A year ago, the Boston Amateur Basketball Club (BABC) rolled into the 10th grade AAU Nationals in Orlando, Fla., as arguably one of the nation's most talented squads, led by the country's No. 1 player Nerlens Noel, rolling over some of the country's elite team with ease.
This week, the BABC came to Orlando in defense of their title with a team just as long on fun, albeit in an entirely different manner. With a roster of just eight, none of whom currently ranked by ESPN, the club clawed their way through pool play to reach the Final Four, taking out some of the tournament's heaviest hitters in the process.
In the semifinals, the BABC found themselves down eight in the fourth quarter to the Albany City Rocks (N.Y.), only to squeak out a 67-63 overtime win. In the finals, televised on ESPN3, the club carried momentum from Jonathan Joseph's game-tying shot in regulation to outlast Team Charlotte (N.C.), 61-55, for their third consecutive AAU 10th grade national championship, and the program's 17th national title overall.
"It was unreal," head coach Eggie McRae said. "These guys played unbelievable in this stretch run. We only had eight guys so we were kinda undermanned, but eveyrone played their roles to a T."
For 6-foot-6 forward Bonzie Colson, a New Bedford native and by all accounts the star of this run, that included manning the post. The semifinal was his masterstroke, coming up with 23 points and 21 rebounds, positioning himself deep in the post and working over his defender with an array of shakes, fall-aways, and step-through's.
In the finals, Colson again came through in the overtime, helping give the BABC the cushion it needed in the end.
"He's like a master down there, really honing in his skills on the block," McRae said of Colson, who will enter his junior year at St. Andrew's (R.I.) School this fall. "He's just got a great feel for the block area."
That's not all. To get to the Final Four, the BABC had to go through arguably the longest team in the field, the Orlando Venom. Against a frontcourt featuring a 6-foot-10 center and two 6-foot-8 forwards, Colson went on the offensive, utilizing pump-fakes and jumpers to keep them honest.
Colson's strategy in the finals was more of the same.
"Just be patient," he said. "As soon as I get the ball, relax a little bit, see if anybody's trying to double, do a drop-step to the basket, and if I have to tourn around, I had two great guards in Tyler Nelson or Jon joseph that I know can hit the shot."
Indeed the attention on Colson opened up the floor for players like Nelson, who hit two crucial three's down the stretch of the championship.
"Bonzie was a mismatch for both teams," Nelson said of the final two games. "In both of those overtimes, he took over."
For Colson, who was also on the BABC's ninth grade national championship team last year, this figures to be a trigger point in his recruiting. Seton Hall extended a scholarship offer to Colson following yesterday's win; Boston University and Rhode Island have also offered to this point.
And for Nelson, an ESPN Boston MIAA All-State selection this past season at Central Catholic, this is the culmination of a year-long learning experience. One of the state's premier shooters, the Haverhill resident joined the BABC last fall and feels he has improved on the defensive end.
"He's starting to buy in," McRae said. "Sometimes when you play high school ball you can get away with playing no defense. But that's what we get a lot of our points off of here -- defense, moving the feet, getting in the passing lanes. He played a lot for us, and to do that you've got to play good defense."
Also factoring into the championship run were Nick Cambio (Central Catholic), Curtis Cobb (Wilbraham & Monson), Bobby Ahearn (Marianapolis), Tyree Robinson (Notre Dame Prep) and Jerelle Washington (Providence Central).