SPRINGFIELD, MA - One of the more anticipated matchups at the Basketbull Summer Championships when the brackets came out this past week was a possible 17u quarterfinal game between Team Scan's 16u team and New Heights 16u team.
They were both playing up this weekend and all both teams needed was to win a pair of games on Saturday and then the game that so many have wanted to see would become a reality. Both ended up holding their ends of the bargain and on Sunday morning in front of 20+ Division 1 coaches, the clash of NYC titans took place in Springfield, Massachusetts.
The game had all the intrigue one could want, especially for a quarterfinal game that didn't really win either of these two teams anything. The only thing it won the winner was bragging rights. Both coming in had claims to being the best 16u team in New York, but both also could make a stake to being the best 16u team in the country. There was a clear mutual respect that each team had for one another, but you could sense that both teams wanted this one, and badly.
Both teams had their full rosters on hand after Team Scan's Omari Spellman (MacDuffie School, MA "16) flew back from the LeBron James Camp in Las Vegas overnight in time for the big time contest, but it was New Heights who got off to the fast start.
A 7-0 start for New Heights as a matter of fact as Ty Jerome (Iona Prep '16) got the scoring going when he hit on a runner in the lane. Gianni Ford (Boys and Girls '16) followed that up with a three, and after Scan's 3rd turnover of the early going, Nakye Sanders (Tottenville '15) got in good position to finish on a putback bucket over Spellman to get New Heights off to the hot start.
It could've gotten blown out of control in favor of New Heights if not for Spellman early on though. The 6'9" big man got the ball at the top of the key and slashed his way inside for Scan's first bucket of the game. He then followed up by scoring 10 of the team first 12 points in a variety of ways from backing in Sanders, to stepping out and knocking down a three ball from the left wing. Scan took their first lead at 12-11 just six minutes in and the game was officially on.
Jerome, who was sharp from start to finish knocking down a pair of threes off the dribble to see New Heights regain the advantage, but that was followed up by Spellman spinning his way inside to finish while getting fouled. He may have just gotten in from Nevada at 6am, but Spellman had 16 first half points, and seemingly in control of whatever he wanted to do, and wherever he wanted to do it.
Sanders more than held his own offensively though, showing an array of impressive post moves of his own to finish down low, while Christian Wilson (Holy Cross '16) eventually got in the act with a bucket late in the half as well to give New Heights a five point lead.
Christian Vital (Vermont Academy, VT '16) came up big in the closing seconds of the game with 5 straight points, including a there ball from the right side with under 4 seconds to go to see the game tied up at 32 at the break.
Team Scan caught a tough break as Spellman rolled his ankle early on in the 2nd half, and he was ruled out the rest of the game. The interior presence that Scan had been so reliant upon in the opening 16 minutes was gone, and for a good majority of the half, New Heights took full advantage.
It was Ford, who in front of the massive amount of coaches in attendance, took his game to another level. He buried a three to give New Heights the lead at 46-43, and that propelled them on a 13-3 run, with Ford scoring 8 of those points to see New Heights grab their biggest lead of the game at 56-46 with 3:57 left in the game. From that moment on though it became the Tremont Waters (South Kent, CT '17) show.
Team Scan needed someone else to step up as they struggled to find an offensive rhythm without Spellman in the lineup, and with Unique McLean (MacDuffie School, MA '16) clearly not at his best. Enter Waters who runs the point, but the 15 year old decided to take the offense into his hands. He knocked down a three to break up the New Heights run, and then off a turnover, he went to the rim and threw up a crazy scoop layup around Sanders and Najee Larcher (Xaverian '15) that went in.
You could feel the shift in momentum happening, and it was singlehandedly being done by Waters. Baron Goodridge (Cardinal Hayes '16) hit on a pair of FT's to stem the tide for New a Heights a bit, but regardless of what defense they threw at Waters, it just seemed as if he wasn't going to miss.
He banged home another three, an off the dribble step back three from the right wing to make it 58-56 with 23.4 left in the game. Doyin Isaac (Xaverian '15) was immediately fouled, but the guard missed the front end of the 1 and 1 and Scan got the rebound. They looked to push the ball quickly but didn't find much, eventually calling a timeout with 8 seconds remaining.
Off the timeout, Waters got the ball. He looked to penetrate, but quickly saw the lane was blocked, so once again he drove in, stepped back and threw up a long three that was nothing but net from behind the NBA line. It was 59-58 with under 2 seconds to go. New Heights inbounded it but with no time to do much of anything, Ford could only get off a last second heave that fell well short, and Team Scan, or Waters more specifically,, completed their impressive comeback, closing the game on a 13-2 run over the last 3 minutes to take the 59-58 victory.
Coach Jacque Rivera and his Cardinals stunningly came back and were led by Waters, who had 20 to lead the Scan 16's, 13, all of which came in the closing minutes to help them fight back for the win, while Spellman had 16 in the opening half to keep his squad in the game before getting hurt and not returning.
For the New Heights 16's and their coach Chris Alesi, it was heartbreak following a fame they felt they had won. Jerome paced them with 15 points, while Ford and Sanders added 14 and 13 points respectively as well in the tough loss.
Team Scan would lose in their next game to Albany City Rocks 16's, but after such an emotional game which both teams wanted to desperately to win, it was easy to understand why they didn't seem to have the same passion in that one. If this game did ultimately prove anything, it's that the Team Scan 16's and New Heights 16's are as close to equal as equal could be, and that they are both elite level 2016 teams, not just in New York, but in the nation.