ECE Mass Wins Jam Fest u16 Title
It was just about three weeks ago that the NCAA prohibited the New England Playaz, along with three other teams around the country, from participating in the July live period.
While the NCAA’s actions were not geared towards the individual players in any of those programs, the ruling put all of those prospects, as well as their families, in very precarious positions, as they were left with a multitude of questions and very few answers heading into the most important month in any prospects’ year.
Only days before the live period began it became clear that many of the players who made up this year’s New England Playaz’ squads would now unite under a new banner, East Coast Elite Massachusetts or ECE Mass.
After attending the Adidas Invitational as planned in the opening week of the month, ECE Mass brought both their u16 and u17 teams to King of Prussia, Pennsylvania this week for the Hoop Group Summer Classic and Jam Fest.
After five days of basketball, ECE Mass’ u16 team finished with a combined record of 11-0 and both championships. Their most recent run culminated with a semifinal win over Team Philly before an all New England battle with Expressions Elite in the final.
ECE Mass’ run to the finals included wins over some of the most notable grassroots programs in the northeast including the New York Gauchos, New Heights, and Team Philly in the semifinals.
Aaron Falzon and Jeff Spellman were the offensive catalysts for the team as Falzon continued to show his inside-out skill set and Spellman combined his athleticism with his long range shooting. Meanwhile, Djery Baptiste provided an incredible physical presence inside the paint, especially on the defensive end, where he was able to block and/or alter countless shots.
While Falzon, Spellman and Baptiste all thrived in various areas of the game, it was the contributions of Malik James and Sammy Mojica that proved equally critical to the run. James showed his speed and playmaking with the ball in his hands while his presence also freed up Spellman to be more aggressive looking for his own shot, while Mojica combined an athletic driving game with some deceptive shot-making ability. Aaron McLean and Sultan Olusekun also made notable contributions off the bench.
Spellman and Falzon led the way with 16 and 12 points respectively in the semifinal win over Team Philly while Expressions Elite was making a run of their own on the opposite side of the bracket.
Expressions’ run to the final was also blocked by adversity, beginning with an ankle injury that took Jared Terrell from the line-up on Thursday. Without the presence of their leading scorer, Expressions played a more inside-out style to highlight the interior tandem of Abdul-Malik Abu and Alec Brennan.
Abu was forced to play multiple games without any food or water in accordance with his religion’s observance of Ramadan, but that didn’t stop him from eating on the court as he snatched boards and controlled the paint with his combination of power and athleticism.
Alec Brennan had a breakout weekend including a 19 point, 10 rebound performance over Brooklyn Rens in the quarterfinals. He was equally pivotal in the semifinals, knocking down back to back threes to seal a championship bid.
Damion Smith provided a big lift for the team at various points as well, showing his attacking offensive game and defensive attributes while Juwan Gooding impacted the game on both ends of the floor and newly arrived big man Toriola Moses showed signs of vast potential along their frontline.
As the two local New England rivals locked up to start the championship game, Aaron Falzon provided ECE Mass with an early spark, consistently knocking down a barrage of three-pointers. But that wasn’t enough as Expressions would take the lead early in the half and push their advantage to 33-24 heading into halftime despite 15 first half points from Falzon.
The game would tighten through the first 8 minutes of the second half but Expressions continued to hold the lead until a pair of three pointers from Spellman gave ECE their first lead since the game’s opening minutes with just under six minutes remaining on the clock. Expressions would come back to retake the lead 46-45 with just three minutes remaining, but ECE would close the game on a 9-2 fueled by big shots from Mojica to deliver a 55-47 decision and their second championship of the week.
And while there could only be one champion, both programs deserve a world of credit for overcoming adversity and persevering beyond anyone’s expectations.
Stay tuned to the New England Recruiting Report tomorrow for a look back at this week’s top individual performances from both Hoop Group events.