The playoffs at IS8. You can tell when there’s a showdown about to happen before you even walk in. The junior high school gym in Southside Queens is usually open season for street parking. No dice for 3 blocks. The Championships only showcase two teams, but are just as packed as the playoffs, as at least one star loaded team usually makes the Big Dance. Well this time both teams boast future NCAA stars and hoops fans are sacrificing church socials and football (and in my case, work) for the day. New Jersey Based, Tim Thomas aligned Playaz Club Seniors vs. Coach Kareem’s Shooting Stars knocked off the other 40 something teams in the tournament to be the only teams left standing.
On paper, it’s virtually a high school basketball all star game. A host of ranked players made an appearance. Rutgers bound sharpshooter Mike Rosario, Louisville bound top power forward Samardo Samuels, prolific scorer and future Indiana Hoosier Devin Ebanks, dynamic 5’6 ankle breaking PG (and he has the jumper to go with it) and soon to be Florida Gator Erving Walker as well as a host of D-1 bound high school stars. But at IS 8, stars are only on a pair of Converse until you earn the status. In fact, every tournament jersey states “Bring Your Game, Not Your Name” on the back and imposters are regularly exposed by commentator (with mic in hand) and commissioner Pete Edwards. LeBron James, Ben Gordon, Sebastian Telfair, JR Smith and a whole other laundry list of NBA and NCAA players have come through this 19 and under tournament over the years.
There wasn’t much exposing this go round, but a few stars made their mark. It was essentially a coming out party for Ebanks (Shooting Stars/ St. Thomas More Prep), Rosario (Playaz/ St. Anthony’s) and Tournament MVP Samuels (Shooting Stars/ St. Benedicts). The game itself was padded by a 10 point Shooting Stars lead for most of the way, but the score was closer than the game indicated. Largely in part to Samuels and Ebanks -both 6’8- beasting on the boards, swatting shots, cleaning up missed attempts, hitting 10 footers and being fed by Walker (Shooting Stars/ Christ The King) flying to the hole. The size and speed of the Shooting Stars ultimately broke the levee.
But Playaz Club didn’t get to the finals on a fluke, and didn’t go down without a scrap. A fourth quarter surge, led by a scoring barrage from Rosario, brought the Playaz into comeback territory. Rutgers may have found their next super scorer in the void left by Quincy Douby’s departure for the league. With Rosario hitting contested threes in Reggie Miller fashion, its safe to say the Scarlet Knights got a steal. Jiovanni Fontan added to the charge with a few tough drives and acrobatic finishes as well, and the Playaz were within four. But ultimately, Ebanks bullied and mid range jumpered the team out of the danger zone and Walker’s perfection from the freethrow line sealed a 92-83 Shooting Stars victory.
Samardo Samuels (28 points) and Devin Ebanks (32 points) shared MVP honors and Mike Rosario pulled in the Sportsmanship award (32 points). Check for all of these kids at their respective high schools in the upcoming season…and in the NCAA!