Local squad wins AAU crown

The Hoop Strong 14U team became the first New York-based squad to win a national AAU title when it  defeated the Randalstown Running Rebels in Orlando, Fla., last week. Contributed photo

The Hoop Strong 14U team became the first New York-based squad to win a national AAU title when it defeated the Randalstown Running Rebels in Orlando, Fla., last week. Contributed photo

By MIKE SMITH
A group of local basketball players took home a prestigious honor last week when the Hoop Strong Warriors 14U AA team won the Division 2 National Championships at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orland, Fla.

The Warriors beat Maryland’s Randalstown Running Rebels 35-34 in the title game to win a field of 113 of the best Division 2 teams in the country. This is the first time ever that a New York team has finished first at the tournament.

According to Hoop Strong head coach and director Mike Matthews, the 14U team–which finished with a perfect 29-0 record in AAU play this season–showed promise from the time the team began workouts in the fall.

“I had this group with a lot of the same kids since they were in sixth grade,” Matthews said. “There was a lot of unity on this team and they became brothers right off the bat.”

Down the stretch, the team was led by Aundre Hyatt and Marcus Ellington, each of whom tallied 16 points in the final game. Harrison resident and Iona Prep student Jack Doty scored three points in the game.

For a team that is comprised of top-level players, Matthews said, it’s important for each player to find a role on the team as quickly as possible.

“I preach this to every team; we don’t have that one player that’s going to take us over the hump,” the head coach said. “We’ve got to play good team defense and do everything with a team-first concept and the team bought into that pretty early.”

Matthews feels the chance to play at the AAU level will eventually benefit his players when they return to their respective prep squads in the winter.

“When you get to the high school level, kids are going to be bigger, stronger, faster,” Matthews said. “I think playing at this level will give them a boost of confidence.”

The Hoop Strong program runs year-round, and Matthews said while his younger teams–starting with first and second graders–feature players that are committed to playing other sports throughout the year, the majority of his older players, including the athletes on the national championship squad, have begun to concentrate their efforts on basketball as their primary sport.

“It’s a high level of commitment, and we start young,” he said. “It’s good for [the younger players] because, as they get older, they know what to expect. By the time they get to eighth grade, to the level of the 14U team, running the offense becomes second nature to them.”

CONTACT: sports@hometwn.com

 
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About Mike Smith

Mike Smith has been with Hometown Media Group since 2007, serving as the company’s Sports Editor. Mike has been commended for his work by the New York Press Association, winning awards in 2008 for “Best Sports Feature” and again in 2009 as part of a team that put together “The Game,” a breakdown of the Harrison-Rye football rivalry, which won for “Best Special Section.” His weekly column, “Live Mike,” offers his unique insights into a broad range of topics in the sports world. He resides in Eastchester, N.Y. and spends most of his free time serving as the player-manager for a competitive men’s baseball team in New York City. Reach Mike at 914-653-1000 x22 or sports@hometwn.com; follow him on Twitter @LiveMike_Sports.