CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA. - Thanks to the guard play from both their 17 and 16 and under teams, the New Jersey-based Playaz Basketball program took home both championships at the Southern Invitational on Sunday at the University of Virginia. Wayne Ellington and his crew had a tough road the finals but overcame every challenge that came their way to claim the title in convincing fashion.
On guard: Playaz shoot out Boo Williams
It was déjà vu this year in the championship game as the Playaz out of New Jersey matched up with Boo Williams out of Virginia for the 17 and under title at the Southern Invitational. The two teams were pinned together again for a rematch of last year's championship game but the ending was different this time around as the Playaz walked away with a 69-58 victory over Boo Williams.
With a lineup consisting of four guards and 6-foot-7 Wellington Smith playing the five, the Playaz looked out-matched than the bigger and deeper squad from Hampton Roads. That didn't matter to guys like Corey Stokes.
Stokes, a 6-foot-4 cut from granite guard, lead the way with 18 points. His outside shot was down right deadly all Sunday as he dropped long ball after long ball. On one possession, the sophomore muscled down the court and stopped his 210-pound body on a dime and drained home a three-pointer.
On another possession, Stokes powered through the lane and caught an unsuspecting Vernon Macklin in the paint and threw down a nasty one-handed flush. Stokes also had 20 points in an early morning match-up against Sam Rines AAU.
The offense was spread out for the Playaz as Wayne Ellington had another great effort, capping off a great week in Charlottesville. He scored a smooth 16 points by going to the hole time and time again but also making it happen off the dribble and setting up the wing for Stokes with his dribble penetration.
After struggling a bit in Arkansas at the Real Deal on the Hill, Gerald Henderson has been a man on a mission. He returned to Philly and tore up several events with his athleticism and that continued on in the Playaz's championship run. The 6-foot-4 wing finished with 14 points in the final as he did a little bit of everything. He wasn't hesitant to be the aggressor on offense and rebounded the ball incredibly well against a big Boo Williams front line.
Luis Guzman didn't keep the scorekeeper busy by scoring but the tally marks in the assist column were adding up. The rising senior goes about his business quietly and makes the Playaz engine go.
As good as the Playaz are on offense, credit them for the work on the defensive end of the floor, particularly on Scotty Reynolds and Stefan Welsh. The duo scored a combined eight points and shot somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 percent in the contest. Neither player was able to take good shots and found their attempts either falling short on the front iron or clanking off the back of the rim.
Vernon Macklin started the game strong and doing more than just his trademark transition dunk routine he's so prone to doing. The future Hargrave Military product showed off a nice face-up game and extended his shot seven to ten feet away from the basket. He rebounded well and finished with a game-high 19 points. His production decreased away in the second half.
He did provide Boo Williams their only real shot at claiming the victory with a thundering dunk on Henderson. Macklin converted the and one play, cutting the deficit to seven points with four and a half minutes to play but Boo Williams couldn't cut the lead any further after that.
Duke Crews was down right undefendable inside the paint in the first half. He was an offensive rebounding machine and unlike other guys in this class, Crews isn't satisfied with just a put back for score. He's going to sky and extend for a nasty dunk in traffic from a vertical jump. The guy is just a freak and plays far beyond his 6-foot-6 frame. Crews left the game with a calf cramp in the second half and finished with a modest, but loud, 10 points.
Chris Wright was really the only bright spot in the backcourt for Boo. The class of 2007 guard finished with 12 points and was the team's only consistent perimeter option.
Playaz preview in 16 and under championship
Sometimes the rich get richer. The Playaz are always one of the elite AAU programs in the country and after watching their 16 and under crew this weekend, it's safe to say the program will be just as tough next year as they claimed their division's championship with a 106-86 over the Georgia Stars.
As good as the 17 and under backcourt was this weekend for the Playaz, it's scary to think about the players coming up in the program. You have to start any conversation with Miles Beatty, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound well-built point guard out of St. Anthony High School. The class of 2007 prospect led the way with 32 points in the championship victory.
Blessed with great court vision, Beatty didn't just fill up the scoring column. He knows how to run the offense and hit guys off with incredible passes. There is just a lot to like about this high-major kid. Beatty said his recruitment is primarily letters right now and he's getting information from Villanova, Notre Dame, St. John's, Virginia, Rutgers and UCLA.
With brother J.R. watching from the sidelines all weekend long, Chris Smith did is best to step into the shoes left by the current New Orleans Hornet. Smith isn't the athlete his big brother is, (who really is though?), but the class of 2007 product is a confident player and knows when to turn it on at the right time. Smith finished with 24 points.
Corey Raji didn't have a 40 point, 20 rebound game like he had on Saturday but the 6-foot-6 forward from Westwood (N.J.) High School had 21 points and did a good job of defending the much bigger and stronger Jeremy Price of the Georgia Stars.
Sure the Stars lost but Gani Lawal didn't just lay down. The 6-foot-9 forward had an impressive 14 points. Many of those points came from dunks but his 12 foot jumper that he kissed off the glass was impressive. No one uses their length to their advantage like Lawal does. He is a bit of a body contortionist. Point in case: grabbing an offensive rebound, Lawal was trapped under the basket and was pinned on the baseline but he found a way to spin out and throw down a reverse one-handed dunk in traffic. Words probably can't do it justice really.
Lance Storrs shot the ball well en route to 19 points in the defeat. There aren't a lot of guys with the physical traits this 6-foot-5 forward has. His recruitment is just beginning to blow up.
Adrian Williams is on a good run for the Stars. He was instrumental in a big win against Derrick Rose and Ferrari Express at the Kingwood and he didn't let up in Virginia. Williams, a 6-foot-1 point guard, had 19 points and got the rim at will.
After Jeremy Price shined in the two morning games in the tournament bracket, the 6-foot-9, 260-pound big man struggled, or possibly ran out of gas, against the Playaz as he was held to four points. There is a world of promise in this big man from Columbia High School.
The road to the championship
In order to get the championship game, the Playaz had to go through a team that left a bad taste in their mouth at their own event, the Spring Fling, in April. DC Assault knocked off the senior laden team in New Jersey with a one-point overtime victory to claim the title. Both teams met again in the semi-finals at the Southern Invitational and it was another one-point thriller again. This time with the Playaz coming out on top.
Ellington finished with 17 points against the Assault. Guzman added 15 while Henderson and Carter both chipped in with 11 points. The Playaz had a stable lead until two minutes to play when they let the class of 2007 heavy Assault squad back into it. One of the reasons why was the play of Michael Beasley.
The forward shouldered the team all weekend with his brute force inside the paint, muscling around and through defenders for tough shots and aggressive scores on the blocks. He finished with a game high 22 points and at least a dozen boards.
Julian Vaughn used the Southern Invitational to answer any questions if he belongs in conversations as one of the nation's elite big men in the class of 2007. The South Lakes High School product had 14 points against the Playaz.
This barrel-chested big man knows how to use his size inside and bangs guys just enough to give himself space inside. He's shown a soft touch off the glass and a confident outside shot. With the defense shifting gears to Beasley around the clock, Vaughn is the beneficiary of one on one coverage. He took advantage all week long.
Helping out was Austin Freeman. The 6-foot-3 shooting guard put in 10 points and picked his moments to attack the bucket, which he does very well, as well as drain the long bombs. It was a great week for the DeMatha product.
The Tyreke Evans show ended against the Playaz. The class of 2008 superstar shot the ball very well against Ellington and finished with 21 points. He certainly proved he should be counted as one of the top guards in the country after facing O.J. Mayo, Ellington and the rest of the talented guards from the Playaz.
Remember this name: Lonnie Hayes. The 6-foot-1 guard from Cincinnati had 50 points on Saturday and finished came alive in the second half against the Playaz 16 and under squad in the semi-finals by scoring 20 of his 26 in the last 16 minutes of the game. He's an elite scorer and proved that he is one of the top guards in the Midwest this week.