It was billed as “The Game of the Millennium” ; touted as the having the most collective talent on a single court ever in the middle school game – it was so much to live up to, so much that anything beside a great game would have been a letdown.
Well the standing room only crowd filled the lower level seating as well as the upper deck. Basketball fans from around the country that had no stake or horse in the race came to watch and they were treated to an extraordinary affair.
Intensity could be felt from the opening tip; there was no confusing there was something more than a win or loss on the line. There were no smiles no handshakes before the ball tip off; there was a mutual respect but it was clear that everyone involved was ready to play. The NYBL team who was missing the #1 player in the country replaced him with what many believe to be the new #2 player in the country Terrance Williams; along with some of their other high end assets Cameron Byers and Tyler Brelsford, combined with Zion Harmon, Jordan Toles the roster became not only talented but got much bigger too.
USA National Select representing the Nation opened the game 6-0 before the NYBL jump on the board. The Nation used a tough man to man defense in the half court to create pressure and turnover which led to some transition opportunities. Surprisingly effective in the half court for their first time playing together the Nation play high pick and roll to take a 13-4 lead half way through the first period. Namari Burnett (Illinois) and Mike Saunders (Indiana) played 2-man basketball with Donavan Billings (Wisconsin) like season pro’s; exhibiting the patience to hit the wing and reset when the roll wasn’t there.
The NYBL’s prideful bunch turned it up showing the depth of their talent with a 6-0 run of their own cutting the lead to 13-10. Terrance Williams was the recipient of some wonderful passes from Zion Harmon and Tyler Brelsford and finished with authority as the defense collapsed on him each time he touched the ball. Someone from the stands screamed “is this a game or is this a showcase?” He clearly didn’t understand.
Williams and Jordan Toles exerted themselves and pressed the paint creating some opportunities from the free-throw line as the half wound down. Raymond Terry (Indiana) who had 4 blocked shots in the game came up with two big ones, one leading to an transition opportunity on the offensive end and Dylan Branson (Missouri) who is one of the top shooters in the country gave up a wide open look hitting a cutter Reese Beekman for a basket putting the Nation up 17-13.
The NYBL end the half stealing momentum with a quick 4-0 run, sinking a 12-footer from the wing with 2-seconds left on the clock to tie the game 17-17 at half. With a half in the bag; the game was what everyone thought and hoped it would be a; a highly contested battle.
Rob Taylor who not only boast the best teams and talent in the country; he boasts some of the best coaches too. The NYBL squad went into half and made adjustments with multiple National Championship winner and Final Four finisher (#3 finish in 2014 – 2021) Mike Harmon of Team Glory Elite and former Ballou High School Coach Jenkins Dormu who beat a Dematha team with Victor Olidipo in City Championship game. Combine that with former UCONN player Micheal Leblanc from Gods First, the NYBL player were being coached up.
Coming out of half the Nation again took early control using full court pressure and switching defenses. Hunter Jackson (Indiana) exerted himself to exhaustion playing every second of every play creating opportunities for himself and others; with some cursory pressure from the NYBL Tarik Booker (Indiana) and Ryan Conway (Maryland) played some point forward to relieve pressure.
The Nations lead never exceeded 6-points in the second half as the NYBL kept closing the gap; the NYBL had a lot of success when they put both their 6’5 front court players in the game – they used the weakside to rebound and make passes from the block and high post to create opportunities. Cameron Byers made some tough finishes as the NYBL looked to take the lead. Matching the NYBL’s size for a time was switched to playing with speed and quickness – Jaden Springer (North Carolina) played big allowing the Nation to uses its great ball-handlers and operates against the NYBL size in space. Springer stands 5’9 but can battle with any player in the country in the paint or anywhere for that matter.
As the second half was running down Tyler Brelsford received a lead ahead pass, Billings whose effort, motor, and toughness were unquestioned chased down the speedy PG to contest the shot – he fouled Brelsford but saved the lay-up and held momentum as the NYBL missed some critical Free throws down the stretch.
With a minute approaching on the clock, the most crucial part of the game took place. As featured on Middle School Hoops, who was in attendance to cover the epic event, Hunter Jackson has a 3 possession series that put the Nation in control (SEE BELOW). The NYBL still had a chance with 19 seconds on the clock and down 3. Coming off a dead ball Mike Harmon sent into the game some of the top shooters you will find; Zion Harmon, Brelsford, and Jordan McPhatter. Off penetration the NYBL got an open look from the corner, on the miss Toles secured the rebound and quickly put up another 3 under contest – a tough shot that missed and was secured by the Nation. Not in the bonus and with NYBL having to foul the Nation had to inbound the ball 4 times to close out the game.
Mike Saunders who is the proverbial coach on the floor took the team home handling the ball down the stretch and managing the time and situation even prior to crunch time; with the ball in his hands he made sure each possession was valued and maximized. Saunders ran out the clock for the Nation as they skated away with a high contested victory.
Donavan Billings was named MVP for the Nation and Terrance Williams received the honor for the NYBL. In what will hopefully be a series for years to come the Nation took a 1-0 lead; next up for the Nation was the 2019 NYBL Team, in what would be another tough and highly competitive game.
Just remember this was just the Saturday morning - stay tune for continued converge - and don't forget P2bball.com National Rankings will be released Monday September22nd
Video Highlight Provided Courtesy of Middle School Hoops