It looked like a daunting task coming in, but Team Charlotte had enough grit and hit enough timely shots (and free throws) to knock off favored Canada Elite to capture the 2015 17U Under Armour Association championship. Champions were also crowned in 16 U (Florida Vipers) and 15U (Sports U). Read along for full recap, analysis and comments from the big winners!
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Heading into the Under Armour Association 17U championship contest, Canada Elite had the size advantage and the star power, but a scrappy bunch from Team Charlotte had enough talent to win the coveted title -- if it could stay close enough to pull it off at the end.
That's exactly what happened, as Team Charlotte outscored Canada Elite, 15-5, over the final three minutes to gut out a 56-46 victory at the Suwanee Sports Academy in Suwanee, Ga.
Ty-Shon Alexander, a rising junior guard from Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.), led off the game with a 3-pointer and that was a good omen for a team that was going to have to shoot the lights out from the perimeter in order to defeat a much bigger opponent that featured 7-foot Thon Maker, arguably the most talented big man on the entire grassroots circuit.
The shooting never came, and Team Charlotte quickly fell behind 12-6. The underdogs were able to get back into the game by battling and scrapping on every possession, combined with some unforced first half turnovers by Canada Elite. Team Charlotte trailed by two points (21-19) at halftime.
Team Charlotte harassed Canada Elite's ball-handlers up top and Jayson Hankins, a 2016 prospect from Northside Christian Academy (Charlotte, N.C.), did as admirable a defensive job a 6-foot-5 forward can on Maker. He also got help from Joshua Howard, a 6-foot-6 2016 prospect from Providence Day (Charlotte, N.C.), who finished with 15 points. Overall, it was the stellar team defensive performance that head coach Jeff McInnis stressed in the pre-game.
McInnis, who helped Oak Hill Academy win a mythical national title in 1993 and played in the Final Four for North Carolina before embarking on a 12-year pro career, relished the role of the underdog. He stressed it to his team in its previous bracket games and noted its lack of "star power" in timeout huddles. The motivational ploy worked, and the result was extra sweet for the coach because he runs the grassroots program and is a Charlotte native (SEE VIDEO).
If Team Charlotte does have a player that qualifies as a star, it's Alexander. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard hit 9-of-10 free throws, a majority of which came in the second half, and finished with 14 points.
"Most of all, it was about putting the team first," said Alexander, who reports offers from Virginia Tech and UNC-Charlotte with major interest from Wichita St., Virginia and Clemson. "Coach McInnis, he can be tough on me, but the players wanted to show him we have his back, because he has ours. We had a lot of people come down from Charlotte today for the championship and we wanted to prove to them we could win this. Their support helped us a lot."
Team Canada was led in the scoring department by 5-foot-11 point guard Godwin Boahen of St. Louis Christian Academy (Toronto, Canada) with 13 points. As for Maker, he played valiantly, but he was not getting enough touches in the paint because of Team Charlotte's smothering perimeter defense and didn't convert at the rate Canada Elite's supportive crowd would have liked. He also missed three free throws.
Maker finished the game with 11 points and 11 rebounds while averaging 16.5 points and 11.8 rebounds for the entire UAA Finals weekend. Maker, the MVP of the 2015 Ballislife All-American Game and one of the top performers at the 2015 NBPA Top 100 Camp, didn't capture the coveted UAA 17U crown, but it doesn't take away from his spectacular individual summer.
With its win, Team Charlotte joins the New York Rens (adidas Gauntlet Championship) and the Georgia Stars (Nike EYBL) as shoe company summer circuit champions for the 2015 grassroots season. Of the three, Team Charlotte's run was the most improbable.
Florida Vipers Sting Indy Hoosiers for 16U Crown
The Indy Hoosiers were looking for a repeat of sorts after capturing the 15U crown in the first UA Association last summer. They had the necessary ingredients -- talent, experience, and confidence -- to pull off the double crown.
After jumping out to an early 19-5 lead on the Florida Vipers in the UAA 16U title game, it looked like the expected title was just a matter of time -- but it wasn't meant to be. The Florida Vipers picked up the intensity and started matching the Indy Hoosiers shot-for-shot to pull out a 59-54 comeback victory.
The game wasn't decided until Cooper Neese, a shooting guard from Cloverdale (Ind.) and the Indy Hoosiers' best marksman, missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer from his sweet spot on the left wing with less than 10 seconds remaining and his team trailing 57-54.
Leading the way offensively for the Florida Vipers' three double-digit scorers was 6-foot-4 2017 combo forward Jordan Wright of Dillard (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) with 18 points. He added 10 rebounds. The points weren't all pretty, but Wright was effective around the basket and on second-chance situations.
Point guard Paul Scruggs, a 6-foot-3 2017 prospect out of Southport (Indianapolis, Ind.), led two Indy Hoosiers' double-digit scorers with 14 points. Neese, a 6-foot-4 2017 prospect, added nine points on three 3-point field goals.
"After the bad start, we got in the huddle and coach told us not to get down on ourselves," Wright said. "My job is to score around the basket and do the dirty work, but all of us did our jobs."
A Coronation for Sports U in 15U
Fairfield, N.J.-based Sport U had not lost a single game on the UAA 15U circuit -- not just in Suwanee but also in New Orleans, Louisville, or New York -- heading into the championship game.
It was going to take a stellar performance from We R1 to pull off the upset, but after Sports U jumped to a 8-0 lead, the feeling among the college coaches court side was the favorite wasn't going to be denied. Sports U turned in a masterful defensive performance in its 50-33 victory to finish the 2015 UAA circuit unbeaten.
Behind stellar perimeter defense by 2018 prospects Luther Muhhamed (Hudson Catholic, Newark, N.J./6-3), Jahvon Quinerly (Hudson Catholic, Newark, N.J./6-0) and Atiba Taylor (Roselle Catholic, Roselle, N.J./6-3), Sports U gave up only 12 points in the first half and led by eight points after 16 minutes. Sports U doubled up on We R1, 36-18, on a jumper by Muhhamed and the final score is only partially indicative of Sports U's dominance in the game.
Quinerly led all scorers with 16 points while Muhhamed also hit double figures with 10.
Kiyon Johnson, a 6-foot-4 2018 small forward out of Paul VI (Haddonfield, N.J.), was We R1's only double digit scorer with 15 points.
"We're the No. 1 15U team in the country and it we lose, like that's a big story," Muhhamed said. "We came out saying we don't want to have that feeling of losing."