ST. CATHARINES, ON – In the inaugural year of the Jr. NBA Championships, two teams representing the west coast made it to the gold medal game. In an international competition that only gives one spot for Canadian teams, there is no room for error. After courageous efforts, VK Basketball and AthElite fell short of the gold medal while valiantly representing the west coast.
The VK Basketball under-14 girls had their hearts broken in the gold medal game at the Jr. NBA World Championship Canada Regional Final, losing 56-53 to Welland on Sunday at the Meridian Centre in St. Catharines.
Down by three with 13 seconds remaining, VK had a chance to tie and send the game into overtime, but 13-year-old Marina Radocaj’s three-point shot at the buzzer fell short. Welland, the Ontario champion, took the gold medal in front of roughly 300 fans.
“I’m so proud of the effort our girls displayed, although we didn’t win, they showed the heart of a champion,” said VK Basketball coach Mike Carkner. “I told them afterwards to hold their heads high, we are the second best team in the country.”
“Welland needed one last defensive stand to win. If we had got that game to overtime I believe we would have won it with the way our girls were competing.”
VK Basketball, which won the B.C. provincial championship and then dispatched the Alberta champion, defeated Quebec, 41-35, Nova Scotia, 50-42, and Saskatchewan, 67-26, to reach the championship final. Welland went undefeated in the round robin.
The only two losses VK suffered in the tournament were at the hands of Welland. Playing its second game of the day, VK was crushed 44-18 to a fresher Welland squad in round-robin play, after scoring just three baskets in the first half. It was a much different story in the championship final.
VK Basketball coaches Mike Carkner and Teena Frost replaced their full-court pressure defence with a diamond and one, face-guarding Welland’s top player, Emma Koabel, and completely disrupting their offence. The new tactics worked and VK and Welland traded baskets for much of the scrappy contest.
VK Basketball didn’t back down against a heavily favoured Welland squad and answered every scoring run from the Warriors. Both teams battled on every possession knowing that one basket could be the difference.
Trailing 41-34 after three quarters, VK out-scored the home team 19-15 in the fourth quarter to get to within three. But that’s as close as they would come.
“We had some defensive matchups that our girls owned, especially Hannah Rao and Karin Khoung on their top player, and that really disrupted their offence and slowed them down,” said VK coach Teena Frost.
Koabel, a dynamic player in the tournament, was held to just four points.
VK Basketball was led by Radocaj with 15 points on 3-of-5 shooting. She was 8-of-9 from the free throw line and grabbed four rebounds. She was honoured with the Gatorade G Award for combining performance, hustle, heart and sportsmanship during the tournament.
VK forward Emily Sussex also reached double figures scoring with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting. She grabbed nine rebounds, including five on the offensive boards. Point guard Cerys Merton finished with eight points and six steals. Forward Lauren Clements added five points and 11 rebounds.
VK Basketball shot 16-of-34 from the field, connecting on 2-of-6 three-pointers using the longer FIBA 3-point line. The team had 12 steals but committed 29 turnovers.
Welland will now compete in the inaugural Jr. NBA World Championship from August 7-12 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Fla.
On the boys side, the Breakdown (Brampton, Ont.) defeated AthElite Basketball (Surrey,) 72-56. One day earlier, the same two sides squared off in round robin play with Brampton squeaking out a 62-60 victory. In that game, AthElite suffered injuries to two key players, so in order to be successful in the final the team would lean heavily on one of their best players, Rav Randhawa.
The first quarter began with AthElite expertly dissecting the Breakdown’s pressure but failing to capitalize at the rim. Similarly, Brampton was able to breakdown the defense but had difficulty finishing against the AthElite shot blockers. The first quarter ended with the Breakdown leading their counterparts from Surrey by single digits.
The second quarter was more of the same. While the AthElite offense settled down, the Breakdown’s defense began to wear them out with turnovers extending the Breakdown lead to 14 before AthElite battled back to finish the half down by 8.
Fatigue, injuries, and a boisterous Brampton fanbase finally got to AthElite in the 2nd half, when Brampton extended their lead to 20+ points. And even though G-Award winner Rav Randhawa found his shooting touch in the fourth, the lead was too much for the team to overcome.
“We didn’t make our first 7 shots which were all good shots,” said AthElite co-founder and head coach. According to Heran, that explains the uncharacteristic ‘tightness’ the team displayed in the first half. “We make a few of those early shots, we settle, and it’s a different ball game.” When looking at the results in their first meeting and the makeup of a full AthElite roster, it’s hard to argue against that point.
With that, coach Heran concedes “We played catch up the entire game...Everytime we built some momentum, they had an answer.” Although the team is disappointed with their finish the club is proud of their boys and humbled by the support they received from their community.