LUKE HANLON: My Top Players From Championship Sunday
The 2016 Ultimate Hoops National Tournament is now over, and just like Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns winning the NBA Rookie of the Year award, Ball So Hard out of Scottsdale, Arizona went back-to-back. After struggling to get into the quarterfinals last year, they brought a revamped roster and went 6-0 on their way to the title.
I’ll focus more on them in a bit, as I want to go team by team and assess each of their performances in this tournament. I am only doing the teams that made it to Sunday because I spent most of my time on court 1 doing play-by-play for the live stream, and that’s where I was able to observe the top eight teams.
Team MVP: Beau Barney
The Hawks were comprised of a few national champions with The Decision back in 2014. That includes Ryann Little, Marco Clark, Ranell Green, Allen Rice and their MVP, Beau Barney.
Barney was their consistent force on offense averaging 20.3 points while shooting 50 percent from the field and 47 percent from deep. The Hawks were the three seed in pool B, a top-heavy pool that also featured Reincarnated and AZ Ballers. The Hawks advanced out of this pool because of their clutch 60-49 victory over the AZ Ballers. In that game, they bolstered some aggressive defense, and they severely bothered Fred “The Freak” Dudley.
Over three games, Dudley averaged 21.7 points and shot 47 percent from the field. In this game, he scored only 13 points on 4-15 shooting. That’s good for 27 percent, 20 percent lower than his average. The Hawks were eliminated by the eventual champions, Ball So Hard, but they played them closer than anyone else. At one point, they had a 13 point lead, but they weren’t able to hold off the champs.
The one way to beat Ball So Hard was to attack them from the perimeter and the Hawks did that. They shot 13-25 from the arc, an insane 52 percent, but it just wasn’t enough as their run ended with a 77-73 loss.
Rec City (MN)
Team MVP: Jake Gave
Rec City were the easy pick for most fun team from Saturday. Not only did they make the quarterfinals as a four seed, but all three of their games came down to the last possession. They started their Cinderella story with a triple overtime loss to SoCal Select. That may have been the game of the tournament, as Alex Johnson made two buzzer-beaters, one to send the game to double overtime and another to send the game to triple overtime.
They then beat the one seed in Pool D, Villains (who finished 0-3 in their hometown) 82-80 after Jake Gave, who dropped 40 points in this game, was fouled with 0.2 seconds left. That set up a win-and-get-in scenario, which resulted in a nerve-racking 69-66 win over YLie.
Their run was ended by the Vegas Ballers, which was expected, but no one will ever forget a "bunch of rec guys" beating former college players. They were the smallest team in the tournament, and they had three late scratches from their roster as Travis Johnson, Michael Franklin and Ryan Jansen (who has played more Ultimate Hoops games than anyone) were not able to attend.
Their experience in the tough rec league in Fridley, Minnesota prepared them for this run, and they gave us three of the best games in this entire tournament.
SoCal Select (CA)
Team MVP: Michael Cox
Justin Dentmon was a pleasure to watch with his quick feet, crafty ball handling and innovative shot creation, but he was not fully invested in his team or this tournament. With that being said, he still finished as the tournament’s leading scorer, averaging 31 points per game.
I was more impressed with the overall production of Michael Cox, who averaged 24.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks over their four games. He also shot 72 percent from the field, which is phenomenal, and added an impressive 40 percent from deep. It was clear that this team had some great individual talent like Dentmon, Cox, Mychel Thompson (brother of Klay and Trayce) and Tommy Fausett, but they never seemed to mesh as a unit.
They went 3-0 on Saturday to win Pool D, but they couldn’t get past the Bulls in the quarterfinals, losing 94-84. Thompson showed up to that game after halftime, looking sluggish. Having one of your best players show up late is a bad recipe if you’re trying to beat the Bulls. They were down by 20 points at one point in that game, and they brought that all the way down to three, but they lacked communication on the defensive end, halting their comeback.
Team MVP: Chris Childress
If you watched the Day 1 Recap Show, then you know that Reincarnated was my pick to win the whole tournament if Corey Maggette played on Sunday. He did not, and neither did Joh Childress, as they were both hampered with hamstring injuries.
On Saturday, Maggette and Josh Childress were phenomenal, both placing themselves in the top 3 for PPR on the day. Without those two though, they had no answer for Hong Kong Diesel. Reincarnated went 3-0 on Saturday, just like SoCal Select, but they lost in the quarterfinals…just like SoCal Select.
It is clear that there is some outstanding talent coming from Southern California, and it they can recruit even more former NBA players, I will not be surprised to see a SoCal team crowned National Tournament champs in 2017.
Vegas Ballers (NV)
Team MVP: Warren Rosegreen
I had the hardest time picking a team MVP for this squad over any other. They had so many great performances due to their immense depth. Jerome Williams, Louis Kelley, Hollis Hale and David Bell were all in consideration, but I give the nod to Rosegreen due to his great offensive production.
Rosegreen had a team-high 15.6 points per game on 65 percent shooting. He also had an electrifying dunk against the four seed LA Kixx that absolutely erupted the Green Valley Life Time gym, the court that the Ballers play on regularly.
The Ballers went 3-0 on Saturday, defeating the Bulls to win pool C. After defeating Minnesota’s most dominant team, they knocked out the tournament darlings, Rec City, also out of Minnesota. They then ran into Ball So Hard, a matchup worthy of the championship, but it came in the semifinals. The Ballers lost to Ball So Hard in the semifinals in last year’s tournament, so there was revenge on their mind in this matchup. They were up 34-16 at one point as Ball So Hard couldn’t get past the scoring malfunction. Ball So Hard came all the way back, and the Vegas Ballers were bounced from their home gym once again earlier than they planned.
I’m sure Junkyard Dog will have this team back stronger next year ready to contend for a championship.
Hong Kong Diesel (CO)
Team MVP: Reggie Jackson
Hong Kong Diesel got to Sunday in last year’s tournament as a four seed. Given their history, they were granted a two seed this year and they used that to their advantage, coming in second place in pool A. They finished 3-2, but the severity of the two losses really put a damper on the semifinal appearance this team made. In their final game on Saturday, they faced the one seed in pool A, Ball So Hard, and they got destroyed.
They were tied 19-19 early in the game after a hot start form three for Reggie Jackson, but it was all downhill from there as they lost 101-71. Then, in their semi-final game against the Bulls, they were embarrassed yet again. They got dismantled, losing 101-65, making me wish for a healthy Corey Maggette and Josh Childress even more.
The ridiculously large frontcourt of Shondell Lee and Reggie Jackson were intimidating, but they didn’t come up big when they were needed, and Hong Kong Diesel were routed in the semifinals. I was expecting big performances from Lee and Jackson, but I was surprised from the efficiency of Eli Ziegler. Ziegler was the second highest scorer on the team, behind Jackson, with 14.2 PPG while shooting 52 percent from the field and 48 percent form deep.
Team MVP: Brensley Haywood
I almost flipped a coin to decide who had a better tournament for the Bulls, Paris Kyles or Bensely Haywood. The best backcourt duo in this tournament were sensational on the Bulls’ run to the title game. Kyles is one of the best shot creators in this tournament, he got to the free throw line often, and he added great on-ball defense racking up 1.5 steals per game.
Haywood averaged 13.7 PPG, second on the team behind Kyles’ 17.2, but his ability to knock down the three bolstered his credentials in this MVP race. He shot 52 percent from the field and 47 percent from deep, with a lot of those threes coming from NBA range. Three point shooting was the forte of this team as they shot 46 percent as a team throughout the tournament, including a 57 percent performance against SoCal Select in the quarterfinals, and a 59 percent performance in the semifinals against Hong Kong Diesel.
The Bulls struggled to get any good shots against Ball So Hard in the championship, leading to the second straight year where they lost in the championship game. Of course, this team has two championships already, and Sunday marked their fourth championship appearance. They will come back with an even bigger chip on their shoulder looking to strengthen their roster once again to try and dethrone Ball So Hard.
Ball So Hard (AZ)
Team MVP: Dermaine Crockwell
Ball So Hard won the championship in 2015 with an impressive roster, including that year’s tournament MVP Zach Andrews. Andrews was back this year, but he had surgery on a torn meniscus, and he didn’t quite have the bounce everyone is used to seeing.
It didn’t matter, as they added Alex Scales, Dwight Pederson, Jay Burkes and Gerald Williams; as if this team needed any more depth. They coasted their way through pool play going 3-0, with their lowest point differential being plus 16 against the Fridley Bulls. They had to overcome some obstacles on Sunday though, coming back from a 13 point deficit against the Hawks, and an 18 point deficit against the Vegas Ballers. The game against the Ballers was especially tough because it seemed that everyone in the gym wanted Ball So Hard to lose since they were playing the home town favorites.
They probably would have lost both of those games if it wasn’t for the tenacity of Dermaine Crockwell. Against the Hawks, he scored 28 points on 50 percent shooting. He was also 6-7 from the free-throw line, with most of those coming down the stretch. He added 26 points against the Vegas Ballers, again on 50 percent shooting, with 16 of those coming at the free-throw line. He was aggressive all tournament and he was fully deserving of the tournament MVP.
Defense wins championships, as Ball So Hard’s owner/coach Terrell Suggs is familiar with; his defense helped lead the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl title in the 2012-13 NFL season. Ball So Hard rallied around that mantra against the Bulls in the championship game as Andrews and Dwight Pederson dominated in the low-post and helped hedge screens. They suffocated the Bulls and that was the main reason they got to hoist the National Tournament championship trophy once again this year.