NEW BRITAIN — Roosevelt Lee, an Osgood Shootout fan-turned-Osgood Shootout participant, stepped off the court at New Britain High and walked outside, toward the line for barbecue food. As a trail of smoke from the grill raced past him, Lee was continually interrupted by friends and family members greeting him as he talked about the meaning of this annual basketball tournament.
"It's come a long way, this event," said Lee, a 2002 New Britain High graduate and one of the best players in city history. "I remember watching guys play in the Osgood when I was in elementary school. At that time, it was outside, in the park. It brings back memories, playing here. There's no place like home."
The Osgood Shootout, which began as a small gathering at Osgood Park in 1993 and is now in its 22nd year, has evolved into one of the premier single-elimination weekend events in the region since its move to New Britain High in 1998.
Many NBA players have participated over the years — Ryan Gomes, Kemba Walker, Jared Sullinger and Andre Drummond, to name a few — and the field in the open division is always sprinkled with well-known players with some loose local ties.
Mostly, though, the Osgood is a celebration of community.
Several hundred fans were at New Britain High Saturday, the crowd evenly divided between the bleachers in the gym and the area around the grill. It's basically a big family barbecue with elite-level basketball at the center. The teams generally represent cities, with entries, for instance, from New Britain, Waterbury, Torrington, New York, New London and Boston, which, with Sullinger of the Celtics, has won the open division the past two years.
"The maturation of this event has enriched this community," said Greater Hartford Pro-Am CEO Peter Higgins, the courtside commentator at the Osgood.
The event concludes Sunday. The high school division will hold semifinals beginning at 11:30 a.m. and a championship game at 4:30 p.m. There will be a women's all-star game at 5:30. The open division semifinals begin at 2. The Waterbury team, with many of the same players who won the Pro-Am Friday night, has advanced to the semifinals, as has Lee's New Britain-based Blaze team. Also still alive are the Torrington-based Renegades and a team named All-Xity.
"It's a big-time event," said Kelvin Davis, who has played for the Waterbury team, this year called T.J. Buckets, for the past 10 years. "It's one-and-done. You lose, you're out, and it's about bragging rights for cities. I've definitely experienced the growth of it; every year it gets bigger and bigger. A lot of guys I remember coming to watch us, and now they've come into their own and we're playing against them. It's a nice mix of young and old."
Lee grew up watching in awe as Shon Jones, another standout New Britain player, dunked at Osgood Park. Now, they're teammates.
The Osgood does not charge admission or participation fees and relies on donations and sponsorships. Each year, two $500 scholarships are awarded to New Britain High seniors. Darwin Shaw, a New Britain High grad who has been the girls track coach and junior varsity basketball coach for 29 years, founded and continues to run the event.
"What it means to me is I'm able to help out some youngsters," said Shaw, who graduated from New Britain in 1977 and became an All-America long jumper at Kentucky State, where he was mentored by William Exum, the first black football player at Wisconsin in the 1930s. "He said, 'If you don't go back to your community and do what you've been taught to do, all of this I've nurtured you on means nothing.' My motto is, you're not a success in your community until you go back and do something for your community. The Osgood has blown up beyond blow-up."
Lee, 30, is married and a father of two young boys. He still hopes for a professional basketball career. For him, the Osgood is an annual opportunity to showcase his skills against the region's best.
"Coach — I still call him Coach Shaw — he's meant a whole lot to the community," Lee said. "He's helped a lot of kids. He's hands-on with everything. It's wonderful what he does for the people of New Britain."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun