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Ball aboard: Sneaks Summer Classic basketball tournament rebounds from pandemic for its third year

The winning 5 O’clock Cowboys stand with Sneaks tournament founders Tyson Youngs (left) and Sawsun Khodopanah (right).
Members of the 5 O’clock Cowboys, the winning team in the 2021 Sneaks Summer Classic basketball tournament, stand with tournament co-founders Tyson Youngs (left) and Sawsun Khodopanah (right).
(Elisabeth Frausto)

There was much hoopla at the La Jolla Recreation Center on July 17 as local basketball players gathered for the Sneaks Summer Classic annual tournament.

Court was in session starting at 9 a.m., with about 120 players on 16 teams. The teams sent five members at a time onto two courts as the tournament progressed through rounds of elimination play.

The winning team, 5 O’clock Cowboys, won the Sneaks trophy for the second consecutive time, with the members receiving hats proclaiming them the 2021 champions.

“It was fun,” winning team member Andre Murphy said. “I just love playing.”

Two teams battled for the championship trophy after the tournament field was whittled down from an original 16 teams.
Two teams battled for the championship trophy after the tournament field was whittled down from an original 16 teams.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

As the teams battled, coffee and taco kiosks, a DJ booth and merchandise tables lined the edges of the courts.

“It’s a whole community event,” tournament co-founder Sawsun Khodapanah said. “It’s a fun day for the entire community to get outdoors and enjoy themselves and interact with each other.”

“I’m excited to be in it,” Isaac Cadesky said as he stretched out before his team’s first game. “I just want to get out there and have a good time.”

Mahlon Thomas said his participation in the tournament is “really about the people that you get to meet, and the competition. It’s a mix of that.”

Thomas’ teammate Obi Ukwuoma said: “I love [basketball]. Grind it out, let’s just play.”

“You become a different person in basketball, lose yourself in it,” he said.

The tournament started with 16 teams sending five players each to the La Jolla Recreation Center courts for elimination play.
The Sneaks Summer Classic tournament started with 16 teams sending five players each to the La Jolla Recreation Center courts for elimination play.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

This was the third installment of the tournament, which was started in 2018 by Khodopanah and fellow 2013 La Jolla High School graduate Tyson Youngs. Sneaks was not held last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Youngs said the tournaments always bring “good energy and good competitions.”

“It’s a lot of good players out here this year,” Khodapanah said.

Khodapanah said he and Youngs grew up playing basketball together on the Rec Center courts. “It’s definitely an important place to both of us; we spent a lot of hours out here,” Khodapanah said.

Youngs said launching a basketball tournament came from his being “really motivated to create something of my own. To do it with one of my best friends … was another kind of motivating factor.”

Youngs, who lives in Ocean Beach and works in commercial real estate brokerage while running a store on Amazon, said he’s still a member of the La Jolla community. He meets Khodapanah at the Rec Center two or three times a week to play basketball and coach for a local youth basketball program.

Sawsun Khodopanah (left) and Tyson Youngs, both 2013 La Jolla High grads, play basketball at the La Jolla Rec Center weekly.
Sawsun Khodopanah (left) and Tyson Youngs, both 2013 La Jolla High School graduates, play basketball at the La Jolla Recreation Center weekly.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Khodapanah, who is working on his MBA from San Diego State University, is owner of the Sneaks clothing company, which he started in order to sell shoes. He expanded after shirts, hats and other merchandise from the first Sneaks basketball tournament became popular.

“The tournament birthed the brand with that first shirt,” he said.

Youngs, who competed in baseball and track and field at College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts and played basketball, baseball and football in high school, said “the best way I’ve always made friends is through basketball. It’s such a social aspect of my life.”

“The other half of it … is I’m a competitor and I love to win,” he said. “Basketball is a good place to express yourself and get the competitive juices flowing again.”

Khodapanah said “basketball is always one of the biggest ways I meet people. It’s my favorite thing in the world. It’s a great way ... for kids to stay out of trouble and do something productive, rather than running around getting into nonsense.”

Khodapanah said he hopes that “as the years continue, the tournament becomes a classic summertime tradition” that people from La Jolla and beyond can enjoy.

“We want to give San Diego … a stake in the basketball community and something cool to claim and be proud about,” he said.

Youngs added that “we created this event, but it’s at our home court, this place that we grew up playing basketball, and that’s the selfishly satisfying factor for me. … This is where it’s all coming back together.”

For more information, visit bit.ly/sneaks2021.