Words and photos by Jon Lopez

With the 2013-14 high school and NCAA basketball seasons in the books, Jordan Brand’s Terminal 23 hosted a tournament featuring New York City and New Jersey’s top high school talent up to the Class of 2015 over the weekend.

Terminal 23 has quickly become NYC’s most talked about basketball experience. The black and gold court built to commemorate Carmelo Anthony’s M10 sneaker is ensconced at Cafe´Rouge less than one block east of the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden.

More than just an elite basketball facility, Terminal 23 recently added “KD’s Barber Shop” where members can get a quick cut before stepping on the court, “CP3’s Messenger Service” where visitors can customize their own pair of kicks or loosen up by riding the bike, “Blake Griffin’s Theater” where members can comfortably snap super selfies, “LeBron’s Delicatessen” for refreshments, and “Melo’s Timepieces” displaying some fashion-forward styles.

After hosting team practices and elite training sessions for some of NYC’s top talent since its inception in January, it’s fitting that Terminal 23 created an opportunity for the players to compete for the metropolitan area crown. Ninety players from the five boroughs, Long Island and New Jersey competed for the chance to represent their respective hometowns. Each squad, represented by region, was allotted only six roster spots. In the end, the teams that qualified to compete in the Terminal 23 Tournament included Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, Manhattan, Long Island and New Jersey.

Long Island and New Jersey, both heavily favored to meet in the finals, feature the Class of 2015 Gatorade Player of the Year, Cheick Diallo, and the Garden State’s highly coveted recruit, Isaiah Briscoe, respectively. Both teams earned a bye into the semi-final round.

The first-round match ups were as follows: Bronx vs Queens and Brooklyn vs Manhattan.

The Bronx was forced to play without St. Raymond’s high school standout Sydney Wilson and competed with only five players. Desure Buie of Wings Academy stepped up for his borough and poured in a team high 18 points. But it was not enough to hold off a solid Queens team made up of five Christ the King players.

Led by the fearless play of Rawle Alkins, who led all scorers with 21 points, Queens was poised down the stretch and held on for a 62-59 victory. “Size don’t matter to me. You can be 7-foot, you can be an NBA player, it doesn’t matter; I’m still going to try to go at you,” Alkins said after the game. He added, “It feels great representing Queens. I’m just trying to win.” 

With the pride—and pressure—of representing their respective hometowns, these games carry extra weight. The semifinal round was hard fought to the end in both games, which were only separated by a combined five points.

Long Island, led by the lanky, explosive combo guard Damon Wilson (20 points) faced Queens in the first game. With a formidable frontcourt led by Cheik Diallo, who has a knack for rejecting even the highest arcing floaters in the paint, there were no easy buckets for Queens. Alkins struggled early against Long Island but consistently challenged their defense. Long Island looked to be in control midway through the game as they capped an impressive run with an out of bounds lob play where Diallo soared over a Queens defender for a powerful two-handed dunk.

But Queens barely flinched at the spectacular play. Down by three points with under a minute remaining in regulation, Queens looked to its top playmaker. Alkins exploded for a drive down the middle where he rose up for a nasty left-handed throw down. “Once he made that strong finish, I knew we had the game because all the momentum was on our side,” said Justin Wright-Foreman, who led Queens with 18 points, of his teammates game-changing move to the rim. Alkins also nailed the game-clinching three-pointer from on the subsequent offensive possession to propel his team into the finals.

Ceasar DeJesus led New Jersey over Brooklyn with 24 points and explained, “Brooklyn goes hard, so we had to play hard and match their intensity.” Crafty scorer Travis Atson (20 points) led Brooklyn to a strong comeback attempt down the stretch where Brooklyn capitalized on some sloppy New Jersey turnovers. Despite playing without top-20 recruit Isaiah Briscoe, New Jersey outlasted Brooklyn 62-59, setting the stage for a finals matchup between New Jersey and Queens.

New Jersey and Queens were rewarded for their semi-final wins with an opportunity to enjoy the Knicks-Bulls game from a private suite on Sunday night. Upon meeting at Terminal 23 to walk over to the World’s Most Famous Arena together, the players were officially informed that they would be competing for the title on the Knicks’ court immediately following their game.

There was no shortage of talent in this championship match up as Isaiah Briscoe of New Jersey and Queens’ Rawle Alkins headlined their respective teams. New Jersey’s defensive scheme was heavily focused on Rawle Alkins. “We’d rather give him shots away from the basket than near the basket,” explained Jersey head coach Juan Reinoso. “We’re going to make him work on defense, put him through a lot of pick and rolls to try and wear him out. He’s our number one priority.”

Meanwhile, Queens coach Killian Reilly hoped for the best with regard to stymieing Briscoe noting, “[Briscoe] is a great player, so he’s going to get what he’s going to get. At the end of the day, you’re not gonna stop him. You gotta pray that he has an off night; it’s not very often that he has an off night.”

About 10 minutes into the game, with Alkins sizing up a three from the corner, New Jersey defenders shouted, “Leave him out there, let him shoot!” As if he could not resist the dare to pull the trigger, Alkins casually swished a three. Then another and another on subsequent possessions. Accounting for virtually half of his team’s points, Alkins led all scorers with a memorable 29-point performance.

“To tell you the truth, I didn’t know I was gonna have a performance like this,” said Alkins. “I felt it. The rim was just getting bigger. I was feeling like Tim Hardaway Jr was feeling tonight. It was just one of those days.”

Alkins’ performance carried his team to a 59-51 victory. Briscoe dropped a team-high 18 points for New Jersey.

Former Knick Buck Williams was joined by Carmelo Anthony to watch the championship game after the Knicks’ victory over the Bulls. The two also signed autographs and posed for photos with the teams.

Terminal 23’s Take Flight NYC tournament featured some of the top talent across the five boroughs, Long Island and New Jersey and provided a platform for them to go head-to-head as they battled it out for bragging rights in the mecca of basketball. And in its inaugural tournament, Queens snatched the crown in dramatic fashion with wins over teams that featured some of the country’s top-ranked players.