morris Anderson started draining threes and the Slam pulled away at the end.

Western Alumni player Preston Vermeulen said connecting with former teammates was his favorite part about the game.

“I enjoy the friendship part of it probably more than basketball,” Vermeulen said. “It’s like a whole bunch of memories and good times come rushing back. It’s like you were never gone.”

Vermeulen played at Western from 2002-2006 under former coach Brad Jackson. Jackson’s son Kyle started at point guard for the Alumni on Sunday and also played with Vermeulen at Western.

The game is good for fans that want to bring back memories of some of the old teams Jackson said.

“We’re all old, fat and slow now though,” Jackson said.

“It’s something we definitely want to continue doing,” Leonetti said. “We’ve gotten such a positive response these first two years that we’ve done it. I anticipate it becoming bigger and more exciting as the years go on.”

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