ROXBURY, Mass. -- Charlestown's Tyrik Jackson has taken a liking to calling East Boston's Kenny Ramos "little" when the two match up, as they did for a third time in last night's Boston City Championship final at Madison Park High School. And when the 6-foot-5 junior swatted the 6-foot-3 Ramos' layup to the wall, early in the fourth quarter, the Townies' pivot man in the post had a special message for the swatee: "Get your weight up."
Ramos, frustrated, pushed Jackson's face, and the two had to be separated, though no fouls were handed down.
"It's a tough battle with him," Jackson said following the Townies' 63-56 win that gave them their first City title since 2006. "It's been going on since the first time we played (a Charlestown win in December). We're the big guys in the middle, so we're battling every game."
At this point in the season, with these two long-time fierce rivals, stuff like that is expected. But that aside, there seems to be a special jump in the Townies' step in the month of February, a jolt not seen in their stagnant loss to Franklin at the beginning of January, but first put on in their upset of St. John's Prep at the beginning of this month.
Sure, the Townies make no apologies about their inclination for the transition game, often preferring to score in the 80's and taking hard charges to the basket with lengthy swingmen like Akosa Maduegbunam and Tyrese Hoxter. But perhaps overlooked is their aggression at the other end of the floor, where they play a swarming man-to-man defense with aggressive help.
How efficient was that help last night? In the second half, the Jets were held without a basket for nearly four minutes during a span over the third and fourth quarters; meanwhile, after solid first halves, stars Jeff Amazon, Kwandel Bush and Walter Lewis were held to eight, eight and five points respectively over the final 16 minutes.
"Nah, we 'D' up," Jackson barked when asked about his team's high-octane characterization. "We're tough, we're a tough team. We 'D' up, and we're tough, but we can score too...everybody's got to help each other, it's a team, a five-man team."
Said Maduegbunam, "We are a run and gun team, there's no secret about that. [But] defense is our forte, we're going to try and stop the ball, because you can't run without the ball. That's how we get our job done. You've got to take it offensive (personally) if your man scores on you."
There are teams that like to run, and then there are teams that run with a purpose. Based on their run in the City's these past 48 hours, the Townies fall into the latter. The tone is set in practice, where players are in each other's faces, sometimes even stirring up fights.
"When we're in practice, it's like a football practice," head coach Edson Cardoso said. "Because we go hard, we hit each other. Guys have had broken noses before, broken jaws, broken fingers, we just work hard. We're aggressive. And the guys like to get at each other in practice, and when they come out aggressive in a game like this it pays off."
Perhaps there are few better examples of work ethic in the city than that of Maduegbunam. The long, 6-foot-4 slasher -- whom Eastie head coach Malcolm Smith called "a purebread athlete...a major Division 1 athlete" -- shows up on the recruiting radar for his above-the-rim approach, physical drives and ability to step out for a three. But his true marksmanship is in the way he follows his man around the perimeter. On most nights, his long legs give him an advantage when shuffling around the key; and it's the countless hours of work that's gone into that first-step explosion that makes him so dangerous.
Shell drills, defensive slides, lane slides and after-hours workouts in the weight room aren't enough. Twice a week, Maduegbunam heads down to the pool at the Charlestown Community Center, where he's a member, and does the same routine again -- slides, squats and sprints, all with his legs submerged.
"I've got to get in my individual stuff, you know?" Maduegbunam smiled.
Cardoso called Maduegbunam's preseason workout regimen "incredible for a high school player".
"He's a great athlete, but he still works on his quickness," Cardoso said. "He's jump roping all the time, he's doing squats, he's just got the mentality that he wants to get better and better, and he wants to become more and more athletic -- which is scary. I think he's a great athlete, and he just wants to continue becoming a better athlete."
Brendan Hall is a high school editor at ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.