New England Playaz Take Spring Fling Title
Many of the top AAU programs from up and down the east coast converged on Piscataway, New Jersey this weekend for the Spring Fling Tournament. The 32 team u17 field featured powerhouse national programs like the New Jersey Playaz, New York Gauchos, D.C. Assault, New Heights, and many others. But despite the deep and talented field only one team was left standing when the basketballs stopped bouncing on Sunday night, and that team was the New England Playaz.
The Playaz advanced to the quarter-finals after going through their pool undefeated with wins over the Long Island Lightning, Jersey Shore Warriors, and K-Madison Foundation. Their run through bracket play began with a win over a New Heights team that is considered by many to be the top team in the tri-state area this year. In the semi-finals the Playaz scored a victory over their sister organization, the New Jersey Playaz, and the final featured a win against D.C. Assault, one of, if not the, top program in the country this year featuring the Duke bound duo of Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston.
“I think it was a great way to start the AAU season,” said head coach John Carroll. “We had a team last year that grew into a high national level team, but even after adding some new players to this year’s group we were still able to pick up where we left off, and able to do it against a very high level of competition.”
And that may be the most impressive part about the Playaz’ first championship of the 2009 AAU season, that even after graduating players like Erik Murphy (Florida), Jordan Williams (Maryland), Dartaye Ruffin (Drexel), and Gabe Kindred (Loyola Chicago) they were able to come out of a top national level field.
“I’m very lucky to have a coach like John and the loyal kids that I do,” said program director T.J. Gassnola. “Nate Lubick jumped on a plane after taking Saturday classes and played all weekend even though he was very sick. He was throwing up all weekend, including at halftime of the New Heights game.”
Lubick was rewarded not just with a championship, but also with the tournament’s MVP award, although Gassnola says Lubick would have shared the award with Austin Carroll had the tournament allowed two winners. The duo’s toughness set the tone for the rest of the team while both were also invaluable against full court pressure as Lubick finished everything inside, Carroll made a variety of big shots in the championship win over D.C. Assault, and both showed their trademark headiness and ability to pass the ball. Playing two ball-handling guards like Anthony Ireland and Naadir Tharpe at the same time also proved to be a major weapon against opponent’s pressure.
But it was Denzel Brito who was the hero of the final game as he nailed a pull-up jumper from the elbow to win the game. The shot was the consequence of a broken pick and roll play, but when the ball ended up in Brito’s hands he didn’t hesitate as he took one hard dribble before elevating and firing. It was the culmination to a strong weekend for the junior guard as he had success attacking the basket throughout the weekend.
Also playing well for the Playaz this weekend were big men Javon McCrea, who scored 16 points against the Playaz and the first four baskets of the game against D.C. Assault, and Naofall Folahan who made contributions in spurts by blocking and altering a variety of shots on the defensive end.
The Playaz finished the weekend with a perfect 6-0 record.