Thursday saw the Jr NBA Finals roadshow roll into the West Midlands, and sunshine and crisp blue skies complemented the leafy suburb of Walsall that is home to the University of Wolverhampton’s sports campus.
Five of the six schools providing finalists were from the peripheries of the region, or further.
Much Wenlock’s 1850 Olympian Games are regarded as the inspiration for the modern Olympics. The town is the home of the William Brookes School, and their Year 8 LA Clippers, and a short drive from Wales. The same distance in fact as Charlton School, whose Sacramento Kings would face fellow top-two seeds the Clippers in the Year 8 Western Final. Any hopes of a nail biter though were quashed early on. Kings’ Browne alone outscored the Clippers team in each quarter he played, respite only coming in the second stanza, the match finishing 37-22.
Charlton’s younger Lakers team were also finalists, and favourites to beat Minnesota Timberwolves of Moseley Park School in the Year 7 Western Final. A tense encounter at the fabulous looking Performance Hub arena saw Brown and Routledge-Talbot star for the respective teams, but the Lakers depth clinched the West title late on, 18-16, sending the school’s to a second regional final on the day.
In the East finals, St Bede’s New York Knicks had set up a local derby against Alcester Grammar Miami Heat’s Year 8’s, 20 minutes from Gloucestershire in the south. The top regular season points scorers, it again seemed that one of the rivals would make a mockery of the seedings, Knicks racing to an early 11-1 lead. That became 18-9 in the third quarter, suggesting that the Heat may not be not so far behind. Bridge and Harrison then starred as they incessantly breached the Knicks defence, including an unanswered run of nine points, turning the deficit into a 30-26 win and a final spot against the Kings.
The Year 7 Alcester Heat team had also qualified for the East final and a possible regional final place, against the Twycross House School Detroit Pistons, from just over the Leicestershire border. Pistons had actually placed higher in the regular season, but a playoff defeat for first placed St Bede’s had given them the impetus. And how they took advantage. The live music and commentary only served to encourage them further, matching the organisation of their Year 8 counterparts to post a 34-22 win.
The 3rd place playoffs, following the shooting contest, were closely fought. The bronze medals for the Year 7’s went to the Pistons, scoring 32 to win a three-point game. The Year 8 final was even closer, but the Clippers, like the Pistons, took advantage of their extended rest period to take the honours 29-27.
And so to the finals. Two games, same schools. Same winners too, but very different matches.
The Year 7 final was a match of grit and attrition. A lesson in defence. Literally no quarter given and none asked. Heat’s final tally of 13 points would have spelt defeat in any other match on the day. However, neither team scored more than four points in any period, nor less than two. So Alcester’s increasingly impressive team play and work ethic, as well as encouragement, meant that they reduced the Lakers to 12 points and clinched the rings.
And work ethic was also the key to the Heat’s Year 8 final victory, although that was initially in doubt. Browne’s individualism initially opened up a 14-5 lead, but the Heat put out the spark thereafter and never allowed it to reignite. Their teamplay grasped the lead just before half-time and never relinquished it, easing to a 42-31 victory, to leave the Kings with more family silver - whilst once again carrying away the jewellery for themselves.