Wednesday, August 29, 2007

2nd Annual Elite 24 Hoops Classic

When I got off the subway at 155 and 8th Avenue, I really didn’t know what to expect, or where I was going. Luckily, Rucker Park is right outside of the subway station and when you have hundreds of people waiting to get in, it’s not hard to find your way.

After having to slip a few bucks to security just to enter this packed, bug infested court, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I was finally at the Rucker and to me there is nothing better than watching the top HS players battle it out. The only thing that made it sweeter was the fact that I was sitting in the Stephenson entourage, with Lance’s parents and friends. I wasn’t only at the Rucker, I was part of a crew.

Tip time called for 7:30, but I was probably the only person in Harlem that thought that was going to happen. At about 8:20 the game was underway and with every all-star game it was clear from the start, the guards were going to dominate. I was anxious to see the progress of big men like B.J. Mullens and Renardo Sydney, but this was certainly the wrong forum to gauge any improvement in their skills.

After a back and forth first quarter, the starters entered the second session determined to give the fans something to cheer about. Depending on what section of the Park you were located, determined “who was your guy”, and I couldn’t be happier about the performance of my boy, Lance Stephenson AKA “Born Ready”. He had his full arsenal on display, from his slick ball handling, to his athletic finishes around the basket. This 6-5 combo guard is something special.

Brandon Jennings returning to Harlem, after earning co-MVP honors of this event last year and being dubbed “Do Be Doo” for his flashy playmaking, was not to be outdone. Every time the ball was in his hands, something electric was happening. Between his insane handle and his thread the needle type passes, it is easy to see why he is a crowd favorite. Arizona is going to be a quick stop on his path straight to the league.

Two minutes into the second quarter, with the crowd fully entrenched in the game, the MC started to instigate the action and fire up the crowd. At this point, players started calling for clear outs, to set up isolations, and determine who was going to be “Harlem’s Finest” on this hot NYC night.

Pound for pound, handle for handle a case for top billing would have to be made for Tyreke Evans. This 6’4 point guard used his combination of strength and ball skills to embarrass the opposition. In this case, highly touted Jrue Holiday was receiving the punishment. Time after time, Tyreke was attacking the basket with vengeance, racking up buckets. His entire section was on their feet and the electricity was building as he began to dominate.

Looking around it became clear why the game is played at this famous Harlem Park. There is definitely something special about having the game at “The Rucker”. I felt a vibe, or energy you just don’t get anywhere else. It was like being in Cameron indoor, only the stands were divided in sections, as opposed to everyone rooting for the same team.

After a first half that saw very little defense and a Stephenson, Jennings, and Evans highlight show, the second half had a lot to live up too. Stars were out in full force including coaches Baron Davis and Rafer Alston. Pearl Washington, Marcus Williams, Jay Williams, Nate Robinson, Fat Joe, and many others were also on hand to take in the action.

The second half was off to a slow start as nobody wanted to play defense and players like Renardo Sydney had pretty much mailed it in. This was until Devin Ebanks, Kemba Walker, and Dexter Strickland entered the ball game. All having solid first halves, these three guys started to emerge again in the second. Ebanks, a lanky 6-8 forward has the uncanny ability of getting to the basket, regardless of who is guarding him. Using his wiry frame and great leaping ability Ebanks began to fill it up. Walker, a fellow NY native was also asserting himself. Using his crafty handle, Walker started to get hot in a hurry with some smooth finishes around the bucket. Strickland, a point guard from St.Partick’s in NJ, can flat out fly. At only 6 -3, Strickland had his defender on skates and glided to the rim at will, to the delight of the Harlem crowd.

The score was real tight at the end of three, somewhere in the upper 100’s. Nobody was concerned with the score, they just wanted to see more isolations. At this point, I was just worried about how I was getting home. The crowd was rowdy and I was certainly not walking around Harlem looking for a cab at 11 o’clock at night.

The fourth quarter opened with more of the same from the first half. Lance was scoring and Walker and Jennings were abusing their defenders. It got to the point were I just wanted to see the ball in Jennings hands, because I was excited to see what was going to happen next.

With around 5 minutes to go, and the score not on anyone’s minds, I had to make a power move. The battles were still going, but I had to hit the road. It was certainly worth the trip uptown and it won’t be my last time at the Rucker. This place is a junkie’s heaven…


Anonymous said...

nice write-up....when's the next big HS game in the city?

you actually made it on ESPN...

Anonymous said...

Great article... Heard Stephenson is the truth.