By Marcus Shockley
No one was surprised when CIA Bounce advanced to the championship game; all week long the talk had been about how loaded the Canadian team was, led by Andrew Wiggins (SF, 6’7″, 2014), considered by most to be the best high school player on the continent. Wiggins is a player who we’ve been watching long before he was labeled as such; however, as I’ve said in the past, he has a pro first step that is deadly. A fluid superstar who has great length and agility, Wiggins already has tools that some professional basketball players lack. He still needs to work on his consistency with his shot, and he will need to add strength, but his quickness is incredible and he loves to use the spin move, in either direction, to free up a shot. He’s explosive and dynamic on the court and tracking as a NBA lottery pick, if not #1 overall.
The powerhouse player for the Oakland Soldiers was the versatile Aaron Gordon (PF, 6’9″, 2013) who was playing injured but continued to show that he might still lay claim to the top player in the 2013 class. Gordon has a balanced approach to the game, and is the kind of player that teams like to run the offense through, with the ball getting in his hands at least once during a possession; even if he’s not scoring, he can often find another player who might.
Kendall Smith (PG, 6’2″, 2013) ran the show for the Soldiers once again; Smith is a true point guard with a good first step and he has the ability to get to the bucket and score in traffic. CIA Bounce once again employed the talents of combo guard Tyler Ennis (PG/SG, 6’3″, 2013) a player who can run the team effectively but also plays very well off of the ball.
Other notable players included Jaylen Canty (PF, 6’8″, 2013) a post player for Oakland who has a light touch and showed a really good drop step. Jabari Bird (SG/SF, 6’6″, 2013) was active at all times and had some nice passes and deep shots to help build the Oakland early lead.
For much of the game it was a contest of wills between Wiggins and Gordon, who each wanted the ball in their hands to try and score or facilitate. At times they were directly matched up against each other. Oakland quickly ran out to decent lead, 27-15 with 1:33 remaining in the first half. After a three by Bird put the Soldiers up 32-26 in the second half, it was obvious that Wiggins became very focused on getting his team back in the game. Suddenly he became even more active, scoring multiple times down the floor or finding teammates, include one deft pass to Ennis for a dunk. Ennis’s transition slam tied the game 34-34.
With the game in contention, several players were instrumental in the battle for the title Xavier Rathan-Mayes (SG, 6’4″, 2013) of CIA Bounce was a stable player on the wing, handling the ball against pressure and hitting several big shots down the stretch. Stanley Johnson (SF, 6’7″, 2014) continued to be the emerging star who supported Gordon effectively, and working hard on the defense, often matched up with Wiggins.
As with most of the games of the EYBL Final Four, the game came down to the wire. Both teams traded the lead and CIA Bounce led 50-49 with 8 seconds remaining on the clock. After back-to-back timeouts, Oakland took possession of the ball, ran a screen for Bird, who launched a long two-pointer with 1.3 on the clock, and a foul was called. The fans and media erupted in the building, depending on which allegience they might have, as the contact seemed minimal.
Bird headed to the line and calmly hit his first free throw, tying the game, 50-50, then after a time out, sank the second shot to put Oakland up 51-50. Forced to heave a last second shot, Rathan-Mayes raced almost to half court and launched a good looking, but unfortunately errant, shot. Oakland players celebrated on the court while CIA quickly left the floor in obvious dejection, but both teams showed that they belonged in the title game.