After two seasons when National Championships, Nike EYBL and/or Peach Jam 'chips were garnered by their 16 and 17 under 'A' teams, Team Takeover started the season full of expectations. Keith Stevens and his organization's success are widely expected now - both winning games and placing kids in scholarship positions (every one of his players who have finished with the 17u team garnered collegiate free rides).
Looking for more proof of Takeover's success? Last year's 17u squad finished 15-0 over the Elite Youth Basketball League's regular season. By all measures Team Takeover has done work over its four years in existence.
Well, the 2012 campaign has not started out like gangbusters for Takeover's 17u crew, as they flew to Minneapolis for the Elite Youth Basketball League's Session #1, going 1-3. People in the District-Maryland-Virginia area were shocked upon hearing the news. The same could be said for Takeover's 16u crew, who started this season by winning the Playaz Ball (NJ) in smashing fashion, only to go 1-2 last weekend in Big Shots Baltimore Certified action. Both teams salvaged their only wins on day 2 of their respective events.
Tuesday, the first day of practice for both teams upon returning could only be described as medieval; the coaching staff at Takeover led their young charges through drill after drill, stressing running and physical play. One session, dubbed by this writer 'Lorton Ball', was essentially four players, each man for themselves, scoring in the paint, no fouls called. The first player to three left the scrum, only to be replaced by a fresh body (and ordered to jog around the court until the drill was over). With both teams practicing together, physical play was at a premium. Takeover's staff didn't obfuscate their reasoning - toughness, conditioning and focus were the themes of this two hour practice.
Did the killer practice indicate a sense of almost desperation for the 16u and 17u squads? Is time at a premium for one of the nation's most successful travel team operations to right its ship, at this weekend's Boo Williams (VA) tourney?
"It's not make or break" shared a still energetic Stevens afterward, on whether Boo Williams was a must-win affair for the 17u team, which he coaches. "We're just waking up". Nevertheless, he did indicate "I have high expectations for this weekend". Takeover has been here before, going 1-3 before winning a 17u national championship two summers ago.
According to Stevens, the hard practice was not so much punitive, but more "We were trying to get them refocused". By its end, all of the participating players did seem dialed in. That should be good news to Stevens, who attributed the early losses to a lack of communication and "Assumptions by the players. It takes hard work and focus to win".
His guys seem to have processed the message.
Ishmail Wainright, a Class of 2013 forward, refused to sound the panic alarm. "We lost by what, three points, three points and maybe seven points" he recalled. "Whatever it was, it was a slim margin. I just have to help the team. We have to play together and keep up the intensity the entire game". The 17u crew was leading going into the second half in two of the losses, causing Wainright to bemoan his team's second stanza focus.
Wainright's teammate, Class of 2013 guard Josh Hart, was honest when assessing his personal function in the needed turnaround, stating "I need to be a glue guy. That's my role". By all accounts he played well in Minneapolis, yet obviously believes more can be done personally.
Doug Martin, coach of the 16u team has more pressure to do well at Boo Williams; to qualify for Nike's late summer Peach Jam championship, a team must ascend to a qualifying event's final four. For his crew, this is the only such tourney remaining on their schedule.
"We have to do well" said Martin, stating the obvious. He doesn't feel the 16u crew is far away given their early performances and the fact its Big Shots losses can be attributed to "Three possessions, free throws, and stops".
Though having to process the losses in Charm City is difficult, he feels "I'd rather have them there than at Boo". In essence, he's viewing the squad's last outing as a learning process.
Class of 2014 guard Darian Anderson exhibited toughness and shooting during Big Shots action on Sunday, responded "We can get it" when asked of the task at hand was manageable. In terms of his personal contributions, Anderson indicated "I just have to play hard and lead by example".
Boo Williams is a big event for Team Takeover. As the saying goes, cream rises to the top. Will it do so this weekend? Stay tuned.
Hart on Team Takeover - "I feel like I'm in the right organization".
Hart on becoming more vocal - "I'm growing a little bit as a vocal leader".