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Sam Cassell Looking Fresh to Def After 12U Chip

Harlem Kings, Kips Bay, Playaz Show and Prove 

Bring the top travel teams on the East Coast to City College with its rich basketball history, have them play in front of that NYC crowd with Harlem as the backdrop and some fly gear (with the Shock Exchange Baller Boy logo affixed) as the pay off, and what do you get?  You get, Shock Exchange Comes to Harlem, of course.  Friday, the first day of the tournament, began as more of a curiosity.  Everyone wanted to know who the Shock Exchange was and if the tournament would live up to the hype.  Well it did, and then some.  The turn out was absolutely crazy, the atmosphere electric, and the teams and coaches all rose to the occasion.  By Saturday, everyone was "in it to win it", scouting the competition, checking standings, calculating the road to the Chip for the 5th time, and trying to gain every edge possible - from handpicking courts to handpicking game times - hey if you ain't cheatin' you ain't tryin'. 

As everyone looked for an early indication as to where their teams ranked, the Harlem Kings put everyone on notice that they are a force to reckoned with - sweeping the 13U, 14U, and 15U divisions - a feat we will probably never see again.  Kips Bay tried to get greedy, taking the 16U Chip and falling just short to Sam Casell All-Stars (who let him back in the NYC) in the 12U finals, while the Playaz had second place finishes in the 16U and 14U divisions.  The full results are below:

16U: Kips Bay 1st Place, Playaz 2nd Place; 15U: Harlem Kings 1st Place, Coast 2 Coast 2nd Place; 14U: Harlem Kings 1st Place, Playaz 2nd Place, 13U: Harlem Kings 1st Place, Gauchos 2nd Place; 12U: Sam Cassell All-Stars 1st Place, Kips Bay 2nd Place.

What the Streets is Saying

Shock Exchange Does it Big . . . Real Big

ImageThroughout the weekend Coach Baker received compliments from several different sources, ranging from coaches, to club administrators, to players to fans.  Everybody was pleased about the quality of the competition, the reception they received from the Shock Exchange, and that we had the vision to bring a high profile tournament to the NYC.  The buzz spread quickly and it got a little crazy with (i) teams trying to talk their way into the tournament at the last minute, to no avail, (ii) teams leaving other tournaments in order be a spectator at our tournament, and (iii) coaches offering to co-sponsor events with the Shock Exchange over the summer.

The tournament began as a curiosity, morphed into "slap or be slapped", and ended with a celebration of the kids, clubs, and parents who make these events happen for the kids.  Everybody eventually exchanged numbers and email addresses and wished each other well for the rest of the season.   Shock Exchange Comes to Harlem is one of the largest events held in Harlem in recent memory is shaping up to be the surprise event of the AAU season.  Thanks again to City College and the NYC community for their support.  Special thanks to Jimmy Salmon of the Playaz who helped get the word out about the event.

The Harlem Kings are Huge . . . Literally

During the weekend I watched all four courts intensely to see if I could spots any trends.  What I noticed from the beginning is that the Harlem Kings were bigger than every other team in all three age groups they participated in.  The size differential was very noticeable, even compared to the so-called "elite" programs who can usually match anyone "tree-for-tree".  Not only were they bigger, they were stronger, more athletic, and basically unflappable.  I watched their body language and their facial expression and their kids never seemed phased at tip-off or when the game was on the line.  They took everyone's best shot and came away with the haute couture in three divisions.

"Kings" is a fitting name for this club, because "heavy is the head that wears the crown".  It is much to early to predict a changing of the guard uptown, but their performance does represent a shot across the bow, of sorts.  However, the Spring Fling and ultimately the AAU Nationals await for them to prove or disprove any talk of "elite" status.

Strong Island No Joke

Rising Stars, Long Island Elite, Defenders Basketball Club, Coast 2 Coast, and the Pythons representing Strong Island and parts of Queens, brought the "quiet storm" to Harlem, with Defenders Basketball and Coast 2 Coast leading the pack.  Coast 2 Coast lost to the Harlem Kings by one basket for the 15U Chip and Defenders Basketball jumped out to a 2-0 start before being upended by the Playaz.  The Pythons, Rising Stars and LI Elite either made it to the play-offs or did damage during their 3 game guarantee.  They all took the fight to the NYC kids throughout the tournament.

How to Spell "Elite"

Of the top programs in the tournament - NJ Road Runners, Sam Cassell, Playaz, Defenders, The Bay, Gauchos, Coast 2 Coast - I noticed a common thread amongst them:  (i) Excellent Guard Play - their guards always made the "easy play" and could break teams down off the dribble almost at will; (ii) Size - their big men played big, finished in traffic and controlled the boards on both ends; (iii) Bench Presence - their coaches were good tactitians, made adjustments real-time and were master motivators; (iv) Battle-tested - the tournament wasn't the first rodeo for any of these clubs.   

The Circle of Life

Anthony Avent With NJ Road Runners
The torch is being passed from one generation to the next.  I spent some time with Anthony Avent, formerly of Seton Hall University and the Milwaukee Bucks, who was on hand to see his son play for Sandy Pyonin and the NJ Road Runners.  Avent also played for Pyonin and the Roadrunners when he was in high school.  I spoke briefly with Kassiem Chandler, one of the top 8th graders in the Newark, NJ area who ran with the Roadrunners' 16U team.  Kassiem's uncle, Corey Chandler, is a Roadrunners alum and now plays for Rutgers University.  There were also a few coach/son tandems on hand with Coach Jiggetts of the Maryland Ruffriders, Coach Booth of Sam Cassell All-Stars, Coach McLaughlin of the Rockland Falcons, and Coach Baker of of the Shock Exchange.  

Best Coaching Job
Connecticut Northstars (13U)

I was very impressed with the coach of the Connecticut Northstars during their contest with the Shock Exchange.  Her kids ran off the floor during time-outs and substitutions, they were very disciplined and knew where to be on the floor at all times.  She clearly understands the psychology of coaching and gets the most from her kids.  Her motivational speeches almost worked until Coach Baker drew up a 10 point play to put the game out of reach.  Coach Baker secretly taped her post-game speech to use on the Shock Exchange. 

Connecticut Skills (12U)

With four games going at one time, for some reason, I was fixated on the Connecticut Skills.  I really enjoyed watching them play.  Their kids played with a lot of poise and were always under control, regardless of the situation, which is a testament to the coaching staff.  The younger kids tend to become undisciplined when they get behind late in games.  However, the Skills had to battle The Bay and Sam Cassell All-Stars this weekend and I was impressed with how their kids went possession by possession from start to finish against top notch competition.    

Match Ups we Would Pay to See Again

Defenders Basketball (16U) vs. Playaz

The Defenders entered this contest 2-0 and the Playaz (who I understand was the 15U team playing up) entered 1-1, needing a win to make it to the play-off round.  This was one of the best games of the tournament and made for great theatre - Jimmy Salmon and the Playaz' coaching staff on one end, the Davis' of Defenders Basketball on the other end, and the Playaz' 14U team strategically placed under the opponents' basket to help them concentrate on their foul shooting.  The contest quickly turned from basketball into "slap or be slapped", with several lead changes and momentum swings.  The Playaz eventually pulled off the upset, but at what cost?  Afterwards both teams were mentally and physically spent and it may have cost them both a legitimate chance to win the 16U Chip. 

However, there were no losers in the contest and their intensity and high level of play elevated the status of both of these clubs.

Central Jersey Jammers (16U) vs. Playaz 

ImageThis was another entertaining contest and with an interesting subplot - the kids from the suburbs (Jammers) vs. the kids from the Newark area (Playaz).  For the Playaz, their shooting guard was raining jumpers, seemingly from Mid-town Manhattan.  Meanwhile, Vaughn Grey was getting stickbacks off of weakside rebounds.  However, the Jammers had a Dennis Rodman clone who treated the 94 feet of hardwood as his personal playpen - running the floor, blocking shots and cleaning the glass and whenever he made a big play, the Jammers' bench would go into hysterics.  In the play of the tournament, Rodman Clone baited one of the Playaz' guards into driving in for a seemingly uncontested lay up.  Once the ball headed towards the basket, I noticed the entire Jammers bench raise up (as if something was about to happen) . . .  at that moment Rodman Clone uncoiled and slammed the shot off the top of the square, which of course led to additional pandemonium on the Jammers' sideline.   

The Jammers treated the contest as their championship game and pulled out a hard fought victory in a game that was played mostly above the rim.  The loss dropped the Playaz to 1-1 and into a must win situation against Defenders Basketball Club. 

Kips Bay vs. Brooklyn Ballers (16U)  

There were several subplots here - Brooklyn vs. the Bronx, cousin (Billy Council) vs. cousin (Gary Sheares).  Billy Council was definitely dressed for the occasion . . . Gucci this . . . Prada that.  The Ballers wanted this one badly.  They needed a win to have a shot at the play offs.  This was another game that went back and forth with the outcome decided at the end.  The Ballers hit a last second shot to win the game and give The Bay their first defeat of the tourney.  However, the referee waived it off because time had expired.  Though The Bay had almost conceded defeat, this one won't officially be decided until Shock Exchange Comes Back to Harlem next year. 

Coast 2 Coast vs. Harlem Kings (15U) 

Coast 2 Coast brought the quiet storm during this contest and tried to put the Kings to sleep for the 15U Chip.  C2C consistently trailed the Kings by 6-8 points the entire contest and with the Kings' size and depth, the task seemed insurmountable.  But C2C's guard play kept the game close and coach Nick Thomas seemed to try to will his charges to victory.  However, C2C fell 1 point short of the upset, giving the Kings the third victory in their improbable trifecta.

Pythons vs. Harlem Kings (15U) 

The play off game between the Pythons and Harlem Kings got "heated" as the Kings held onto a double digit lead through out the game.  There was a little bit of trash talking going, some physical play, players being separated, and the next thing you know, the game was called early.  The mother of one of Pythons' players ran from the stands to the scorers table to give her take on the matter . . . the moms get involved, then it's a wrap.  Did anyone say "rubber match". 

Playaz vs. Harlem Kings (14U) 

This was another tough, physical contest with the 14U Chip at stake.  The game was back and forth with several lead changes and both teams gave as good as they got.  At one point both benches cleared and the teams had to be separated at mid-court.  What would a championship game between two hungry programs be without a little posturing?  The Harlem Kings eventually won this war of attrition in double OT.  Afterwards I overheard someone from the Playaz say "Don't worry . . . we'll get 'em up North" - a veiled reference to the Spring Fling the following week. 

Rockland Falcons vs. Dynasty Select (14U)

Dynasty Select got it done in the first contest on a last second shot in overtime.  Both teams were evenly matched and it was too bad that someone had to walk away with the loss in this one.  Though unknown when the tournament began, both teams impressed a lot of people throughout the weekend with their quality of play against top notch competition.

Md Ruffriders vs. Gauchos (13U)

ImageThe Maryland Ruffriders lost in the play-offs to the Gauchos by 8 points in a valiant effort.  The Ruffriders were undersized (but not outgunned) as they had to deal with the Gauchos' two bookends who both stood about 6'3" or taller.  I would be curious as to the adjustments Coach Jiggetts would make to counteract the Gauchos' size differential in a potential rematch.  I would envision a chess match early on and then both teams going back to what they do best - the Gauchos going inside and the Ruffriders operating in space with their plethora of combo guards. 

With the Ruffriders tied up with the Gauchos' bookends, Jamaal Pinkard, "The Straw that Stirs the Drink" for the Gauchos, may make just enough plays to make the difference in this one. 

Gauchos vs. Harlem Kings (13U) 

The Gauchos dispatched the Kings in their first meeting but the Kings rose to the occasion in the Championship game.  Both teams have all of the pieces necessary to consistently vie for the Chip in any tournament that they enter.  With the bookends and the Straw that Stirs the Drink, I give the edge in experience to the Gauchos . . . but that's why they play the games. 

Shock Exchange vs. CT Xclusive (13U)

The Shock Exchange missed its first round game against CT Xclusive, at Coach Baker was overwhelmed with tournament duties - buying supplies from Costco's, picking up kids, and then getting stuck in traffic on the way to the tournament.  Our kids were chomping at the bit to get it on and it did not sit well to concede without having played.  By May the Shock Exchange should have re-tooled and gotten in some much needed practice time.  Maybe we will see CT Xclusive at the Northstars' event in Hartford.  Get the hint?

Kips Bay vs. Sam Cassell All-Stars (12U) 

A 1-1 record during head-to-head contests, heated exchanges, physical play, and the last contest decided who took the 12U Chip.  Need I say more?  That said, throughout the weekend I noticed that one of Sam Cassell's biggest cheerleaders was a kid with a cast on his wrist.  I have a feeling that "Mr. Unkown", sans cast, may have the last word when these two teams face off again next year.


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