BROOKLYN, NY - At Thomas Jefferson Campus, during the FunSport High School Classic, Gotham Hoops would learn the blessing and the curse of an open roster.
With arguably the deepest and most talented team on paper, head coach Ray Anczelowic's team would surprisingly be forced to break in to the playoffs by winning an out-bracket game due to a less than stellar pool play record.
"We had a team full of all-stars and as you know that doesn't necessarily work out all the time," said Anczelowic. "We had some of the top players in the City one through twelve and it was very difficult to work everyone in together."
Anczelowic said he learned the value of less is more when many of his players such a Shamiek Sheppard were unable to attend Sunday's games. Shamiek was huge for us but he's now [playing] at South Carolina. I was glad to get him on his last high school days."
On Sunday with only a seven man roster, Gotham Hoops would complete their journey of going from worst to first by knocking off Team-12 in a semifinal thriller and winning the championship, 56-53 over a young but cohesive Jersey City team. "It was a combination of finding guys that would be the right fit and not just names," said Anczelowic.
Gotham Hoops started off on a positive note on a 6-0 run set off by Travis Atson (27 points & 18 rebounds). Taking advantage of the open roster rule, the local team added size in the frontcourt with 6'6" lefty from South Shore HS Ryan Preston (8 points & 14 rebounds) to go with Luis Santos (8 points & 8 rebounds) and Deer Park's Aaren Edmead (5 points & 1 rebounds) to assist Jemal Smith (2 points & 3 assists) in running the point.
Edmead helped put Jersey City in a 16-7 hole with a floater at the 9:45 mark as Gotham Hoops remained in attack mode. Late in the half, Jersey City began to find a chink in the Gotham Hoops' armor as St. Anthony bigs Edriece Patterson (10 points & 7 rebounds) and Quaimain Nelson (4 points & 7 rebounds) pounded the boards and Ryan Guyner (3 points) knocked down a three to cut Gotham's lead to 6 with 4:16.
"They're gonna run outta gas. I guarantee you that," said Jersey City Coach Frank Burno to his team of tenth graders and within earshot of Coach Anczelowic as the momentum appeared to be shifting.
While Coach Burno's opinion may have been prophetic with regard to the end of the game, turnovers, ill-advised shots and sloppy play by the New Jersey team allowed Gotham Hoops to extend their lead to 34-18 at the half.
The dominance by Gotham Hoops continued early in second half as they caressed a 16 point advantage. Guard Stephen Ferraw (10 points, 2 rebounds & 1 assist) and Patterson got to the line with hopes of chipping away at Gotham Hoop's lead but Jersey City's porous defense slowed the process.
Progress did come slowly but surely for Jersey City. With 10:34 a trey by Idris Joyner (11 points & 10 rebounds) and bucket by Shyquan Gibbs (7 points & 1 rebound) trimmed Gotham Hoop's lead to 43-34 and Jersey City kept the pressure on. Ferraw gets fouled attempting a three and goes 2 of 3. Suddenly Gotham's 16 halftime lead is only 5 with 8:30 left in regulation.
Atson ended JC's run but only briefly as Nelson soon knocked their deficit down to 46-43 at the 6:30 mark. Gotham Hoops tried to hold serve but Jersey City seemed relentless in their attack.
Gotham Hoops still managed to hold onto a 4 point lead but Atson got free and extended it to 6 points at the one minute mark. Ferraw sliced that in half with a trey at the 9 seconds left to play and after Atson missed a freethrow, Ferraw got fouled taking a three at the buzzer and a chance to tie and take the game into OT.
Unfortunately Ferraw missed the first freethrow from the charity stripe and Jersey City would lose the opportunity to delve into overtime and the land of what if. Gotham Hoop's would be crowned champs with Atson receiving MVP honors.
"We've been through so much," said Anczelowic. "We just had to play for each other and the outcome was going to be a positive one."