Playaz Reach Semis at Real Deal
The New England Playaz traveled to Arkansas this weekend for the prestigious Real Deal on the Rock Tournament. Formerly known as Real Deal on the Hill, the event featured a loaded field with programs like All Ohio Red, Atlanta Celtics, DC Assault, Grassroots Canada, California Supreme, M33M Ballerz, Memphis Magic Elite, and the New York Panthers all in action. But the Playaz more than held their own, advancing to the semi-finals before falling in overtime to the eventual champions.
“This is a really talented group of guys we have,” said program director T.J. Gassnola, “and they’re good kids and they really buy into all that [head coach] John [Carroll] is teaching them. I’m just fortunate to have that guy coaching my team. People actually came to our games this weekend to watch him coach.”
The Playaz had no problems in pool play as they earned big wins over Full Court Athletes (TX), Future Elite Select (GA), and Triumph Select Black (TX) with Keegan Hyland being one of the early stars after knocking down 9 of 12 three-pointers for a game high 30 points.
The Playaz locked up with Team Texas in the first bracket play game, creating a one-on-one match-up for Naadir Tharpe and Jamal Branch, the 22nd ranked prospect in the national class of 2011 who is already committed to Texas A&M. Tharpe rose to the challenge and was “spectacular” according to Gassnola, getting to the rim every time he wanted to lead to Playaz to a 4-0 record and a place in the round of 16.
Next up was the Compton Magic, the tournament’s #1 seed, and this contest proved to be a barn burner that came down to the final possession. With Tharpe playing his second consecutive strong game, the Playaz led by 2 when the Magic inbounded the ball in front of their own bench with only two seconds to play. The Magic were able to get off a fade-away three just before time expired and when the ball banked off the glass and went in and out, the Playaz moved on to the quarterfinals.
The Playaz knocked off Dallas Showtime by another tight margin in the quarters. Although Gassnola described this particular win as a “total team effort”, crediting the contributions of Aaron Cosby on the defensive end, Tyler Strange off the bench, and Kaleb Tarczewski inside, Showtime simply had no answer for Markus Kennedy.
By reaching the semi-finals the Playaz moved onto center stage for a match-up with the Dallas Mustangs who feature the eighth ranked player in 2011, LeBryan Nash. This time it was Alex Murphy who rose to the challenge, as he defended Nash for the entire game and went at him on the offensive end.
Scout.com’s Dave Telep was on hand to cover the event all weekend and had a front row seat for the Murphy/Nash match-up.
“Every year you look to see the improvements that guys make and I think Alex Murphy has made noticeable improvements and become such a confident guy,” Telep said on Monday morning. “One play he drove the lane and dunked the ball. I don’t know if he surprised himself but that was a little bit of an eye opener as if to say ‘O.K. this is where we’re at right now’”.
While the Playaz led by as many as 15 at one point they ultimately ran out of gas, playing their seventh game in 36 hours with only an eight man roster, and fell in overtime. The Mustangs, who defeated Grassroots Canda by 30 points earlier in the day, went on to win easily in the finals.
While the Playaz weren’t able to pull out the win, Kennedy turned in another quality performance.
“He was huge for them in the semi-finals,” Telep said. “He has great hands and was really good around the bucket. I’ve always liked Markus and think he is going to end up being a very good basketball player.”
Ultimately though, Carroll and Gassnola agree that balance was the key to the team’s success this weekend and that the tournament was a great weekend as the Playaz prepare for the rest of a season that will include trips to Providence, Kansas, North Carolina, and New York in preparation for the July Live Period.