ZG Finals - Varsity Division Recap

by Paul Lazdowski | Sunday, June 15th, 2014

ZG Finals - Varsity Division Recap

HANOVER, Mass. – In what has become an annual Father’s Day tradition, the 2014 Zero Gravity Finals were hosted for the second straight year at the University Sports Center and several other facilities in the greater Boston area.

With more than 450 teams competing across approximately 50 courts throughout the area, the top rosters in the 10th and 11th grade groups congregated at the eight-court Hanover, Mass. complex to compete for supremacy: a chance to hoist a four-foot tall trophy and cut down the nets.

The 11th grade Division 1 bracket featured a matchup between two of the regions perennially top programs in the New England Playaz and Mass Rivals.

But it was the Playaz – behind the performances of Kellan Grady, Kealen Ives and Jarred Reuter – which proved the difference in a hard fought 60-54 victory.

Grady, the Catholic Memorial (West Roxbury, Mass.) standout and breakout talent this spring, was particularly lethal attacking from the top of the key. He displayed a nifty crossover and ability to use his slender frame and deceptively quick first step to get past defenders and finish in the lane. His consistency knocking down open looks from the perimeter also proved pivotal.

Meanwhile, Ives, who is bound for a post-grad year at Putnam Science Academy, ran the team from the point. While usually looking to first involve his teammates, the 5-foot-8 guard also sprinkled in his own scoring, including acrobatic finishes inside and a series of long-range jumpers. It was an all-around impressive performance in his first showing with the Playaz.

For Reuter, his scoring opportunities, as is the norm, came down low. And while he had trouble finishing with his usual consistency, what was most eye-catching about the 6-foot-8 Brewster Academy product was his increased quickness and agility, especially on a few dunks from a standstill position underneath the hoop. These improvements should help him continue to raise his game, including versus increasingly athletic defenders.

The Rivals run to the finals was highlighted by an entertaining semifinals win over Expressions Elite. With many of its older players at home, the program gave its younger talents a chance to play up and shine.

Nobody grabbed the spotlight more than Saul Phiri.

The 6-foot-3 sophomore out of Worcester Academy and Haverhill, Mass. took his game to another level in the second half when he spearheaded Rivals’ run to its first lead with just over seven minutes remaining. The rangy two-guard was spectacular from the perimeter, connecting on a number of huge buckets, including a three-pointer from about three feet beyond the arc, and also using his body control to convert a series of driving layups while attacking the basket at full speed.

Eric DAguanno was also spectacular. The three-point specialist was outstanding from downtown all afternoon; connecting on shots from everywhere and showcasing a quick release and sound footwork when running off multiple screens.

The Division 2 championship pitted the Albany City Rocks against the Bristol Ballers. And while the Bristol Ballers, led by Manny Severino’s team-high point performances in the semis and finals, put together a tremendous effort, it was the Albany City Rocks who came away with the title. Felix Riascos was a consistent offensive force for the City Rocks. He scored from everyone on the court, including a number of big baskets to help take control of the game.

Other impressive 11th grade individual performances:

Arkel Ager-Lamar – Expressions Elite – An athletic swingman, who did a solid job connecting on outside shots, but also regularly crashed the boards from the weak side perimeter. On a couple occasions, he snagged these offensive rebounds and fluidly converted the put-backs.

Dom Benson – CT Force – Benson often forced the pace on his own. On numerous occasions he streaked down the court as a one-man fast break and converted layups and runners in traffic.

Jesse Bunting – Expressions Elite – Bunting was a rebounding force on both ends, oftentimes displaying a grit and scrappiness bigger than his 6-foot-7 frame. His willingness to dive on the floor or mix it up with opponents reflected a player with a burning competitiveness.

Wenyen Gabriel – Mass Rivals – Though at times his slender frame was overmatched physically, there is little doubt the 6-foot-7 forward has big-time upside. His quickness and creativity around the basket, which included a handful of left-handed hooks, layups and reverses, were two particular aspects of his game which stood out.

Mark Gasperini – Mass Rivals – At 6-foot-10 and still growing, the Brimmer & May product is adding a post game to compliment his already solid perimeter shooting. A baby hook and a couple of up-and-under moves reflect time well spent in the gym.

Carlos Gonzalez – MB Nation – Though still raw, the rangy 6-foot-6 big man has long arms to swat away opponents’ shots and soft hands to corral interior passes from teammates and finish at the hoop.

Juwan Gooding – LOX – Another smooth wing player, Gooding attacked the hoop in transition better than most players in the field. In one sequence, he dribbled between four retreating defenders to score an easy layup.

Anthony Green – New England Playaz – The Tilton School bound big man showcased consistent 10-12 foot shooting range and a knack for making himself a passing target inside.  

Jamir Henderson – LOX – The shifty and undersized point guard was excellent in pushing the tempo and getting his team out in transition. When defenses dropped off, he did not hesitate to look for his own perimeter scoring chances.

Rahim Mama – CT Force – The big man was active inside and also displayed a nice face up game when he connected on a couple 12-footers.

Chris Miner – Northeast Shooters – The big man established a solid low-post presence and repeatedly carved out space on the offensive glass to create second-chance scoring opportunities for himself or his teammates.

Tshiefu Ngalakulondi – Mass Rivals – The Proctor Academy made one move in which, three feet from the basket, he took one dribble and changed directions three times to evade two defenders and score an easy layup. It was one of the most fluid and effortless plays made by any player on Sunday.

LaTerrance Reed – Northeast Shooters – The combo guard was everywhere. He proved particularly effective driving to his left and also displayed a nice pull-up in transition. It seemed whenever NES needed a basket in its late morning upset of MB Nation, Reed either drew a foul or found his way to the hoop.

Bam Rivers – LOX – To stop Rivers meant denying him the ball all over the court. Rivers showed the athleticism to step outside and hurt defenses from deep, but he did his most damage on Sunday down-low. His wide frame and strength made him a force on the glass and in transition, where he absorbed contact and still converted.

Shyheim Ulrickson – MB Nation –The 6-foot guard simply never gives quits. Against the Northeast Shooters, he connected on a late corner three and also created a couple defensive turnovers. What had looked like a comfortable win for NES minutes early, turned into a narrow four-point victory largely because Ulrickson sparked his team.

Nathan Vasquez – South Shore Wolfpack Tighe – The forward carried the scoring for the Wolfpack as they advanced all the way to the semifinals. Vasquez scored from all three levels and also seemed to be around the ball.

Jared Wilson-Frame – Expressions Elite – The 6-foot-4 combo guard was relentless. Using his quickness to either blow by defenders or his muscle to pound them inside, Wilson-Frame was a matchup nightmare. And when defenses sagged or lost track of him on the perimeter, he made them pay with his deadly accuracy.