U.S. central girls, boys teams shine at inaugural Junior NBA World Championships

U.S. Central squares off against Africa & Middle East in Boy’s World Championship. Photo by Rob Potes, EBC Florida Bureau

By Melissa Potes
EBC Florida Bureau

ORLANDO, FL (Eagle News Service) — The National Basketball Association (NBA) took a great leap of faith in the basketball skills of the youth of our generation by launching the first-ever Junior NBA World Championships…and they succeeded.

Gathered at ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando from August 7-12  the eight top boys and eight top girls international teams, as well as U.S. teams, clashed to become the world’s best youth basketball team. The top international 13 and 14-year old boys and girls teams represented Africa & Middle East, Asia Pacific, Canada, China, Europe, India, Mexico and South America while the U.S. teams represented eight regions across the country: Central, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Northeast, Northwest, South, Southeast and West.

The week began with all 32 teams playing in a round-robin format to determine seeding for the tournament. By day four, there were eight boys and eight girls teams remaining in play.

On the road to the World Championship, Europe defeated Asia Pacific, with a score of 45-42, earning the title of Girls International Champion and advancing to the World Championship. Raina Tomasicka was the high-scorer for Europe with 18 points and five rebounds while Julianna Haddad had a stellar defensive game with 11 rebounds. When asked how team Europe prepared for this level of play, Head Coach Uros Dragicevic talked about the challenges.

”It was tough because they [players] need to connect because this is a team from 7 different countries,” Dragicevic said. “It was very tough to be a part of the Jr. NBA.”

Despite the obstalces, Dragicevic advocated a fun atmosphere of playing basketball for his players.

“[The Players] enjoy doing the 40 minutes, they need to have fun and that’s it,” Dragicevic said.

In the Girls U.S. Championship Game, Central trailed the Mid-Atlantic team for the majority of the game but remained within striking distance with key defensive stops late in the fourth quarter. Central overcame the deficit and pulled off the win after Gabriella Henderson-Artis hit a 3-pointer with 40 seconds left in the game. Central would then go on to defeat Mid-Atlantic with a score of 45-41 and advance to the World Championship against Europe.

The Boys’ International Championship showcased a fast-paced game between Africa & Middle East and Canada. Canada had no answer for the aggressive and intense level of play of Africa & Middle East. Marouf Moumine had 28 points, 21 rebounds, and 12 assists, setting the record for the first triple-double of the Jr. NBA Championship tournament. Africa & Middle East easily handed Canada their loss to become the Boy’s International Champion.

In the Boy’s U.S. Championship game, the undefeated Central team continued their dominance as they defeated Southeast 69-53 to advance to the Jr. World Championship to face Africa & Middle East. Central was led by the collective efforts of Mark Mitchell, Jr. and Taj Manning who had a combined 40 points and 17 rebounds.

The stage was set on the final day as the top boys and top girls team of the U.S. would face the top contenders for the world in a winner-take-all match-up. In the Girl’s World Championship game, Europe stayed close during the first half but appeared more fatigued in the second half, which allowed Central to take over the game. Central defeated Europe, 68-38. Central’s notable players were Sania Copeland, S’mya Nichols, and Tasia Johnson who combined for 45 points and 15 rebounds. Johnson reflected about her team’s chemistry, after their convincing win.

“We know how each other play and when one of us is off, we still pick each other up,” Johnson stated. She also recognized the level of play from other players from other countries.

“I learned a lot, to know that there’s other people in other counties that are just as good as me and I still have to work hard,” said Johnson.

As for the Boy’s World Championship game, Africa & Middle East were showing signs of slowdown early in the game, but they displayed formidable competition against the undefeated Central team as the game progressed. However, foul woes hit Africa & Middle East, as three of their starters fouled out in the fourth quarter. Eventually, Central was able to secure the win over Africa & Middle East with a score of 60-50 and become World Champions. Once again, Central’s elite players led the way to victory with Taj Manning and Mark Mitchell, Jr. combining for 35 points and 28 rebounds. Head Coach, Allen Skeen, spoke after the game about his team’s strategy throughout the tournament.

“We play up in age all the time…we get that type of experience going against kids that are bigger, faster, stronger. And that African team were just incredible. They had so many athletes out there. Our goal was just to win each quarter,” said Skeen.

At the awards ceremony, both girls and boys Central teams received their World Championship trophies from NBA commissioner Adam Silver who was accompanied by Jr. NBA Ambassadors, Dwayne Wade and Sheryl Swoopes. When asked about the success of the Inaugural Jr. NBA Championships, Commissioner Silver said, “[The Jr. NBA is] an investment in the game. It’s an investment in future elite players, it’s an investment in teaching young people life skills and appreciation for what the NBA and WNBA stand for.”

(Eagle News Service)