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Getting ready to run: New area 3-on-3 basketball league attracts 450 players

Jeremy LaCroix, the offseason programs director for the Cottage Grove Athletic Association, teamed up with the East Ridge, Hastings and Woodbury athletic associations to help promote the new 3-on-3 league.1 / 3
Tommy Tola cuts to the hoop in a recent game at the first-ever 3-on-3 league at Park High School.2 / 3
Mary Reed gets ready for a game at the area's new 3-on-3 basketball fall league.3 / 3

When Jeremy LaCroix was putting together a 3-on-3 basketball league, he didn't really know what to expect.

"We needed at least 40 teams to make it go and my goal was 60 teams, so obviously, we greatly exceeded that," LaCroix said.

In its first year, 103 teams and roughly 450 kids from grades 3-10 are participating in the competitive league, held Sunday nights at Park High School. Most teams are comprised of kids from Cottage Grove, Woodbury and Hastings, but players from surrounding communities are also taking part -- from as far as Lake City. Each of the 103 teams play two half-court games per night, which are refereed by Park varsity basketball players. The games run for about four hours a night for five straight Sundays.

Park head girls basketball coach Stephanie Tolkinen said 3-on-3 hoops is basketball "at its purest form."

"It's just a lot of fun and kids have an opportunity to work on their fundamentals," she said. "This is a great way to learn how to play the game. Where you learn to play basketball is 3-on-3."

In 3-on-3 basketball, players must stay active at all times. The players need to rely on each other and play man-to-man defense, while focusing on cutting, screening and passing. Tolkinen said she builds her offense off a 3-on-3 game.

LaCroix, the offseason programs director for the Cottage Grove Athletic Association, got the idea to start the league in south Washington County after his daughters played in a 3-on-3 league in Mounds View a year ago.

"I thought it was great, but I knew there was nothing like this sort of thing in this part of the metro," LaCroix, 41, said. "I was just sick of driving to Mounds View, so I'd figure we'd start it here. It's a lot of work, but it's going really well."

LaCroix said the best part of the league is simply getting basketball in kids' hands prior to the regular season.

"It's a good tune-up and really gets them thinking about basketball a few weeks earlier," he said. "Anytime you get a kid playing basketball out of season, it's going to help them improve."

Mary Reed, an eighth grader from Woodbury, plays in the league on a team called The Wood Hood.

"We're all on the same team in the regular season, so this just gets us closer together and we learn how each other work," Reed said. "You can really work on stuff you wouldn't normally work on in other games. There's not as much pressure on you or coaches yelling at you. It's just playing basketball and having fun."

Lucas Fossum, a sophomore at Park High School, is playing in the league on his team, the J-Ballers.

"It's a lot of fun," Fossum said. "You just get to play basketball with your friends and compete against other people. It's good to have it in Cottage Grove."

Fossum, who played on the Park freshman team last year, said he wouldn't have competed in a fall league if 3-on-3 league didn't start in Cottage Grove.

"We'd usually just go to a park and play basketball with some friends," Fossum said. "This will help a lot of kids get better, because it's organized and it's very competitive."

LaCroix and CGAA connected with the East Ridge, Hastings and Woodbury athletic associations to help promote the league. In addition, he partnered with Midwest 3-on-3 to help with administrative duties.

Midwest 3-on-3 started in 1997 with one league at Champlin Park High School. Today there are 16 Midwest 3-on-3 leagues in various spots around the Twin Cities.

"We had a lot of help from our partners at the East Ridge Athletic Association and the Woodbury and Hastings athletic associations," LaCroix said. "They promoted it with their kids, so that really helped build this. They see the benefit of having it in the area too."

Tolkinen said the 3-on-3 league is "great for the game in this area."

"Over 100 teams in its first year, I think that's fantastic. It could continue to get even bigger," she said. "It's great to already be thinking about basketball a little bit. When you're in this atmosphere of basketball, you can't help but get excited for the winter season."