Spring Jr #HGShowdown Recap

showdown

The Spring Junior Showdown kicked off Saturday morning as teams from all over the east coast made up four different age brackets. The U11, U12, U13 and U14 pools commenced, with each team glimmering with hope of making it to Sunday night.

What started as distant hope for some programs, turned into shear reality as pool play progressed into the later stages. Teams from Pittsburgh and the Jersey Shore were among the many that impressed throughout the round robin games.

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11 & Under

The 5th grade age bracket proved to be the most diverse in the tournament, as three of the six pool play games were decided by ten points or less. Pools this talented made for two tremendous Final Four match ups: NJ Shoreshots Nitro took on Jersey Force, and Ocean Elite would test themselves against nationally ranked Havoc City.

NJ Shoreshots Nitro 40 Jersey Force 32

The Force kept it close in the first half with scrappy defensive play. The halftime score only had Nitro leading 21-12. Jersey Force gave it their all for every minute, especially Jay Ratner who had 8 points in the contest. Unfortunately for Force, they were never able to gain a lead, as Nitro held took care of the ball and had several timely buckets from guard, Ben Roy. Ben, who had 12 points on the game, was asked about the win and responded, “It was good, but we’re coming for that championship trophy!”

Havoc City 44 Ocean Elite 40

The widely recognized Havoc City had high expectations heading into the tournament, and were intent on reaching them. However, Ocean Elite had plans of spoiling those plans. Elite took advantage of every opportunity and found themselves in a tight game at halftime. The game stayed close throughout, and both teams looked like prime contenders for a championship. Harold Taylor was the difference maker, and a big reason Havoc City was able to win the close game. He explained the team’s effort down the stretch, “We aren’t here to just play for a title, we want to win one.”

CHAMPIONSHIP: NJ Shoreshots Nitro 32 Havoc City 18

The scoring was sparse in the 11U Championship as defense was the main focus of both coaches. Coach Cooper and the Shoreshots added a zone concept to their man to man defense, in order to keep Havoc City and their quick guards out of the lane, “We were able to keep them out of the lane, and rebound well defensively… That was the key.” He said after the game.

The Shoreshots were led by standout guard, Issac Hester who had 16 points and was awarded the MVP. Harold Taylor led Havoc City with 8 points.

Nitro

 12 & Under

The 6th grade age bracket consisted of four pools, all of which had an undefeated participant: The Metro Mavericks, Jersey Force Fagan, NJ Shoreshots Elite, and Basketball Stars America. Those four teams squared off in the highly anticipated semi-finals.

NJ Shoreshots Elite 55 Metro Mavericks 44

Early in the first half it looked like the Shoreshots would run away with the game thanks to their athleticism and defensive pressure. They built their lead to 11 at the four minute mark in the first thanks to Jaylen Blakes, who finished with 16 points in the game. Metro didn’t back down however, and came back to cut the lead to five at the break, highlighted by a remarkable 3-point buzzer beater by Aaron Geller.

The pressure  was set squarely on the Shoreshots to respond, and they did just that.  A revamped defensive effort in the second stanza helped them hold their opponent to only 18 second half points. Geller finished with 16 points, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Shoreshots, who were determined to get to the championship.

Jersey Force Fagan 51 Basketball Stars America 44

Coach Fagan’s gritty Force team jumped out to an early 8-2 lead and forced BSA to take an early timeout. The Force looked impressive early with daunting pressure on defense and tremendous ball movement against the BSA zone.

At the half, it looked like Jersey Force had the game well in hand, but BSA had other plans. Adu Thiero led a spirited comeback with 13 second half points to cut the lead, and BSA was in business. Both coaches had spirited messages for their teams with the game on the line.

Down the stretch, Sam Fagan and his teammates hit some clutch free throws to keep their team ahead and take them to the championship. Fagan finished with 13 along to lead the team.

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CHAMPIONSHIP: Jersey Force Fagan 56 NJ Shoreshots Elite 41

            The Championship game featured two gritty teams, fueled by their defense. Jersey Force took the lead on some miscues by the Shoreshots and never looked back. Shoreshots star, Jaylen Blakes did his best to keep the team in it with 17 points but they were never able to close the gap. Sam Fagan had his team clicking on all cylinders as he finished with 17 points of his own, and the MVP trophy.

12U Champs - Jersey Force

12U Champs – Jersey Force

13 & Under

The 7th grade age bracket also had four pools, and following suit, they had the four pool winners go undefeated. However, there would be one team who captured the attention of every viewer at Hoop Group Headquarters. After dominating in pool play, Basketball Stars America were the heavy favorites heading into the semi-final; they a point differential of 145 heading into the elimination round. Jersey Force, NJ United and St. Michael’s looked to defy the odds in Sundays’ contests.

NJ United 46 Jersey Force 39

NJ United jumped out to a lead thanks to balanced scoring and tenacious full court pressure, and held a five point advantage going into the half. The game went similarly in the second half, and was the most competitive of any semi-final game during the tournament.

Force’s Jakari Spence kept his team in the game throughout with a 21 point scoring effort and strong leadership. At the 5 minute mark, the game was within 3 points, but Luke Ungur found himself ahead of the pack for two easy lay ins that all but sealed the NJ United win. His coach said after the game, “When Luke can get out in transition and make lay-ups he is great.”

Basketball Stars America 57 St. Michael’s 28

St. Michael’s and BSA started the game mirroring each other with full court pressure and were able to force turnovers. Half way through the first, BSA held an 11-8 lead in the defensive standoff.

A quick timeout by BSA allowed them to make some adjustments which lead to a few transition baskets for the 13u squad. BSA started to flex their muscles and show why they were the favorite, and the lead started to lengthen. Theodore Gadsen and Francisco Paulino led St. Michael’s with 7 a piece, but didn’t have enough to overcome the deficit. Isaiah Smith was the star of the show, dropping 17 points for the winning side.

 CHAMPIONSHIP: Basketball Stars America 55 NJ United 33 

NJ United did not seemed phased by BSA’s semifinal game. They took care of the ball early in the game and attacked the glass relentlessly. They only trailed by two points with 7 minutes left in the half before BSA turned up the heat and ended the half on a 23-4 run.

BSA’s impressive intensity didn’t slow down in the second half as their lead went as high as 28. Nate Cullo was awarded the MVP, finishing the championship with 12 points and a handful of rebounds. BSA coach told us after the game, “Hustle and energy, that’s all it takes. We had both this weekend.”

Nate and his teammates were eager to address the win after the game, “Defense and energy are so important! If we make good passes and play with intensity we can beat anyone.” Young guard, Adu Thiero said.

13U Champs - BSA (Pittsburgh, PA)

13U Champs – BSA (Pittsburgh, PA)

14 & Under

 The 8th grade age bracket sported three undefeated  teams. The fourth bracket presented an interesting scenario, with all three teams going 1-1 during bracket play. Due to a tiebreaker, it was the West Orange Knights who advanced into the semi-finals with Jersey Force Korellis, Collegeville Jaguars, and NJ Soldiers.

Jersey Force Korellis 54 Collegeville Jaguars 34

Jersey Force program looked to capture their second title of the tournament as their 14U team took on an underrated Collegeville team. The Force catapulted out to a 13-0 lead on blistering ball movement and sharp shooting, and they looked to be cruising early on. The Jaguars fought and scrapped but as halftime approached the Force were still in control.

Their disciplined style of play was too much for Justin Addensewu, 11 points, and the Jaguars who were unable to breach the double-digit lead. Ian O’Connor led the Force attack with 12 points.

West Orange Knights 59 NJ Soldiers 45

 The first half was a back and forth affair, with each team taking the lead three separate times. West Orange tried to use their length to disrupt the Soldiers defensively, and with 6 minutes left in the half they finally broke through. After a deep 3 by Jason Larrnengh, West Orange got a turnover then an and-1 lay-up to push the lead to 10.

The second half had much of the same as Stephon Sheard led the way with 16 points for the Knights. West Orange finished the game strong as the final score read 59-45. Santino Georgio led the Soldiers with 11 points.

CHAMPIONSHIP: West Orange 52 Jersey Force Korellis 35

The heavyweight bout in the top age bracket of the Spring Jr Showdown featured West Orange and Jersey Force. Both teams came in after convincing semi-final wins and warranted confidence.

West Orange threw the first punch, kicking off the first 6 minutes with a 14-4 lead. As expected, the Force fought back and went into the second half down just 6. If the game ended there we would have anxiously waited for the judge’s decision.

In the second half, it was only fitting that the game would be decided by a short run by either team. It was the Knights who emerged through a stretch much like the semi-final one. A three followed by a forced turnover, and another lay-up extended the lead to 13. The West Orange coach explained, “Defense is about heart and determination. We had it.”

West Orange held the trophy high after their 17 point win and watched lead guard, Stephon Sheard be crowned as tournament MVP. After the game Stephon said, “We moved the ball really well in the second half and got good shots. We kept playing hard defensively all day.”

Jersey Force guard Jason Hogarty led the Force with 11 points, but was disappointed they couldn’t get the win, “I thought we played a little tense early on, and just couldn’t recover. Going forward we just need to play hard every second and not take anything for granted.”

14U Champs - West Orange Knights

14U Champs – West Orange Knights

—Final Thoughts—

The Spring Jr Showdown was loaded with top talent this weekend. Teams in every age bracket showed their potential to be tough opponents on any given occasion. However, as the week wore long their were a few attributes that coaches can’t teach and players can’t learn. The length and athleticism of each winning team was an elite characteristic. After four or five games in a 48-hour span, legs get weak and minds get tired, but size never shrinks.

It would be an understatement to say the fans this weekend were phenomenal. They packed the seats of Hoop Group Headquarters and vibrated the walls with ringing enthusiasm. Refs threw on the zebra shirts and worked as hard as these young athletes did throughout the weekend. All of these attributes are invariably what the Hoop Group stands for on a daily basis. Thank you to the fans, players, coaches and everyone else who make events like these possible. The next Showdown will be next weekend when we see a crop of older teams come through. Should be another great weekend of hoops!

– Brent Pelella (@CTHoops News)

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