Strung together by TikTok and their love for basketball, a group of local girls basketball players will compete in the JR NBA’s three-on-three tournament — when it is rescheduled following the coronavirus hiatus.
On Feb. 16, “Team Fierce” traveled to Navy Pier to participate in the regional round of the JR NBA’s annual event. They played three games and, in the last round, beat “Mean Street,” which is a highly regarded AAU basketball program.
“We honestly entered into this on a whim,” said Megan Bertuca, mother of Gia Delatorre. “We wanted to see them play together since they hadn’t done it before. They thought, ‘If we play together, imagine what we could do.’ This was their perfect chance to see how it would work, and their chemistry was amazing. Now they are going to nationals. It’s just crazy.”
All 12 years of age, the team consists of Delatorre from St. Giles in Oak Park, Sophia Leonardi, Salma Guillen and Isabella Keberlein from St. Luke in River Forest and Cammie Molis from St. Mary in Riverside. They have played against each other since they were in fifth grade and got to know one another through social media.
“We are all really good, and we wanted to see what we could do together,” said Delatorre. “We ended up becoming good friends. We think we can win the whole thing.”
According to the players, it took some time for them to meld on the court in such a short time period. However, they ended up making a TikTok video of themselves dancing on court, which loosened everyone up.
“It was awkward at first,” said Keberlein. “But then one of us said we should make [the video] and we made the TikTok. It was less awkward after that.”
The format of the tournament is much different from what the players were used to at the local level. The games are played in the half court which means the team on defense has to take the ball back past the three-point line before it can attempt to score. Some of the players on Team Fierce said that was a tough adjustment at first.
“We will read the rulebook soon,” said Guillen. “We lost points since we didn’t take the ball back. We still won though.”
Though the tournament is postponed until a later date due to the coronavirus pandemic, the JR NBA sent out a message to those involved that it will be played at some point. It was scheduled to be played in Indianapolis on April 4 before the delay.
“We are just really excited to play [at nationals],” said Molis. “We really want to win and it would be so cool to do that in front of all of those people. I think we can do it.”
The postponement of the tournament worked in favor of lifelong Pearl Jam fan Derek Molis, father of Cammie. He bought tickets to see the grunge rockers in St. Louis a few months before the tournament. After the team won regionals, Molis saw that nationals and the concert were scheduled for the same day. Committed to both his daughter and the concert, he was planning on driving from nationals to St. Louis to catch the concert and the tournament’s finale.
“I would never pick the concert over my daughter,” said Derek. “But me and my friend also had these tickets, so I called him [after regionals] and said, ‘Man you’re not going to believe this but my daughter’s basketball team won their tournament at Navy Pier. Do you mind if we go straight from the tournament to [go see] Pearl Jam?’ and he ended up saying that it was fine. It all worked out.”
The team celebrated the victory with ice cream at a Ben & Jerry’s on Navy Pier.