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  • BASKETBALL

    Labor of love for Singler

    Eighth annual Singler Southern Oregon Open expects to generate plenty of smiles this weekend
  • It's been a labor of love from Day 1 but the payoff continues to be huge for all parties involved in the Singler Southern Oregon Open.
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  • It's been a labor of love from Day 1 but the payoff continues to be huge for all parties involved in the Singler Southern Oregon Open.
    The eighth annual basketball tournament returns Saturday and Sunday in basketball gyms throughout Medford and Central Point and organizers promise bigger and better from this year's event.
    A record 188 teams representing Oregon, Washington and California are slated to compete in boys and girls divisions from the sixth grade to high school varsity levels, making it the largest sporting event in southern Oregon in terms of number of teams participating.
    "To see what it's become is great," said tournament founder and Detroit Pistons forward Kyle Singler. "There's going to be a point where it does level off and plateau but I think we can always make this tournament a little better each year and bring something new and fresh. That's always been my vision and I'm just happy that people leave here each year happy and are willing to come back and participate."
    Kids Unlimited Executive Director Tom Cole has been a driving force for the tournament since Singler started the ball rolling as part of his senior project at South Medford High, and credits the entire Singler family and a host of volunteers for the steady growth of the tournament.
    E.J. Singler picked up the torch from his older brother while at South Medford and has continued to serve with Kyle as an ambassador for the tournament through his days at the University of Oregon and now with the NBA Developmental League's Idaho Stampede.
    The Singler brothers spent part of Thursday signing autographs at Rogue Federal Credit Union and then made a well-received appearance at the VIBES Charter School inside Kids Unlimited, where they handed out T-shirts provided by Guru Ink and answered questions for the elementary school students.
    Today, the Singlers will be serving coffees at the Dutch Bros. on the corner of Stewart and Columbus from 3-4 p.m., and they'll make stops at the local tournament venues throughout the tournament to go along with a presentation during Saturday's Dinner of Champions at South Medford High. The dinner begins at 5:30, and the ceremony starts at 7:15.
    "They're the key," said Cole of the tournament's success. "The popularity of them and having NBA guys present the entire weekend and being as hospitable as they are in signing every autograph and taking every picture and just being engaging throughout "¦ it's more than just a couple NBA guys standing around for a specific amount of time. They're involved and they're engaged."
    What the Singlers said they get out of the weekend is far more than they feel like they provide.
    "It's just awesome to see smiles on children's faces," said E.J. Singler. "Bottom line, that's why we do it "¦ it's all for the kids. We kinda feel like it's a responsibility for us to give back to a community that has supported us through it all, from high school and everything. This community has been there for us and has had our backs so we just like giving back to them."
    A conservative economic impact figure for the Medford area, made by organizers reflecting only the participants and not those who travel with them, stands at nearly $611,000 for the two-day tournament. In the past, officials for the Rogue Memorial Challenge soccer tournament have estimated that its 137 teams and 2,500 players with accompanying family members generate an estimated $3.1 million to the local economy.
    All proceeds for the tournament and subsequent June 20 auction benefit Kids Unlimited, which is a community organization founded on the ideal of assisting youths so that they may empower themselves and better their community.
    To make things truly hit home this season for the Singlers, funds from this year's event have been earmarked for a playground to be built in a currently fenced in area just outside the Kids Unlimited building that's adjacent to the front parking lot.
    "With the growth of the VIBES Charter School this past year with 150 kids and waiting lists in every grade group," said Cole, "one of the obvious necessities is having a really nice playground in this neighborhood. It's been a deficit for a long time and these guys believed strong enough that this would be something that they wanted to see it specifically going to and it's part of our mission plan so we're excited to be going for it."
    The addition of a playground for Kids Unlimited seemed a no-brainer for E.J. Singler, who had his first season in the NBADL cut short by knee surgery but won the 3-point contest during its All-Star weekend.
    "Me and my brother both went to Hoover and we got that whole playground experience," he said. "Obviously that was the funnest time I had, being out on the playground playing with other kids. You grow a lot out there socially with a lot of kids and playing games together. Being able to be outside playing with your friends on swings, that's what you want to be doing at this age so this is just a cool thing we can do to raise money for them to be able to provide that."
    Cole said the goal is to have the playground established by early June.
    In the meantime, the action expects to be at a premium this weekend as tournament games kick off at 8:15 a.m. at five high schools (South Medford, North Medford, Crater, Phoenix and St. Mary's) and four middle schools (McLoughlin, Hedrick, Sacred Heart and Scenic).
    "The really amazing thing is the quality of teams that are now coming into the valley to play," said Cole, giving special praise to Team Concept from Portland and the Stockton Mavericks. "It started out as Kyle's senior project with more local teams and more recreation-based teams. This year we'll have some of the top kids from Portland coming down as well as those coming up from the Sacramento-Stockton area to play in this tournament. I think in the long run that will help establish even a different level of competition for the event."
    And yet another reason to come back.
    Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry
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