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NJ Road Runners 15U get fly up in Harlem

You Get Fly . . .  We Are Fly

Bring together the Usual Suspects (Abysinnian, Variety B&G, CASW, Shock Exchange, NJ Panthers, NY Gators, Maryland Ruffriders, NY Falcons, Kendall Madison Playaz, and Roth Runnin' Rebels, etc.); add some fresh meat (Syracuse Nets, Raising Champions, Waterbury Bombers, Game 7 Sharks, PPY Elite, NJ Shooting Stars, Minutemen, Riverstate Park Runnin' Rebels, and Newburgh Lions, Raising Champions); top it off with a dash of "elite" (DC Assault, NJ Roadrunners); and add Columbia University as the backdrop and what do you get?  You get Shock Exchange Comes to Harlem, of course.  This event was nothing less than a spectacle ... parents and coaches basically sat with mouths agape for a few minutes to take it all in.  What began as a curiosity two years ago has now become a "must see" event for local fans and news media.  After the dust settled, there were 12 teams left standing:

13U:  Abbo 1st Place, Falcons - Mike 2nd Place

14U:  DC Assault and Maryland Ruffriders Co-Winners

15U:  NJ Roadrunners 1st Place, PPY Elite 2nd Place

16U:  CASW 1st Place, NJ Roadrunners 2nd Place

17U:  Roth Rebels 1st Place, Raising Champions 2nd Place

Thanks again to all who participated and supported this event ... special thanks to Columbia University and staff who went above and beyond the call of duty in hosting the Shock Exchange over the weekend.

What the Streets is Saying . . .

Shock Exchange Comes to Harlem Steps it up a Notch

Image Like I said earlier, this event was nothing short of a spectacle.  Teams, kids, coaches, parents, fans, etc. were everywhere.  Columbia's Dodge fitness Center was abuzz from opening tip-off Friday at noon, until the last game was played on Saturday night.  The reaction from the coaches was that we stepped it up this year.  Teams came from Washington, DC to Syracuse, NY to Waterbury, CT, yet there was depth of talent at each age group.  The talent level brought out the best in each of the teams, as evidenced by the high level of play and several "down to the wire" finishes.  This year the tournament had both the look and feel of the high profile event we had envisioned three years ago.  What the coaches are saying:

Great job Ralph . . . we will be back next year - 17U Coach

Last year a recruiter and assistant coach called me about a few players they were interested in after seeing them in your tournament . . . That's what it's all about.  Thank-you - 17U Coach

We want to thank you for a great tournament . . . Level of competition was outstanding and everything was well run.  In addition, the kids on your team were friendly and acted with class with our parents, players and coaches.  Thank-you for the experience - 15U Coach

We will be back next year . . . Trust me, we will enter early - 15U Coach

The kids had a lot of fun and greatly appreciated the opportunity to be in your event.  Thank-you and all the best - 13U Coach

Game Tapes? . . . Get at us

Not only have kids been discovered by coming to our event but entire organizations have gotten reps by playing well in this tournament, often fielding tons of calls from event promoters in the region to attend their events as well.  All the games were taped which represents an excellent recruiting tool for (i) kids to promote themselves amongst college coaches and (ii) colleges to discover kids while they are still "under the radar".  Game tapes will be available for the next few weeks so coaches, parents please get at us as soon as possible. 

PPY Elite Makes its Harlem Debut

PPY Elite was a late entrant into the 15U division, but boy did they make an entrance.  Coach Duane Eason started about 3 kids at least 6'4" or taller and brought four more off the bench.  This team was very athletic and played with a lot of poise and disciplne.  They played tenacious defense and had pretty good guard play and shared the ball on offense.  And from behind the arc . . . enfuego!  Their > 70% from behind the arc helped them walk through the 15U division for a 3-0 start heading into the Chip.  And just when you started to adjust fro their 3-point markmanship, one of their point-forwards rose up on somebody (I won't say who) and threw down a monstrous dunk, as if to say ". . . yeah, and we play above the rim also". 

PPY Elite had every 15U coach developing "worry lines".  I saw coaches taking out protractors, slide rules, HP calculators, etc. to come up with a solution to "get them got".  Coach Baker then ran over to his computer, input the magic formula and awaited the answer . . . the computer starting vibrating, smoking, and responded "THAT DOES NOT COMPUTE . . . THAT DOES NOT COMPUTE" . . . Coach Eason you owe me a computer, by the way.  With no apparent answer to the PPY conumdrum it was all but academic to hand them over the 15U championship cup . . . or was it?

Game 7 Sharks . . . NY Falcons in the Making?

After coming off a positive showing in the Bronx the prior week, the Game 7 Sharks were looking to make a big splash in Harlem.  Despite ranging in age from 15-17, the team played in the 17U division.  Coach Greg Youncofski's goal is to expose his young charges to the best competition and get them battle tested for the high school season.  Their approach is similar to that of the New York Falcons and the Shock Exchange in that they both view (i) winning as a process and (ii) success not on the scoreboard but in how much better their kids get year-over-year.  The pay off for the Falcons' taking a core group of kids and putting them through the fire was chronicled earlier on our site here:  http://clicky.me/HdW . 

The baby-faced Sharks represented themselves extremely well and seemed poised to pull off the biggest upset of the weekend when they held a double digit lead over Raising Champions at one point and took a four point lead going into half time.  The Sharks were shooting a Jimmy Chitwood like +60% from the field and the entire gym was abuzz to see if they could keep it up.  However, Isaiah "Da Gift"  Morton (is there anybody in New York faster with the rock than this kid?) and Company eventually turned up on the heat on defense and mashed on the gas on offense to put the Sharks away by 14.  What is not question is if that if they keep up this pace, the kids from Neptune, NJ will soon be a force to be reckoned with.  And while I'm at it, Mike Aaman (2012), the Sharks' 6'8" "Olstertag Clone" is going to be a serious problem.  He demonstrated a high basketball IQ, a willingness to bang with the big boys and a bevy of face up jumpers and back to the basket and power moves against top competition.  A face-up jumper here . . . a tomahawk dunk and "And 1" there . . . Olstertag Clone looked like a throwback to the days of George Mikan, Kevin McHale and Hakeem Olajuwon.  I am looking forward to seeing the Sharks and Olstertag Clone progress over the years.      

NJ Road Runners . . . AAU Royalty

When you think of "elite" AAU programs, names like Boo Williams, DC Assault, NY Gauchos, NJ Playaz, BABC, DC Blue Devils (now disbanded) immediately come to mind.  Not only have they been playing at a high level for decades, but they are the gauge by which other travel teams measure themselves.  After watching Sandy Pyonin and the NJ Roadrunners over the weekend, you would have to put them in the category of AAU Royalty for the following reasons:

Pyonin a Legend in New Jersey

Ralph with Nate Rogers, Anthony Avent
The Roadrunners have been around for three decades and have put over 30 kids into the NBA.  Probably an even bigger testament to the Roadunners' legacy is that the alumni always gives back to the program.  Over the weekend I ran into Roadrunners alums Anthony Avent (Seton Hall, Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic) and Nate Rogers (Seton Hall) who were on hand to see their sons suit up for the Roadrunners.  I also understand that the Roadrunners have a reputation for developing elite basketball players and parents across the entire state of New Jersey seek out the club to to develop their kids.  In fact, a rival coach in the tournament told me that in the past, he has "taken kids from weaker programs and directed them to Sandy because he knew it would make them better players . . . and that it was an honor for him to coach against the Roadrunners in our event".

Kyrie Irving Anyone? 

Nate Rogers, Anthony Avent, Allah Abdelnaby, Al Harrington, Randy Foye . . . the list of players who have come through the Roadrunners' program reads like to "Who's Who" of Jersey schoolboy basketball.  And as if the "past wasn't prologue", now comes along Kyrie Irving, who in my humble opinion, is the best high school guard I have seen in the tri-state area since DaJuan Wagner out of Camden, NJ.  As an assistant coach with the Stamford Express I had a chance to see Juannie at Rumble in the Bronx in the late-90's.  He of the 100 point game in high school, leading up to the event Wagner had even sparked some chatter about skipping his senior year in high school to enter the NBA draft.  "It was a movie up in the Bronx" that day . . . Omar Cook was racking up assists left and right with The Church.  Eddie Griffin, who ran with the NJ Playaz, was running the floor like a young James Worthy . . . 10 yards per stride.  Allen Iverson, Fat Joe, and Rod Strickland sat directly behind me in the stands.  However, it was Wagner's star power that captivated Rose Hill gymnasium and his skill and flair for the dramatic drew "ooohs" and "ahhhs" from the crowd the entire weekend.

Over the past few years I had heard a lot about Kyrie and I had the pleasure of seeing him firsthand at the Sharette Dixon Classic this past fall.  From the first few minutes of watching him, my first thought was "Juannie", and that humid day in the Bronx a decade earlier.  Like Juannie, Kyrie (i) was a willing defender, (ii) had a "crazy" handle, yet dribbled with a purpose (iii) displayed a soft touch from deep . . . very few people can make the ball lay up on the rim from over 20 feet away, and (iv) had the "athletic arrogance" to know that he could make any play on anybody at anytime.  In an era of Internet hype and "suspect" rankings, I walked away from the Sharette Dixon Classic pleased to see that the praise heaped upon Irving was well-deserved.

Match-ups we Would Pay to See Again

There were several close games and "down to the wire" finishes in this event, but these contests were the ones that had the Streets talking long after it was over:

Variety Boys & Girls vs. NY Falcons - Mike 13U

Variety and the Falcons faced off on Championship Day to decide who would make it to the 13U Chip.  This was an exciting game to watch in more ways than one.  Variety got off to a quick start here and I thought they would eventually run away with it.  However, the Falcons recovered with a spurt their own to keep things close.  Meanwhile Coach Joe McGuinness of the Falcons was chilling on the bench the entire time and thought to myself "Who the heck is this imposter?"  However, one of the Falcons did not run an offensive set correctly and Joe jumped off the bench and got into script ... now that's the Joe I remember.  The Falcons wrested control of the contest in the second half but then Variety fought back. 

The one subplot here was that the big men for both teams were "going at it" . . . the Falcons' big man would score then Variety's would answer.  Variety' big guy would block a shot and the Falcons' guy would answer.  Then they did their best Lil Wayne impression . . . "Ya muggin' me . . . so I'm muggin' back".  It became apparent that either one would have to put his team on his team back to decide the winner.  The Falcons took a one point lead in the final seconds and Variety raced the ball up court and sent it in to their big man.  On que, Big Nasty squared up for turnaround jumper off the glass . . . the buzzer sounded and the shot rimmed out . . . sending the Falcons to the 'Chip against the Abyssinian Crusaders. 

DC Assault vs. Maryland Ruffriders - 14U

The DC Assault had their 13U team play up in the 14U division.  This is the same team that one the AAU National Championship as 11U two years ago . . . and I must say, they have some of the biggest 13 year olds I have ever seen.  They are also very disciplined, well coached and highly skilled.  Fundamentally, they were one of the best teams in the tournament, regardless of class.  Everyone played position defense.  The guards shot it well from outside, with excellent rotation on their shots, and they owned the glass on both ends with all five guys boxing out.  I have tried to get this team to Harlem for two years now and it was worth the wait.

The ironic part about the whole scenario is that both teams, the Ruffriders and DC Assault, hale from practically the same zip code in Clinton, MD.  This sort of solidifies ESPN Magazine's claim that Prince Georges County Maryland is a basketball hotbed here:  http://clicky.me/TH9 .  While the Ruffriders squeaked into the Chip with one point victories over the Waterbury Bombers and Kendall Madison Playaz, the DC Assault walked through the field with double digit victories to go 3-0.  I thought the Metrohawks would end their fairytale run after jumping out to an early double-digit lead but it wasn't meant to be.  Then they started playing that "Go-Go" music . . . I started to tell 'em to turn it off but didn't wanna risk getting slapped too.  This Chip was not played for some mysterious reason.  Both teams decided to play it back in Maryland . . . let me know how it turned out fellas. 

PPY Elite vs. NJ Roadrunners - 15U

PPY Elite and the NJ Roadrunners squared off for the 15U Chip.  Having dispatched the Roadrunners by 6 points in their previous match-up, PPY Elite would not have the element of surprise on its side this time.  Coach Baker's new "round robin" format designed to pit the two best teams against each other, regardless of seeding, would give the Roadrunners a second crack at PPY.  Armed with kids from schools like St. Anthony's and Seton Hall Prep, PPY looked focused, and Championship ready while the Roadrunners seemed to covet the new life afforded them by the NJ Panthers' upset of the NJ Shooting Stars.  The Roadrunners jumped on PPY early, winning the battle on the boards and fights for loose balls which led to second and third chance scoring opportunities.  The Roadrunners' bench and coaching staff were ecstatic that win, lose, or draw, their kids would go down fighting.  Meanwhile, Diggy Simmons' "Point to Prove" was on replay in my head.

Coach Eason settled his kids down and they eventually recovered from the Roadrunners' early run.  PPY didn't seem to have a 1st team or 2nd team line-up, but more a bunch of kids who could step up and make plays and Eason adjusted his substitution patterns accordingly.  In this match-up it was "Lil Man" off the bench who had the biggest impact.  Lil Man weaved through the Roadrunners' pressure defense in the open court and knifed into the lane in the half court to (i) draw fouls or (ii) create easy baskets for teammates.  And PPY cherished every scoring opportunity they could find because they suddenly went ice-cold from deep.  PPY's ineptness from behind the arc seemed to render them to "mortal status", so they had to take the next best option . . . stand and fight.  Both teams put on a dizzying display of athleticism - blocking shots, grabbing boards above the rim, and preventing run-outs in the open court.  Meanwhile, both coaches made more substitution patterns than normal, looking for anyone who could make a play.  Once the dust settled, the Roadrunners walked away with a two point victory, having made one more play than PPY.  Yet PPY was probably more impressive in defeat than they were in their previous victories (is that possible?), having proven that it is a deep, multifaceted team that who will have its say on the summer AAU circuit.    

NJ Shooting Stars vs. NJ Panthers -15U

Both teams entered the contest headed in opposite directions.  The NJ Shooting Stars entered 2-0 while the Panthers were 0-2.  The Panthers were no stranger to this event, having played extremely well two years earlier at 13U and in one of its losses to the Roadrunners Elite, it was anybody's game and the Roadrunners Elite pulled it out late.  Meanwhile, the Shooting Stars seemed to have one eye on the Panthers and one eye on PPY Elite, the frontrunner for the other championship spot.  That said, this was a definitely a "trap game" for the Shooting Stars.   Both teams played with intensity and demonstrated a high basketball IQ.  However, the difference was that the Shooting Stars were unable to bully the Panthers inside for easy baskets and second chance opportunities, which served them well the entire weekend.  The Panthers kept their poise and made all the plays to put the game away for a two point victory, sealing the Shooting Stars' fate and ultimately sending the NJ Roadrunners to the Chip.

Lighning Nick vs. NJ Roadrunners - 16U

There was very little separation from top to bottom for the 16U division, a prevailing theme for the entire tournament.  I had heard a lot about the Lightning-Nick squad and was curious to see what they had.  The action was back and forth early on as both teams looked to feel one another out.  The strategy for both teams soon became apparent - the Roadrunners wanted to go inside-out with its 6' 8" big man and rain a barrage of 3-pointers when the defense collapsed.  Lightning-Nick wanted to push the tempo and run its offense through its small forward who tried to bang on any and everyone, to create easy baskets.  The Roadrunners took what seemed to be a commanding 11 point lead in the second half but Lightning-Nick fought back to tie the game. 

With 5 minutes left and the game tied, neither team could shake the other, despite the breakneck pace the game eventually headed into OT.  In the overtime session both teams continued to trade baskets.  With the Roadrunners up by two points, Lightning-Nick scored on a driving lay-up with 3 seconds left to send the game to what seemed to be double OT.  However, a Roadrunners defender had positioned for charge on the "bang-bang" play at the basket.  The official waived off the basketball and ruled the play a "charge" and pandemonium ensued as coaches and parents questioned the called and felt the officials ultimately decided the game.  There was even some sentiment was that Coach Baker made a mistake by having these two teams face off early since they were "clearly" the two best 16U teams in the tournament . . . or were they?   

NJ Roadrunners vs. NY Falcons - 16U

Coming off its two point overtime victory over Lightning-Nick, it was "outta the frying pan and into the fire" for the NJ Roadrunners.  While the previous contest finished with both teams scoring in the 70's, the NY Falcons kept things at a more deliberate pace, looking to push the rock only when they had an advantage.  This Falcons club first came to Harlem as baby-face  14U's two years ago, but this team looked a little different . . . bigger, stronger and more chiseled around the arms and shoulders.  The Roadrunners went back to their inside-outside approach while the Falcons moved the ball around deliberately and tried to space the floor to allow for dribble drive penetration.  As the game wore on and it was clear neither team would go away, strategy was thrown out the window and both teams simply went went toe-to-toe, blow-for-blow while the coaches, refs and fans sat back and let the players play.  In the end, there was one team left standing . . . the Roadrunners by two.  Both teams brought out the best in each other, adding another chapter to the epic battles involving the Falcons.    

NJ Roadrunners vs. CASW - 16U

CASW, Coach Edwin defend the City
While the Roadrunners were considered by many to be the odds-on favorite to take home the hardware in the 16U division, CASW entered this championship battle in a very unassuming manner.  The opposition didn't know much about these kids from uptown, but as you remember,they came in second place in the event last year and Coach Edwin had nearly 12 months to think about what could have been.  I had a chance to watch a few of their earlier games and came away thinking "these guys have some of the scrappiest guards I've seen in a while".  I knew they would be a tough out for anybody.

If you thought the Roadrunners v. Lightning-Nick was fast paced, this game was nothing short of the Kentucky Derby.  The Roadrunners were on fire from behind the arc, having connected on nine 3-pointers in the first half alone.  Yet if CASW seemed phased, they didn't show it.  They had a pretty interesting mix of kids.  The two guards, though small in stature, were very scrappy and could both control the tempo as well as score the basketball.  They seemed to like the pace of the game and pushed the rock right back at the Roadrunners at every turn.  In the middle they had a "Dikembe Mutombo Clone" who literally tried to throw every shot taken in the paint.  When the Roadrunners tried to score inside, Mutombo Clone took it as a personally effront.  When all else failed, CASW could always rely on Elijah Davis from St. Patrick's . . . the "Chris Carter" of the 16U division . . . ''cause all he does is get buckets".  Overseeing everything was Coach Edwin who never once raised his voice during the contest.  He simply cautioned his guys to pull the reigns when he wanted to run a set play and cracked the proverbial whip when he wanted his guys to attack.  At half-time, the Roadrunners could not shake CASW, clinging to a 48-44 lead.

The second half saw more of the same from both teams.  Yet the Roadrunners seemed to get a little "3-point happy" as they went for minutes at a time without even looking inside.  I am not sure if this was due to their early success behind the arc or due to the presence of Mutombo Clone lurking down low.  But as they say, ". . . live by the 3 . . . die by the 3".  CASW remained efficient on offense with a bevy of jumpers, scores in the post and slashes to the basket.  CASW walked off with the improbable victory, bringing a huge smile to Coach Edwin and Company's faces as they avenged their loss in the 16U finals from a year earlier.       

Kendall Madison Playaz vs. NY Falcons - 17U

Friday, the first day of the event, was an adrenaline-filled day with lots of excitement, pleasantries, and intense games.  By the time the 8pm game rolled around the crowd was pretty despondent and in need of a shot of adrenaline . . . K-Madison and the NY Falcons -Houston would provide it.  K-Madison held a double digit lead for most of the game and seemed to be able to coast to victory.  But noone told that to the Falcons.  They kept playing hard and around the five minute mark of the second half, they went on a 6-0 run to cut the lead to single digits.  The run was led by the Falcons' power forward and was generated mainly off of steals which led to easy baskets.  Coach Nick Thomas of K-Madison called a time-out to stop the hemorrhaging, to no avail.  K-Madison was now in a dogfight and the crowd straigtened up, realizing an exciting finish was about to unfold.  The Falcons kept turning up the defensive pressure and attacked the basket with abandon, and eventually cut the lead to one point but somehow, could never take the lead.  With less than a minute left, K-Madison appeared to be the fresher team as the Falcons may have spent themselves trying to get back into the game.  K-Madison eventually held on for a two point victory as time more or less ran out on the Falcons and their furious comeback.

Raising Champions vs. Roth Runnin' Rebels - 17U

Prior to the event I had a pretty good idea what to expect from the Runnin' Rebels.  They appeared in this event last year where they were denied reaching the 17U finals by the Gauchos.  I didn't know quite what to expect from Raising Champions, on the other hand.  I had seen them two years earlier at Rumble in the Bronx where they featured an all-star squad  (Lance Stephenson, Karron Johnson, etc.) made up of players along the east coast.  Though they probably had more individual talent than the Garner Road squad they faced, they looked more like a collection of individuals instead of a real team.  This Raising Champions squad, coached by Hasani Stewart, looked more like a wrecking ball.  The core team was made up of kids from Atlantic Christian Academy, then toss in Da Gift, Mike Buffalo (South Kent) and some NYC grit, and you have a pretty tough out.  These guys were simply intimidating . . . they started a front line with an average height of about 6'9". 

And if you think little guys can't intimidate then you have never seen Raising Champions' backcourt.  Though small in stature, Raising Champions' backcourt which was spearheaded by Da Gift, played tenacious man-to-man defense, challenged anybody to put the ball on the floor in front of them, was electrifying in the open court and had the physicality to create contact with the defense and still finish for "And 1" opportunities.  Da Gift, who "unofficially" (the accounting firm of Ernst & Young and still tallying the stats) hung 40 points on the Roth Rebels in one of their two match-ups over the weekend, is going to make some Big East squad very happy next year.   

In the Championship game against the Runnin' Rebels, Raising Champions got off to a quick start with an eight point lead early on.  After defeating Raising Champions by double digits earlier in the tournament, the Runnin' Rebels looked a bit tight while the opposition played with nothing to lose.  The Runnin' Rebels fought back mainly with dribble drives to the basket.  While matching the Rebels' athleticism, Raising Champions found an outside shooting touch that seemed to elude them in the previous contest, signaling that this would be a war of attrition, regardless of who won.  But Tymel Murphy, A.J. West, Leroy Isler and Company would not be denied as their muscle inside helped then gain the lead, and Murphy's athleticism and big play capability helped them maintain it, meeting every challenge from Raising Champions with drives to the basket or a key stop on the defensive end.       












0 # Mark 2010-04-12 09:27
Nice start to article. Interested in reading more about how specific teams did.
+1 # Ralph 2010-04-21 09:28
Write-up includes > 4,500 words. If you find a better recap of an event please let us know.

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