SOUTH JAMAICA, NY - Over the past few days, baseball lovers have been anticipating and, subsequently, enjoying the opening days of the New York Yankees and the New York Mets.
However, in the basketball community, opening day of the iS8/Nike Spring High School Classic brings a thrill up the spine of those that are highly anticipating the spring/summer season that spotlights AAU/Grassroots/Ball Club squads.
That day came on Saturday.
The tournament, based in Jamaica, N.Y., kicked off with tons of thrills, spills and kills. In fact, the seven-game schedule featured a broad spectrum of talent, resulting in close-calls, disappointing losses and blowouts. Let's take a closer look at some of the action.
Kendall Madison's Playaz Get Juice'd
Kendall Madison Playaz (L.I.) and Juice (Brooklyn, N.Y.) seemed to be evenly matched in the game's early goings. Both squads were not ready to let go of the rope, each vying for its first win on the big stage at intermediate school 8. However, it would be Juice, coached by Lincoln H.S. head coach Dwayne "Tiny" Morton that would cool off the fire of Kendall Madison 55-35.
Despite the final score's 20-point margin, the Playaz went toe-to-toe with Juice for much of the contest. Although Juice led 11-7 by the end of the first quarter, and 21-12 on a 3-pointer by Tavon Nelson deep into the second, Kendall Madison shot off to a mini 7-1 run to close the first half trailing by only a deuce, 22-19.
If someone was looking for the third quarter to cut the squads asunder, it did not happen as the teams soon got joined at the hip when Kendall Madison's Paris Parks (nine points) knotted the game at 24. Teammate Dante Langhorne (10 points) was fouled and took the lead for the Playaz, 26-28 - a margin that was later extended to as much as four points before Juice regained footing.
Even though Kendall Madison was able to tie the contest again, this time at 31, Juice poured in the pressure and the offensive drilling with back-to-back 3-pointers by Shaq Mosley (eight points) and Reuben King (seven points). Helping to direct the orchestra of talent at the one was St. John's 2012 commit Jevon Thomas (eight points).
Juice's firepower, however, came from Tafari Whittingham (game-high14 points), who scored, rebounded and blocked his way to thrusting the Brooklyn, N.Y. squad to a double-digit advantage. After the 10-0 surge, Juice continued to use its physicality and athleticism against the pressure of the Playaz. The unstoppable barrage of Juice left the Long Island squad riddled with helplessness.
Juice's Justin Jenkins added 10 points in the victory.
Playaz Strike Out Against Brooklyn, Drops Second
Kendall Madison (L.I.) seemed to be plagued with the ability to put its opponent through a dog fight, yet not be able to see it through to the end for a 'W.' And, because of this, unfortunately for the Playaz, it could not rest at .500 for the day. Instead, the squad swung and narrowly missed the chance at a victory against another Brooklyn team - Brooklyn Ballers - 50-48.
Unlike the contest with Juice, Kendall Madison was either leading or trailing by one possession game up to, and throughout, the fourth quarter. Proving that it did not have short-term memory loss, the Playaz corrected past mistakes. Still, Brooklyn Ballers balled-up and absorbed the punch and counter-punch of a feisty Kendall Madison team with tough defense and inside drives.
The Playaz led the Ballers by five points, 26-21, at halftime.
A few minutes into the third quarter, on a runner and a 3-pointer by Paris Parks (game-high 20 points), who stepped up much more in his team's second contest of the day, Kendall Madison later held as much as a seven-point advantage, 33-26. In a game where every possession mattered, the Brooklyn Ballers' seven-point deficit would get easily swallowed up in the ensuing minutes as Bolade Akingboye (team-high 15 points), Vernon Henderson (eight points) and Omari Manhertz (eight points) quickly tied the game and helped itself to a six point advantage of its own, 44-38.
With both the Playaz and the Ballers feistily hustling for buckets and boards, the game was tied once again - this time at 46 - in the fourth quarter. At about the 2:19 mark of the final phase, Brooklyn bumped up its score to a deuce more, 48-46. Under two minutes left in the game, a crucial technical foul was called on Playaz' Parks, giving Brooklyn Ballers two opportunities at the line and the possession.
Although Akingboye only nailed 1-of-2 from the line, another basket from the Ballers boosted the squad ahead 49-46. Now, fighting from three points down, Kendall Madison was able to bring the game within one point, 49-48, after Anthony White (nine points) nailed two from the charity stripe.
That would be the closest the Playaz would come to the Ballers before time expired.
Sharks Outlast Rising Stars
It's hard enough to win a game in the iS8/Nike. But, it's even harder to win a game at the iS8/Nike with only six players on your roster when up against a quick-moving, hot-shooting opponent like the Sharks. Yet, that is precisely what the Rising Stars, which contained players from Long Island Lutheran H.S., almost did in the last contest of the early evening.
Still, the long-range effort and toughness plays from the Sharks' diminutive, sparkplug guard Chris Austin (22 points) in the first half proved to be exactly what his squad needed to stave off the late run by the Rising Stars, 74-66.
The proverbial saying "slow and steady wins the race," from the children's didactic Aesop's Fable of the tortoise and the hare, nearly went from storybook to reality. Despite the tremendous 18-point, first-half performance by Austin and as much as a 20-point advantage in the third phase, the Rising Stars began to push through the barriers and capitalize on any error it could find (or create).
Although visibly tired from chasing and absorbing the steady rotation of fresh, speedy and physical legs off the Sharks bench, the Stars - led by Mike Florin (team-high 16 points) - began to even the playing field. Even the Rising Stars big man Ryan DeNicola (13 points), who had to endure a lot of physicality down low, did a good job at vying for rebounds for more offensive opportunities.
The Sharks, with the help of the offensive grinding of Nate Edwards (19 points) were able to regain a margin of 14 points, 60-46, early in the fourth quarter. However, by the end of the quarter, the Rising Stars slashed the deficit down to only four points, 69-65, with about a minute remaining in the contest.
Yet, despite the late, near-comeback, the Rising Stars lost momentum when it got called for a three-second violation and a technical foul after one of its players hurt his knee down the stretch.
IN OTHER NEWS
Malik Sealy All-Stars dropped its two first games - one to Team Buckets, 50-47, and the other to the Ben Gordon All-Stars, 72-48.
Manhattan Sports Academy also lost two - one against Future All-Stars, 62-59, and the other to New Heights (K), 87-61.
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