PATERSON, NJ - The 15u side of the Playaz Spring Fling was loaded with young, and talented, future Nike EYBL talented teams. From the Playaz, to Albany City Rocks, to Baltimore Elite, to Team Takeover, there was no shortage of national talent on display, but it was NYC's own New Heights, an Under Armour team, that proved to be king this weekend, taking down Takeover in the semifinals, and then squeaking by the host team Playaz, 58-57, for the title at JFK H.S. in Paterson, New Jersey on Sunday afternoon.
Getting past Team Takeover in the semis, who many viewed going in as not just the best team in the tournament, but quite possibly the best 15u team in the nation, was a big accomplishment in itself. They took them down 67-62 behind the 20 points of Nyonty Wisseh (Xaverian '16) and the 15 points, and numerous tremendous passes of Isaiah Washington (St. Raymond '17).
The title game proved to be even tougher for New Heights though, going up against the Playaz in their own tournament, but they came out strong behind 8 early points from Sidney Wilson (St. Raymond '17). While other players didn't find their rhythm right away, Wilson really took an assertive role and took charge of the offense.
Defensively the team was solid, pressuring the ball, and playing exactly the way New Heights coach Rahme Anderson wanted to see his group play. New Heights garnered an 8 point lead 5 minutes into the game, but they ended up finding that containing Playaz wing Marcus McCleary (The Patrick School, NJ '17) was tough to do for long stretches, especially in the opening 16 minutes.
McCleary had 13 of the teams first half 25 points, and he singlehandedly kept the Playaz in it. Wilson had 10, and Washington was playing good on ball defense to limit the playmaking of the Playaz, but it was still just a 26-25 lead for New Heights at the break.
The Playaz took their first lead early in the 2nd half when Mason Toye (Morristown-Beard, NJ '17) hit on a corner three with 12:42 to go. A couple times midway through the 2nd half the Jersey based squad was able to build up 4 point leads, but Chris Coalmon (St. Mary's '17) was proving to be a workhorse both inside and outside, shining driving to the basket, while also finishing on putbacks around the rim. It seemed the only thing that was holding back New Heights from taking over was their struggles from the FT line.
In the last 9 minutes of the game, New Heights went 1 for 10 from the charity stripe, which was the one thing that boggled Anderson's mind.
"We shot so well from the FT line in the semis against Team Takeover, I believe 11 for 13, so that surprised me and got me a little worried," Anderson said.
The struggles from the line actually enabled the Playaz to rebound from a scoring drought midway through the 2nd half to take a 54-51 lead with 1:38 to go, but Wisseh stepped up and finished in the paint, at 6'2", he posted up a much smaller defender and connected while being fouled. His foul shot to tie the game at 54 was the only FT that New Heights made in the final 9 minutes, but it was a big one.
It seemed momentum had shifted back to New Heights, but Duval shined from the perimeter in the 2nd half, scoring 15 in the last 16 minutes, and he once against buried a big shot to see the Playaz go up 3. Wisseh though attacked the basket with just under a minute to go and finished, and then off a missed Playaz jump shot, and then a Playaz missed free throw on the front end of a one and one, Wilson finished against two defenders inside with 11 seconds to go to see New Heights go up 58-57.
McCleary, who struggled for much of the 2nd half against New Heights defensive schemes, dribbled into two defenders and lost the ball with 3 seconds left, sending the ball back over to New Heights. The Playaz could've fouled to extend the game, but off an inbounds play, they let the clock run out and New Heights were crowned Playaz Spring Fling 15u champions, taking down the host team, 58-57.
Wilson was named Tournament MVP, pouring in 18 in the championship game, with Coalman and Wisseh each chipping in with 12 points a piece in the win.
Duval paced all scorers in the title game with 20 for the Playaz in the loss.
It is a great early season tournament win for this young New Heights group, and with an array of young talented stars, it's just the way that Anderson wanted to start the AAU season for his group.
"We started a bit earlier this year working out and we actually played in a 19 and under tournament as well, but this is a great start absolutely. We work hard on being a great defensive team, and I'm very proud of them today for doing that."
New Heights 16's
Playing up in the 17u Division of the Playaz Spring Fling this weekend, the Chris Alesi coached 16u team won their pool and advanced to Sunday's quarterfinals where they faced a talented Playaz 16u team, which was also playing up.
Baron Goodridge (Cardinal Hayes '16) and Gianni Ford (Boys and Girls '16) got New Heights off to a good start offensively, going up 7-4 early on, but defensively the team seemed a step slow and that allowed Playaz lead guard Jagan Mosely (St. Anthony, NJ '16) to find seams in the defense to breakdown, and when Jamir Harris (The Patrick School, NJ '17) got going, connecting on 3 threes midway through the opening half, the Playaz took a double digit lead, and never looked back.
Ty Jerome (Iona Prep '16) was able to provide a bit of a 2nd half spark for New Heights from the perimeter, but overall they struggled from long range with 6'5" Christian Wilson (Holy Cross '16) the only other New Heights player besides Jerome to connect from deep on the day.
The defense did turn around and on a couple of occasions New Heights trimmed the lead to as little as 8, but Harris, or Mosely, or big man Kaleb Bishop (St. Peter's Prep '16) were there each time to push the lead back up to double digits, and not give New Heights any momentum to get the game any closer.
Goodridge played a fantastic game from start to finish, but it was not enough, as the New Heights 16's were eliminated from the 17u Playaz Spring Fling at the hands of the Playaz 16's, 71-55.
Harris led the Playaz with 18 points, with Bishop adding in 13 for the winners.
In defeat, Goodridge had a game high 19 points, while Nakye Sanders (Tottenville '15) did a solid job in the paint and added 10 points.
The Playaz 17u team ended up winning the 17u Playaz Spring Fling taking down Team Takeover (Orange), which is not the Takeover EYBL team, that team chose to stay home this weekend, by a score of 79-65.