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Arne Duncan's team of 'old guys' know how to win at hoops

Greg Hernadez gets a shot off between some talented old-timers, Kit Mueller, left, and Arne Duncan, right, during a charity game.
Greg Hernadez gets a shot off between some talented old-timers, Kit Mueller, left, and Arne Duncan, right, during a charity game. (Susan Biddle For The Washington Post)
By Derek Kravitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 25, 2010

Politics and sports make for strange bedfellows.

At the Washington area leg of the Rockin' Refuel Hoop It Up Tour, a national three-on-three basketball competition, Education Secretary Arne Duncan's team was the main attraction Saturday (although few of the gym rats on hand had any idea who he is).

More than 40 teams are competing in the two-day charity tournament at Tysons Sport and Health in McLean for a chance at the national finals in July. Proceeds from the Washington area leg of the tour will benefit Coaches vs. Cancer, which supports the American Cancer Society. The tournament continues from 8 a.m. to noon Sunday.

Duncan, a 6-foot-5 former Harvard basketball co-captain, played professionally in Australia before starting his career in Chicago public schools, and he is one of a number of basketball-obsessed politicos in the Obama administration. Duncan, a frequent pickup game partner of the president's, has credited basketball with getting him into college and introducing him to his future wife. He also has weighed in on low graduation rates among NCAA athletes and ethics violations by coaches.

So it wasn't surprising to see Duncan taking part in the annual tournament, which he has played in for most of its 21-year history.

And Duncan's teammates are not your typical weekend warriors.

Christopher "Kit" Mueller, a 6-foot-7 Philadelphia area hedge fund manager, is second on Princeton's all-time scoring list (behind former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley) and played professionally in Switzerland. Phil Styles, a vice president at a Chicago risk management firm, played college ball at Northwestern in the late 1980s. Sean Jackson, a financial analyst from Nashville, was Ivy League Player of the Year at Princeton in 1992. John W. Rogers Jr., the Ariel Investments founder and team coach, was a Princeton basketball co-captain, and he famously beat basketball legend Michael Jordan at a game of one-on-one during a sports camp.

And that's just Ariel's A-team. The B-squad features an All-Big Ten selection from Northwestern, a former DePaul standout, two former University of Chicago basketball stars and Mike Grinnon, a 6-foot-6 forward who played four years at Maryland and is the only Terrapin to play on both an NCAA and ACC championship team.

Not surprisingly, Ariel has a stranglehold on the competition. The firm's two teams -- the older Ariel Slow & Steady and younger Ariel Investments team -- have won four of the tournament's past six Top Guns-bracket (the best of the best) national championships. They've done so while catching many of their first-time opponents off guard.

The average age of Ariel's first squad: 44. Their average margin of victory Saturday in the 20-point contests: 13.

"You see a lot of teams, when they first get on the floor, saying, 'Who are these old guys?' " said Bart Bayston, a sales consultant who has worked with Ariel and is an event director for the tournament. "But Ariel plays well together. They know each other."

Saturday, Ariel Slow & Steady cruised to a 20-7 win over the much younger Crusaders, a team from Philadelphia.

When Mueller landed a 15-foot skyhook shot midway through the team's third and final game, Duncan yelled out, "Old school, kid," with a fervor that hinted at his South Side Chicago upbringing. One of his opponents stared at Duncan questioningly.

Looks can be deceiving.

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