In an exciting finish, capping off a thrilling weekend of basketball, Ottawa’s Canada Topflight Academy have been crowned the first ever NPA National Champions.
CTA brought the trophy home to Ottawa today thanks to a 105-95 win over London Basketball Academy, after an exciting game that saw several lead changes and both teams have the opportunity to go home victorious.
From the outset Ottawa’s Graddy Kanku scored at will, at first attacking the rim effectively, and then knocking down shots from distance when defenders tried protecting the key.
“I take what they give me, I’ve been working with my coaches all year on my shot, it still needs some work,” said Kanku. “But I’m proud of all the work we’ve done all year, it’s been an incredible run.”
With London forward Josh Inkumsah sitting out the first half with a sore ankle, the 6’3” small forward Kanku had the green light to drive to the rim, leading his team with 17 first half points.
Despite the effective scoring effort from CTA, London was using ball movement and their small ball lineup to create great shots, and thanks to 20 first half points from David Penney, held a 1 point lead after the first quarter.
But the second quarter was where CTA started to shine, outscoring London 33-22 in the frame to head into half with a 55-44 lead.
In the second half London looked to make some changes, and subbed the 6’6” forward Inkumsah into the game, where he quickly proceeded to score seven quick points for LBA, going to work in the post and having his way with defenders.
Ottawa kept up their relentless attack on the other end though, with Kanku and Khaleem Sarazin leading the charge for Topflight, using their high tempo pace to answer back to whatever the big man threw at them. Graddy Kanku also collected the NPA Finals MVP honours for his stellar performance, presented by Mississauga Hoops.
CTA Head Coach Aaron Blakely praised Kanku’s efforts as a two-way player, and his development from the beginning of the season.
“The thing about Graddy, it’s really difficult for him because he always get the top defensive assignments, and then we also expect a huge offensive contribution. So for him to go both directions really speaks to his willingness to be a great teammate.
“He kind of emerged during the NPA Holiday Challenge, and people were introduced to him, and as time went on he developed even more confidence. We’ve always had confidence in what his capabilities were, but for him to be able to put in a performance like that at the National Championship speaks volumes about his work ethic.”
By the end of the third CTA extend their lead to 84-71, but the fourth quarter saw London’s David Penney and Jalen Warren work to cut that down to as many as five, on a brilliant effort by the two young guards. Both players did a bit of everything for LBA, with Warren finishing with a game-high 35 and Penney not far behind with 31.
However the young duo couldn’t contend with a more balanced effort from CTA, who consistently answered back to any run LBA attempted to make. Kanku finished with 29 and Sarazin added 24, while Aiden Warnholtz and Manel Ayol added 22 and 19, respectively.
Warnholtz had a terrific performance from the point, quietly leading his team all tournament in high-intensity situations. Despite being a 2019 prospect, Warnholtz was a pillar of composure for his Ottawa squad and was heavily relied on down the stretch, consistently putting a dampener on any LBA comeback attempts with quick buckets at the other end.
“We absolutely love coaching Aiden, because he has listened from day one, he is always one of the leaders in terms of work ethic, and he was one of the people who helped build and stabilize the culture at CTA,” said Blakely. “He’s been one of our true leaders this year, we can not say enough about how hard he’s plays every game, and his willingness to take on tough assignments.”
The win for CTA marked their 13th straight in the inaugural NPA season, after a rocky 0-5 start that had everyone looking for answers. Their difficulties proved to be a unifying experience for the first year program, with new players coming from all across Canada it took some time for everyone to mesh together.
“We stuck to the game plan, and I think the biggest thing we did as coaches was got out of the players way a little bit, gave them a little more freedom offensively,” said Blakely. “As we got more comfortable with each other, we were able to gradually evolve into the team that we saw today.”
In the bronze medal game Central Tech took home a 103-93 victory over Toronto Basketball Academy in a heated battle between cross-town rivals.
Led by NPA Coach of the Year Kevin Jeffers, Central Tech collected their first lead of the game in the third quarter after being down by as many as 10 in the first half. On the other side TBA’s Jace Colley was a force for his team, doing a bit of everything and letting CT know here was there to work.
The Nova Scotia product Colley finished the game with a game-high 30 points, but was also involved in and altercation with Central’s Deiondre Reid which had to be broken up. Tensions ran high after the scuffle on the court, and technical fouls were served up to players and coaches on both teams.
Instead of letting the incident agitate them, CT took the negative and turned it into a positive, coming out with great energy after the break and collecting their first lead midway through the third.
The Toronto squads traded leads in the third, but by the fourth quarter TBA looked sluggish while Central Tech’s deep rotation provided them the energy to stretch their lead out and finish with the win.
The one thing that remained a constant for Central Tech was their defensive effort, creating multiple turnovers with great hands, and turning them into easy buckets.
“It is one of the things we demand from our players,” said NPA Coach of the Year Kevin Jeffers. “We don’t let them have a second of fresh air to breathe, and we make sure the other teams feel that way. We play 11 guys, and we know that eventually that will wear the other team down.”
Raheim Sullivan led Central Tech with 23 points in the win, which was dedicated to hospitalized teammate Rayvonte Ball.
“It’s an emotional time for all of us, it’s one of those things you never want to experience. He’s a member of this team, and he’s not here to celebrate with us, but he’s in our hearts and that was for him,” said Jeffers.
The day concluded with the final awards for the NPA season. The First Team All-Star awards went to a star studded lineup which includes two NCAA Division 1 commits, and three uncommitted D1 level prospects.
St. Mike’s Danilo Djuricic (Harvard), TBA’s Cordell Veira (Florida International University), Notre Dame’s Jashon Henry, B.C Christian’s Keenan Dowell, and Central Tech’s Steven Rwahwire composed the First Team roster.
Second Team All-Star spots were awarded to LBA’s Jalen Warren and David Penney, CTA’s Lual Akot, Rothesay Netherwood’s Will Spaulding, and GTA Prep’s AJ Lawson
Rwahwire also picked up the NPA League MVP award, while Djuricic added the Academic Excellence award to his trophy case. TBA’s Eman-Yak Eman was awarded NPA Defensive Player of the year.