iS8/Nike Rule #1: Bring your game, not your name. iS8/Nike Rule #2: Myles Mack is always a threat, regardless of circumstances.
"I hurt my ankle, and in the first half I was thinking about it too much", said the game MVP after leading the Playaz to a 77-73 win over the Shooting Stars. "In the fourth quarter, I stopped thinking about (my ankle) and played like I usually play in the first half."
Mack's deadly combination of thinking and not thinking spelled doom for a competitive Shooting Stars team, who made the New Jersey unit earn their hardware. A fast, furious, close-cut and action-packed fourth quarter gave the iS8 contingent a wild finish that will hold them over until the Spring, as the games matched the names. The breakneck speed of Tavon Sledge, the clutch scoring of Jermaine Sanders and the animated paint presence of Kadeem Jack powered the Shooting Stars, while Mack's heroics were supplemented by the shooting touches of Charles Oliver and Zack Anderson and the sorely needed inside help of Eugene McCory, dispelling the myth that Mack and Kyle Anderson are the Playaz' lone sources of force.
"People talk about (Kyle and Myles) because they're only the two guys that have been at every game", said Playaz Head Coach Kyle Anderson Sr. "Charles didn't play with us through the (summer) AAU season, but came to IS8 and averaged 20 points per game for us this weekend. Zack and Eugene came up big today when we needed role players to make contributions." Those contributions made all of the difference, and when it was time for a Mack Attack, the dangerous 5'9 guard merely put pedal to the metal.
"I knew (Charles) and those guys were going to come through (and help out) in the clutch", said Mack. "I wasn't even worried about it."
Early on, however, the game took on a much more tactical and slower pace. With the size advantage going to the New York reps, the Playaz' primary defensive goal was to keep the jumping Jack off of the boards.
"We wanted to always put a body on Kadeem", Coach Anderson divulged. "I know he likes to jump and go after tap dunks, so we wanted to box him out so he couldn't get a clean jump." The plan worked to a degree for stifling inside points, but the Shooting Stars were able to snag offensive rebounds and secure second and third opportunities, which Sanders and Sledge cashed in on from deep. The Shooting Stars' zone kept the ball on the perimeter for the Playaz, as Kyle Anderson returned the favor with some downtown drilling.
Sledge is no stranger to the whispers about jump shooting being his Achilles' Heel, so he responded to the naysayers with a pair of out of signal range threes to spark a Shooting Stars run. Moments later, the 5'8 Iowa State commit put his point guard skills on display by patiently lulling the defense to sleep and slipping a pass to a flashing Sanders for a foul line jumper, giving the NY reps a 33-22 lead, the largest lead either team would hold all game. But shortly after, Kyle Anderson's crisp free throw shooting and the slowly warming up Mack led an 11-0 run that closed out the half and tied the game at 33.
Mack would go from warm, to hot, to scorching in the second half, and Zack Anderson's big time three finally gave the Playaz the lead back, 40-37. But the game itself went into fifth gear when Jack and tank-framed forward Terry Brutus hammered down a pair of rim rocking dunks late in the third quarter and Sledge began to zip through the defense in a manner that would make Usain Bolt proud. Jack would continue to pin shots to the glass, but with his high-rising prevention would come a number of goal tending calls, and the Playaz held a 53-51 edge heading into the final period.
Things only got faster and more furious after that, and a burst of three point shooting from James McKennia helped the Shooting Stars live up to their name. But a Mack Attack was already in progress, and the Playaz stayed in the mix with a number of very crafty and difficult reverse lay-ups from the Rutgers-bound guard. A magical trey from Oliver and a few more Mack sightings tied the game at 67, before the duo struck again to seize a five point lead. A huge block from McCory, a Mack three and a pretty move to the rack by Oliver had given the Playaz the space they needed, but Sanders wasn't ready to pack it in yet. The Rice HS standout answered both Oliver's bucket and another brilliant play Mack -who ran 20 seconds off of the clock before slicing into the defense with a floater- to make it a 74-73 game with 31 seconds left. But the Shooting Stars would come no closer. Oliver's ice water completion of the one and one and William Thompson's 1-2 trip to the stripe were enough to stave off the Shooting Stars as time ran down, as both Sledge and Sanders' desperation trey attempts were off the mark.
The victory marks the Playaz Club's fourth iS8 championship in eight trips to the finals since 2004, and Playaz Program Director and Coach Jimmy Salmon was especially proud of this win.
"It's extremely difficult for a program like the Playaz to win iS8", he said. "We're a program, we don't bring guys in or borrow players from other people's rosters. IS8 has open rosters, and we always compete with the core guys that we have. Kyle Anderson and Myles Mack have been with us since they were 8 years old, they've shown a lot of loyalty. This is a great win."
13 of Myles Mack's team high 24 points came in the fourth quarter. Kyle Anderson and Charles Oliver added 18 points each (with the latter nailing four three pointers), while Zack Anderson chipped in with 9. Jermaine Sanders earned the Steve Simms Sportsmanship award with a game high 28 points for the Shooting Stars. Tavon Sledge added 20 points and Kadeem Jack, 12. Kyle Anderson received iS8's MVP for the tournament, while Mack and Sledge made all-tournament first team.
The iS8/Nike Championship game will be available FREE on-demand this week on the High School Basketball Network (iS8Nike.TV). Register by clicking link above.