Friday, July 10, 2015

Team Melo Takes the DMV on Magical National Championship Ride Finishing 2nd In Nation


Greensboro, NC played host to possibly one of the best basketball stories of the year and it starred a cast of characters from the DMV who earned the respect of the nation in the progress.  The Team Melo 13U National Championship run began not in the state of North Carolina, but right here in the area – a group of 8 players were initially put together exactly six weeks prior to the start of the 2015 AAU Tournament.  

Coach William Paige & Coach Tony Koverman View Pregame Prep
Holding practices once per week on Friday nights the group installed piece by piece a system that they would ultimately have to rely on in the game’s most crucial moments and times; the 3-hour grind sessions consisted of installations, continuity drills, chalk talk, and mental preparation – there we no breaks, time outs, or otherwise.  Everyone involved in the endeavor understood the road ahead of them would be one of the most daunting and challenging they had faced in the basketball lives.

To ensure translation to the court in a very short period of time; the team played in events in 4 out of the 6 weeks leading up to nationals – pulling out of a 5th citing injury concerns days before their departure.  Team Melo’s 13U team impressed immediately out the gate claiming 3 tournament championships in just as many events.  Looking to be tested the squad play-up 8th grade for their last event falling late in a nip and tuck semi-final game.

With a solid resume the team was confident and poised prior to their departure ~ but before the journey could begin the team had to sustain a set of scenarios that would cripple even the strongest teams.  Two coaches and three players advised less than seven days before the start of the tournament that they would not be participating; thus taking the team roster to 5 players and jeopardizing the chances of the kids and players who had given their all to prepare for this event.  A quick quality pick-up was thwarted due to injury that could not be cleared by medical personnel in time – so with less than 72-hours and very few options two players who never practiced with the team and who had never met or worked with the coaching staff were added taking the final roster to 7-players, along with two new coaches as well.

Before stepping on the floor for the first time as an entire group the team came together and shared with each other what they were going to sacrifice as individuals and what they were going to bring to the table that no one had ever seen before, these commitments were written on “individual” pieces of paper and then burnt in a can so all the goals became singular – as one – just as the ashes in the can.  Those who looked closely throughout the tournament recognized that the “Can of Commitments” which was the responsibility of a different player each day and individually signed by each player and coach – sat in the 2nd seat as a reminder of the oneness the team desired to play with each time they hit the court.

When that first ball was tipped-off and the very first play off the tip resulted in a lay-up in less than 5-seconds, no one but the group knew that this was the start of something special.  The 76-27 victory that ensured featured a 26-point and a 25-point performance from Jeremy Roach and Ryan Conway, a double-double from Montez McNeil, 10 assist and no turnovers from Will Paige and Jake Koverman’s 8, 5, 5 coupled with the best defensive of showing of the first round by any team set the standard for Melo and the rest of the field.

Day two, the match-up was set between Team Melo and the reigning/defending National Champion Oakland Soldiers. In what proved to be one of the most anticipated games of this and any AAU Tournament; the sheer capacity of the crowd forced the game to be stopped at the end of the first quarter, as well as other games in the venue to move the game to another court so that everyone who desired to see the contest could be in attendance.  After a very calculated first quarter which saw Melo’s bigman McNeil pick-up two fouls the second quarter started with Oakland ahead 8-7.  After play resumed, Melo lost one of its starters early in the 2nd quarter due to a fractured ankle which would have him finished for the week and leave the team with 6 players at their disposal; the Soldiers preceded to knock down 6 3-pointers in the quarter and pushed their leaded to as much as 22-points heading to the break.

In what may have been deemed to be one of the best comebacks of the year, Melo clawed its way back into the game possession by possession playing with grit, determination, and the will to win that few in this age group could ever know or understanding.  Consistent defensive pressure and timely shooting from Paige, Roach, and Conway combined with McNeil’s battling in the interior as well as playing eraser for any mistakes put Melo within 3-points at 52-49 with 2:06 to play.  Roach lined up a trey ball to tie, but it rimmed out, fouls and free-throws by the Soldiers sealed it putting Melo in a must win situation on day 3.  Melo responded with businesslike approach in the final game of pool; winning 58-49 over the Boston Bobcats advancing the team to the championship bracket where the nations #4 team Bmac Bounce/St. Louis Wildcats were waiting.

The Melo v Wildcat game was an all-out war, with teams trading blows in some cases literally from the onset.  With some of the best shooters in the country surrounding all-world Rashad McDaniel the Cats kept coming as Melo worked a specialized game plan utilizing a triangle set which schematically consisted of no weak side ball reversals.  Basically running the same play each and every possession, Melo found itself down again by double digits 52-40 at the start of the 4th quarter.  Roach took over and owned this quarter as he dropped 40-points on the night and went on a 10-0 run by himself to cut the lead to 6-points 56-50, drawing the last foul on McDaniel at the same time.  When their star went to the bench you could feel the air come out the Wildcats – with a few chances to seal the game away from the strip after taking a 3-point and 1-point lead the Wildcats still had one last shot to win it missing a jumper and having a rebounded lay-up waved off as time expired moving the Baltimore based Melo squad to the Sweet 16 65-64.

The Team Melo train cruised in its next two victories with commanding performances beating Chicago Team Manimal the surprising #1 seed out of pool O 57-38 and Adidas Team Loaded 61-47, who later beat the Oakland Soldiers who feel to eventual champs George Hill by 25-points in the Elite 8 – Melo now was sitting one game away from the National Championship game; the only thing standing in their way was the #5 team in country who had been here before with the same group in years past.  Who had played together all year long – needless to say the NY Gauchos were immensely confident coming into the match-up.

In a game that featured 14 lead changes with no team ever leading by more than 6-points and Melo’s big McNeil battling massive foul trouble which held him to less than 8 minutes in the contest there were - as had become the norm still there at the end.   McNeil returned to grab some crucial rebounds, while Conway and Paige hit bigshots from all over the floor – but it was the heroics of Roach again that stole the show.  Grabbing a missed shot with 5-seconds on the clock Roach maneuvered 94-feet though traffic and finished with a euro-left-handed lay-up for the win 69-67 as time expired. 

In the Championship Melo never found its rhythm and the emotion of the week made it challenging to shift into the gear that had propelled them previously - when shots that had fallen now slipped off the rim and loose balls that they claimed previously just landed out of reach – the run ended, yet the players prior to taking the floor had already won something bigger than any single game could ever provide – they won the respect of their peers, the respect of the nation, and proved to the world that nothing is impossible if you believe and work hard enough to obtain it.

Team Melo is #2 in the country at the 13U level – but #1 forever in the heart of the DMV and DMV Preps – thank you to each of these young men for captivating the nation’s capital for a few days in July – you couldn’t have done it any better than you did.

PG Will Paige – Paige played 32 minutes of every game and never stepped off the floor until the final seconds in the in the championship game where he succumbed to foul trouble.  He was the consummate floor general who could be seen constantly directing traffic both on the offensive and defensive end of the floor.  His assist to turnover ratio was impeccable, he shot a high percentage from both the field and the 3-point line and proved unequivocally that he must be mentioned and considered as one of the top TRUE PG prospects in the country.  From a skill set perspective he lacks nothing, from a leadership standpoint he could arguable be the standard bearer, from a heart perspective the kid has the biggest one in the country bare none.

WG Ryan Conway – Already known as one of the best scorers and pure shooters in the class Conway is Mr. Big Shot and does so without a thought or conscience. The Baby Faced Assassin constantly hit buckets from distance that from an impact and value perspective could have been worth 5-points.  Yet it was his ability to get in the paint, finish, and defend that really became apparent and visible during the course of the week.  His work in the mid-range portion of the game kept defenders honest and allowed for him to achieve some robust point totals on very high percentage shooting.  Tough and rugged he battled on the boards and still produced with defenses geared to stop him.  With a reclass year ahead of him he proved he can flat out do it in 2020, so in 2021 he must be considered as one of the nation’s best before he even officially steps foot into a classroom this coming fall.

F Jake Koverman – Koverman’s week was cut short due to injury but he was productive during his healthy time in the game.  As the only 6th grader on the team Jake could be counted on to be in the right place at the right time and displayed a basketball IQ well beyond his years.  A statistic regarding Koverman that many are unaware of is that he has played in the last 3 Final Fours and two National Championships games as a starting player.  His ability to contribute in so many areas especially the intangibles makes the future bright for a guy who is growing in a lot of ways in the last couple months least of which is height as the youngster approaches 6-foot tall.  The work ethic and heart cant be questioned especially after taking the floor for 2-min on a broken ankle just to get his teammates to half-time without picking up anymore fouls.  

SG Jeremy Roach – From a superlative standing point, what can be said about Jeremy Roach that has not already been said?  Clearly and without argument from anyone Roach was the best player in the gym – averaging over 30-points per game, and pushing 30+ minutes per night, the kid never missed a beat, hit every big shot, and put on a show that will be talked about, remembered, and become legend as time passes on.  The expansion of his game while being showcased has to be giving credit, everyone in the gym knew who was getting the ball, who the play was being run for or through and ultimately no one was ever able to stop it.  Roach found and in some cases invented ways to score – all 94-feet of the court was his playground.  He has understood the difference between shooter and scorer and has begun to master it on the highest level.  His in the gym range, with a mature Steph-Curry-Wit-The-Shoot mid-range package will likely propel him to the top of most if not all boards and have him considered as the most COMPLETE SG in the country.  The kid is guaranteed varsity ready NOW and will command minutes the day he steps on campus; due to a multitude of things other than basketball but as a player there are not many that can do what he does the way he does it.  IQ- Check, Heart – Check, Vision – Check, Unselfishness –Check CHAMPION-Check

Center Montez McNeil – The man was physically accosted all week long and took a pounding while making sure to dish out some himself.  He was a double-double machine all week long making life miserable for anyone daring to venture into the lane to challenge him and his squad.  We are talking blocks into stands, blocks into the lobby, he flat out played angry.  The great footwork, finishing ability, agility, and touch has folks salivating for the young big who plays like the old Hoya bigs in the 80’s & 90’s – old school tough.  Throughout the game McNeil faced double and triple teams and his ability to pass out of it to hit cutters and shooters is an aspect that some bigs never master, using the finesses in some cases and the power in other displayed a viable versatility that is going to be hard to deal with and he isn’t even close to maximizing his ability – at 6’4 he has yet to have his first true growth spurt.  Already a top 5 player at his position as the only interior big on the #2 team in the country he is and must remain in the conversation for the top centers in the country. He earned that right on the floor.

WF Marquise Thompson – Anyone Remember Scottie Thurmon?  Marquise moves in a similar way, floating to the open spots where he has a silky smooth release and solid mechanics.  His big hands bode-well for the future and it was clear that as he became more comfortable with plays, sets, and intensity of the game that he can play on the highest level.  Knocked down some big trey balls in some crucial situations as well as free-throws he proved his worth and championship pedigree contributing in a big way to the team’s success. Even with scoring being his strength defense became contagious and he too made an impact on both ends.  New to the national scene he is primed and ready to never step back and will be a face and name you will see moving forward doing big things.


F Caleb Coombs – Built Ford Tough Coombs brought the toughness that the team couldn’t have lived without.  He fought for every rebound and grabbed more than his fair share; he guarded all five positions on the floor and made plays in the most opportune times.  He had knack for making plays at the most important times, if it was a tough shot, penetration, or stop he was that guy.  A player who played within himself and made high energy high efficiency plays that made all his activity valuable.  No one got more lose or 50/50 balls and his momentum swinging plays were easily attributable to the team’s success throughout the week.  With many statistical outbursts throughout the week it was Caleb consist contributions that were just as valuable as any basket or shot.

 See Many of the Players from the #2 Team in the Country - How do you Stack Up?

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