As a basketball fan I do not think there is a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than how I just spent Sunday, June 15th. New York’s Rumble in the Bronx AAU Tournament was truly better than advertised. Spread across four courts were teams from all over the country. With the first two days of the tournament in the books there were only the best of the best still standing for Sunday’s Elite 8 matchups at the House of Sports in Ardsley, New York. On Sunday there was a little bit of everything that any basketball fan would enjoy.
Sunday just would not have been the same without a rivalry game; and the 16 & under NJ Playaz and Sports U teams provided that. I have been around the tri-state area just long enough to know that when those two teams get together the intensity will be raised another notch and tempers may get out of control as the two programs battle for bragging rights in New Jersey. The two teams met in the Final Four of the tournament with a spot in the championship game on the line. The game was close throughout as the Playaz talented backcourt of Leondre Washington and Jamir Harrisbattled with Sports U’s equally talented duo of Nate Pierre-Louis and Breein Tyree. The guards from teams took turns scoring baskets on each other despite incredible effort on the defensive end by both teams.
The player that seemed to have swung the game in Sports U’s favor was forward Gerald Blount. He absolutely tried to dunk any and everything, and was successful in most cases. Even with their dynamic backcourt of Tyree and Pierre-Louis and Blount at the forward position, Sports U found itself down three with under 20 seconds left. After a timeout, Sports U in-bounded the ball from the baseline to the wing, made one pass and Blount dribbled into a pull-up three to tie the game. Immediately after they made the three-pointer, the Playaz came down, drew a foul and knocked down two free throws. On the next possession Sports U turned the ball over and the Playaz ended off the game by knocking down two more free throws to advance to the championship with a 54-50 win; however the Playaz fell to Albany City Rocks in the championship game 60-58.
I said the 2014 Rumble in the Bronx had everything, and that “everything” included a few spectacular performances, some of which were from unexpected players. Wolfgang Novogratz of The City did a masterful job leading his team to the Final Four. Novogratz showed the ability to dish the ball to open shooters, finish in the lane and knock down jumpers from way beyond the three-point line; and Novogratz is only going to be a junior next fall. While Novogratz handled the perimeter his teammate, Kevin Marfo, exploded onto the scene in the Final Four by dominating the paint. Marfo bullied his way from the block to the rim time and time again and finished with a soft jump hook of his left shoulder. Despite Novogratz and Marfo’s effort, The City came up short in the Final Four mainly because of the play of University of Northern Iowa recruit Spencer Haldeman. Haldeman may have been the star of the day with his 21 first half points, including six three-pointers. He finished with 23 as the Iowa Barnstormers advanced to the 17 and under championship game. Another outstanding performance came from Markis McDuffie as he took over in the closing minutes of Sports U’s Final Four matchup to help send them to the championship.
The Rumble would not have been complete without a thrilling finish. The 17 and under championship game between Sports U and the Iowa Barnstormers provided just that. Both teams were exhausted from playing their Final Four games right before the championship. However, fatigue did nothing to slow either team because they both came out with a high level of intensity. From the start of the game Chris Silva showed exactly why he has been sought after by nearly every college coach on the east coast. Silva displayed his freakish athleticism and high motor every time up and down the court. On the defensive end he contested every shot and on the offensive he got his hands on every offensive rebound. And when he caught the ball in the post he faced up and blew by defenders. Also giving Sports U a big lift was class of 2016 forward Matt Bullock. He has a game that is very reminiscent of Anthony Mason with his ability to handle the ball on the outside coupled with his broad frame that it is nearly impossible for a guard or forward to defend. Even with Silva and Bullock leading the way, Sports U found itself trailing for most of the game. That is when guard Matthew Zignorski stepped up and provided the spark that changed the game. Ziggy’s outside shooting brought Sports U back into the game and helped send the game into overtime.
Even after fighting all the way back to send the game into overtime, Sports U found itself down one-point with seconds left on the clock. Sports U drove the lane, fumbled the ball and managed to get up a shot that went clear over the rim. Fortunately for them the ball floated right into Donovan Wright’s hands and he tipped in the ball as time expired. With Wright’s tip in, Sports U took home the 2014 17 and under Rumble in the Bronx crown with a final score of 54-53. Chris Silva was named MVP. Sports U will next compete in Seton Hall’s team camp.