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East II Regional

June 24, 2003 Columns No Comments



2003 AND 1 High School Basketball Championship: East Regional II

by Michael Protos

Day 1

District Heights, MD – Located about fifteen minutes from Washington, D.C., the Run N’ Shoot Basketball Complex is a baller’s dreamhouse. Inside the massive facility in Prince George’s County, Md., there are a dozen basketball courts with a fully equipped weight room. Between games, ballers can purchase Powerade from the line of vending machines or AND 1 gear, provided by the company that sponsors the AND 1 High School Basketball Championship. Run N’ Shoot hosted this past weekend 24 of the best high school basketball programs from Baltimore to D.C. in the second eastern regional bracket of the championship. The winner goes to St. Joseph’s University near Philadelphia for the championship bracket, played June 28 and 29.

The tournament offered each team the opportunity to play three games over two days. The first day featured 28 games and plenty of highlight reels and building stories. Entering the tournament, Bishop O’Connell was favored to overwhelm competition en route to the championship round. Day 1’s actions seemed a mere formality for the team as they steamrolled Laurel 70-37 and Towson Catholic 64-46.

Meanwhile, last year’s regional champion, DeMatha Catholic won three games on the first day to advance to the semifinals. DeMatha handily defeated Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and Springbrook in the first two rounds, but struggled against St. Paul VI. Paul VI led by eight points in the second half before DeMatha turned up the defensive heat and shut down Paul VI’s offensive attack. DeMatha grinded out a 53-51 victory.

With 24 teams, eight received byes while sixteen played in the opening round. Three opening round games went to overtime, which lasted two minutes. In the absence of a shot clock in these games, one team could hold the ball for most of the overtime to set up a winning shot.

Suitland applied this strategy in its opening round overtime match-up with Chambersburg. Tied 51-51, Suitland held the ball until ten seconds remained and charged the basket. After Suitland drained the shot, Chambersburg touched the ball for the first time in overtime with just over five seconds on the clock. Jonathan Motichka sprinted down the court. At midcourt a defender bumped Motichka, who teetered on falling out of bounds, but. regained his balance in time to take a few more steps before lofting his prayer toward the basket. You know the result – swish. Chambersburg wins 54-53 in overtime.

Chambersburg overcame the old-school, kill-the-clock strategy, reminiscent of the early 50s when NBA teams milked a lead by holding the ball as long as conceivably possible. But Chambersburg did not last long in the tournament with only six players in uniform and a recurring leg injury to one of the team’s guards. Chambersburg lost its remaining two games it played Saturday and opted not to return for a final game in the consolation bracket on Sunday.

In the winner’s bracket, Bishop O’Connell, Oxon Hill, DeMatha Catholic and Archbishop Spalding emerged as the final four of the tournament at the end of the day. Oxon Hill was the lone public school in the bunch while DeMatha Catholic was the only team in the final four that did not receive an initial bye. Archbishop Spalding generated the greatest buzz in a crowd of baller vets because of the presence of Rudy Gay, the most exciting and athletic player in the gym.

Gay dominated competition Saturday, scoring nineteen in the first game against Northwestern and 20 against Bishop McNamara in the quarterfinals. But his performance against Bishop McNamara created a buzz that continued into the following day. In the midst of a Bishop McNamara second half comeback, Gay asserted his dominance. Slicing through the lane, Gay appeared too far from the basket for any shot but a lay-up, especially with a Bishop McNamara defender stuck to him like his jersey. But Gay lept above the outstretched defender, above the rim, above seemingly everything within sight, and threw down the basketball while falling away from the hoop. Not dunk. Throw down. Word spread across the gym spread as those fortunate to behold the jam mimicked Gay’s athleticism to those who missed it.

Oh yeah, Archbishop Spalding won the game 74-61 to advance to the semifinals.

Saturday’s action featured several other exciting players, who shone despite the dominant radiance of Gay. Bishop O’Connell featured a cast of players that will likely provide solid contributions at the collegiate level. The team’s most talked-about player, Brian Johnson, missed the tournament however, because the doctor had not cleared him to play. At 6’9, Johnson would have rivaled Gay as the best big man in the gym. Graying basketball vets gathered and pointed him out while sharing firsthand accounts of Johnson’s dominance. His stock remained high without playing a single minute in this tournament.

Erik Smith and Marcus Ginyard, two of Johnson’s teammates who did play, lived up to the hype surrounding Bishop O’Connell’s team. Smith is a short point guard who can shred through an opposing defense while running at full tilt, a rare talent for high school ball handlers, especially against a defensive press. Smith consistently created opportunities for his teammates, like Ginyard, who is an athletic swingman who can sprint down the floor to create transition opportunities on offense. Although having recently completed only his sophomore year, he led the team in both of Saturday’s games, scoring sixteen against Laurel and 22 against Towson Catholic in the quarterfinals.

DeMatha Catholic’s Desmond Adedeji looked to be the closest player in the gym to qualify as a true center. At 6’9, Adedeji has a thick build that allows him to muscle his way through the post, especially against smaller teams. He pounded St. Paul VI for sixteen points in the quarterfinal match-up in which DeMatha Catholic needed to come from behind in the second half. In that game, Adedeji appeared winded toward the end of the game and his effort dropped considerably at times. He will be a junior next season, so he has time to work on his conditioning and tune his already impressive skills. DeMatha Catholic appears prepared to continue its winning tradition on the back of its dominant big-man.

Towson Catholic did not manage to slow down the Bishop O’Connell juggernaut in the quarterfinals, but Jamal Smith showcased his ability to slash and score. He posted games of 15, 16 and 21 in three games on Saturday. Smith was the only player to succeed against Bishop O’Connell’s suffocating defensive pressure on Saturday. He did so by finding the holes in the defense and exploiting them by moving well without the ball and finishing when he received it. Against a defensively dominant team, a player who can play intelligently and take advantage of opportunities is worth noticing and remembering come recruiting time.

Day 2

On Sunday morning in Prince George’s County, Md., the names Bishop O’Connell and Archbishop Spalding evoked not pious devotion to Catholic leadership but rather devotion to Catholic high school basketball. Bishop O’Connell was the team some bystanders openly anointed as the frontrunner to win the AND 1 High School Basketball Championship’s second eastern regional bracket. But if Bishop O’Connell was the favorite team, Archbishop Spalding’s sensational Rudy Gay was the crowd’s favorite player.

Day 2 at the Run N’ Shoot Basketball Complex wasted no time picking up the excitement from Day 1. The semifinals pitted Bishop O’Connell against Oxon Hill and DeMatha Catholic against Archbishop Spalding. The crowd gravitated toward Court 1 where Bishop O’Connell appeared ready to continue its mastery of opponents when it built an early double-digit lead. Erik Smith weaved through Oxon Hill’s defense to feed teammates like Freddie Stanback, who had a game high 21 points. But Bishop O’Connell ran into trouble toward the end of the first half when Oxon Hill applied a suffocating defensive press that forced several turnovers to allow the team to crawl within seven points by halftime.

Meanwhile, on Court 2, fewer spectators stood to watch Archbishop Spalding battle DeMatha Catholic. The game quickly turned into a rout as Archbishop Spalding built a massive lead. At the half, Archbishop Spalding led 38-15, and Gay led the charge with twelve points. DeMatha appeared tired and was unable to find a consistent offensive rhythm. Gay continued his offensive onslaught in the second half and ended the game with 27 points. Against DeMatha’s Desmond Adedeji, Gay proved he can negotiate his way to the hoop around bigger players.

On one possession, Archbishop Spalding moved the ball around attempting to find a good look at the hoop. Or at least a good look at Gay, which equaled nearly automatic points. Gay received the ball along the baseline where Adedeji stepped out to shut down a drive to the lane. Gay shook Adedeji with a drop step into the lane, a slight fake that froze the big man, and a shift to gain position for a dunk over the flailing arms of Adedeji. If Gay works on more post moves like that and gains more weight, he can become a devastating inside scorer at the next level.

Back on Court 1, the second half opened with a continuation of Oxon Hill’s defensive pressure. And Bishop O’Connell appeared helpless against the press. Most of the team stood around and watched as Oxon Hill players swarmed the ball, destroying any offensive flow and occasionally forcing a turnover. Oxon Hill pulled ahead and refused to relinquish the lead. The frontrunner had fallen, 58-54. Oxon Hill, the Maryland 4A state champion this past season, moved on to the championship game against Archbishop Spalding.

While the winners prepared for the championship game later that afternoon, the rest of the teams played games in the consolation bracket. League rivals Bishop McNamara and Paul VI played an intense consolation game. The Run N’ Shoot complex is less than five minutes from Bishop McNamara, so it had a significant home court advantage. Neither team led by more than six or seven points throughout the game, especially in the second half. Despite Darryl Proctor’s 23 points, Paul VI could not overcome a resilient Bishop McNamara team that played strong defense throughout the game. Bishop McNamara won 57-54 to the delight of the crowd.

With this game over, the crowd migrated back to Court 1 for the championship game. Before the game started, the talk was all about Gay and his athleticism. People still talked about his dunk from Day 1. Local basketball gurus filled the stands, greeting friends and settling in to enjoy the show.

Like the semifinals, Oxon Hill fell behind Archbishop Spalding early. Oxon Hill coach Billy Lanier wasted no time in applying the press in the championship game. As in the game against Bishop O’Connell, the press disrupted Archbishop Spalding’s rhythm and allowed Oxon Hill to grab an 11-10 lead.

While the teams battled for every point, the crowd had to wait nearly eight minutes for the Rudy Gay Show to begin. Oxon Hill prevented Gay from getting many touches ball and blocked his path to the hoop. Gay’s first attempt to bring down the house resulted in a missed dunk. But moments later the ball returned to him and his thunderous dunk induced raucous cheering from the crowd. At halftime Gay had only six points and Archbishop Spalding trailed Oxon Hill 29-25.

Coming out of halftime, each team tried to assert its dominance, but neither team managed to pull away. Archbishop Spalding whittled away at Oxon Hill’s lead and Justin Castelberry tied the game with just over ten minutes remaining in the game. With under five minutes to go, Oxon Hill committed more mistakes with poor decisions. Archbishop Spalding built a five point lead with under two minutes to go.

Oxon Hill attempted to find some offensive spark but Archbishop Spalding extinguished it by denying entry passes into the lane and refusing to allow an uncontested three pointer. With under a minute to go, Oxon Hill battled to the free throw line to pull to within three, trailing 51-48. Without a shot clock, all Archbishop Spalding needed to do was get past half court and prepare for the fouls by a desperate team.

But Oxon Hill eliminated the need for fouling with its press. Defense got Oxon Hill to the championship game and defense would win it. Archbishop Spalding turned the ball over, creating a dramatic opportunity to tie the game. Archbishop Spalding relentlessly denied anyone to step within five feet of the three point line with the ball and Oxon Hill passed the ball around the perimeter until Will Gill received the ball in the left corner with just under five seconds left. Feeling the pressure of the clock and realizing his team probably would not see a better look, Gill arched the ball toward the hoop and drained the three pointer to tie the game at 51. There’s no time like overtime.

In the first overtime, Archbishop Spalding won the first possession. But Gay turned the ball over and Oxon Hill held the ball to run down the clock. The strategy backfired when Oxon Hill stepped out of bounds, but Archbishop Spalding failed to convert at the buzzer.

In the second overtime, Archbishop Spalding again controlled the opening possession. And again Gay turned the ball over with an errant pass under intense pressure from Oxon Hill’s defense. On the defensive end, he committed a flagrant foul in an attempt to stop Oxon Hill from jamming home a basket that could have put the game out of reach. In the end, Oxon Hill made just enough free throws to build a five-point lead and finished the game with stifling defense that prevented Archbishop Spalding from scoring in the second overtime. Oxon Hill emerged victorious, 56-51, in a thrilling double overtime championship game.

Despite his God-given natural athleticism, Gay demonstrated that he needs to refine his game to become a truly dominant player. After the game, he said that he felt the championship game was faster than the other games. He finished with fourteen points and fourteen rebounds, which was his lowest point total of the tournament. Even without an AND 1 regional championship to boast about, Gay will likely be a top recruit this coming year. He said he plans to listen to everything that he hears from schools and make a choice that is best for him. He chose not to say which specific schools that included.

Oxon Hill celebrated its victory by hoisting the trophy for the second eastern regional bracket. The school will travel to St. Joseph’s University to play in the national championship bracket June 28-29. The championship game will be on aired on Fox SportsNet at 8 p.m. on Sunday.

     

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