"Bring your game, not your name" is the mantra of the iS8/Nike Spring High School Classic. Strategy isn't mentioned in that mantra, but it can be considered the "game" of a coach. In a highly-anticipated championship game filled to the brim with both big names and big games, a big time strategy was difference maker.
"I knew that once we got the [one point] lead, the game had to be played my way", said Coach Raheem "Rah" Wiggins, whose Sean Bell All-Stars took out Coach Nate Blue's Real Scout, 71-60, for all of the iS8 marbles on Sunday afternoon. "If the clock runs down, then we win by one point."
Clinging to a 53-52 lead in a dogfight of a game at the start of the fourth quarter, Coach Wiggins took advantage of iS8's absence of a shot clock and successfully pulled Real Scout out of the zone defense that had been pestering the Sean Bell All-Stars all game long. The coaching move made the difference in a game overflowing with Division I talent on both benches. It also rendered a surging Real Scout team ineffective in the final eight minutes of play.
Early on, though, the game fluctuated between both teams going tit for tat and Real Scout running the show. Coach Blue's unit was successful in turning the Sean Bell All-Stars over with a potent zone defense that minimized inside scoring and disrupted the passing lanes. A high-octane and Duquesne-bound P.J. Torres (who scored a team high 15 points) emerged from the bench to help a streaking and St. John's-bound Jakarr Sampson (9 points) give Real Scout some early punch, but Sean Bell All-Stars' Sir'Dominic Pointer managed to score inside to keep things balanced. Real Scout's greatest momentum came via the early difference-maker - outside shooting. Harvard-bound Max Hooper (12 points) put on a clinic from behind the arc with four first half three pointers, with each one giving Real Scout the lead back or extending it into double digits. When Sampson went up like a scud missile and hammered down a mean dunk on a Sean Bell All-Stars defender (for an eventual traditional three point play), Real Scout was again up ten, 24-14. The fact that they also did a formidable job on the defensive glass as a team and St. John's-bound PG D'Angelo Harrison was becoming a pest in the passing lanes meant Real Scout were momentarily in command. However, their comfort zone was short lived.
The point guard play of Arizona-bound Josiah Turner, frequent trips to the charity stripe, and the equalizing perimeter shooting from Damion Lee (who scored a game high 19 points) lit the gas can and ignited a 9-1 run from the Sean Bell All-Stars. The 6'3 Turner's dime to Khem Birch (9 points) for a flush made it a two-point game, and the former went on to score four consecutive points to give the Sean Bell All-Stars a 34-31 lead.
"Playing in New York is great because you're up against a lot of good guards," said Turner, who received the game MVP with a 16 point, 5 assist performance. "My role was to come in, run the point and lay off the turnovers."
Turner's exploits made it a game again, but that Real Scout outside shooting reared its head one more time - Hooper sunk an off balance trey with time running out to give Coach Blue's squad a 36-34 lead at the half.
"[Real Scout] played really [well] early, they jumped on us," Coach Wiggins said. "[Hooper] hit that three, but I told the guys to just keep their composure and we'd be alright."
The Sean Bell All-Stars stayed afloat in the third quarter, but they still had two major issues - a red-hot Harrison and Real Scouts continually problematic zone defense. Harrison (who scored 9 of his 13 points from behind the arc and in the third quarter) was a boot on the wheel of the Sean Bell All-Stars' progress. His efforts earned him the Sportsmanship award and were the battery in Real Scout's charge. Despite the Sean Bell All-Stars' struggles with the zone, they found some answers via some zone busting. The second of Nkereuwem Okoro's (11 points) two treys in the period tied the game at 51, while a tough drive from Turner to end the period gave the Sean Bell All-Stars a 53-52 lead to start the fourth quarter. The see-saw action on the scoreboard could only be overcome by strategy.
"Once we got the lead, my goal was to take [Real Scout] out of that zone," Coach Wiggans divulged.
The method to achieve that goal caused the rowdy iS8 crowd to boo and hiss, but the coaching move changed the complexion of the game. Turner stood at half court holding the ball for over a minute before Real Scout was forced to switch into a man to man and apply pressure on the ball. Full action didn't resume until the 6:20 mark of the fourth quarter, when the Sean Bell All-Stars went on a 7-0 run that ultimately zapped Real Scout's engine. Whenever possible, the Sean Bell All-Stars would chomp off pieces of the game clock to protect their lead. However, the exclamation point came when Pointer came down the middle and gave future teammate Sampson a vicious taste of his own medicine.
"It's all love, no bad blood," said Pointer of the posterizing. "I got past my defender and [Sampson] stepped up a little late and got postered (laughs)."
Style points still only account for a deuce on the board, though, and the dunk was only two of the Sean Bell All-Stars' 18 in the fourth quarter. The majority of those 18 came from the stripe with time winding down. Conversely, Real Scout was forced to foul and could only muster 8 points in the final stanza.
"This win is for the Sean Bell All-Stars [from the past] too, because they're all part of this program," Coach Wiggins said. "We did it for them and for the memory of Sean Bell. We fight one year and win the next."