TORONTO—Team Reynolds dominated the Upperclassmen game at the 2013 NPH Platform, defeating Team Long by the score of 119-104. “We wanted to win,” Russell Baker (Oakwood) said. “We didn’t take it as an all-star game, we took it as a showcase.”
Kadeem Smithen (Thornlea), of Team Long, saw this as a learning opportunity. “When you play against that type of competition, you have to raise your level, or else it’s going to look ugly,” he said. “Keep working. This is only the beginning. More of this can happen if I just keep working and keep putting shots up, playing to the best of my ability and giving one hundred per cent.”
At the beginning of the game, players from both teams had the crowd remembering the icy rain that hit Toronto a few days before. Team Reynolds was ahead 35-31 after 10 minutes of play after an onslaught of three-pointers, and the faithful at the Mattamy Athletic Centre needed a breather almost as much as the players themselves. “It was kind of frustrating,” Smithen said, “because you have a hand up and they just hit everything.”
It’s in the second quarter that Team Reynolds started to pull away, exactly at the same time that Obi Okolie (Denis O’Connor) asserted himself. The six-foot-five wing scored 13 of his game-high 19 points in the quarter before halftime, an effort that was enough for him to be named the Most Valuable Player of the Upperclassmen game, an award presented by Foot Locker. “I just came in and tried to be aggressive. I tried to hit some shots, drive to the lane and run fast breaks,” Okolie said.
The third annual Platform was the second for Okolie, and he said that makes a big difference. “If this is your second time, you’re more comfortable and don’t battle nerves,” he said. “Just play your game, don’t try to play like someone you’re not. Just play within your elements and have fun.”
Team Long couldn’t sustain the energy and get the stops to lead to easy baskets necessary for a comeback from that deficit. In the third quarter, the three-point shots that seemed so easy at the beginning of the game just wouldn’t fall anymore. The Reynolds lead ballooned to 96-74 by the end of the third quarter.
In the fourth, Baker reminded Team Long that there would be no comeback, no final rally. He repeatedly beat his man with the dribble to finish at the rim and scored 8 in the final 10 minutes. For that, Baker received the Heart & Hustle award, from BioSteel. “(This award) means a lot to me. My coaches are really trying to work on my motor,” he said. “I was very impressed with how well everyone played, and how hard they played.”
Five players scored over 10 points for Team Long, behind Vassell’s team-high 16. Smithen and Gene Spagonolu (Villanova) chipped in 14 each, and Rashawn Browne (Bill Crothers) and DamiAnn Prehay (D’Youville) added 13 and 12 respectively.
But as the final score indicates, scoring points wasn’t the problem for Team Long. “I think I can improve my defense,” Smithen said. “I think that comes with effort on the court.”
Offensively, Okolie led the way for Team Reynolds with 19 points. But six teammates also scored in double figures—Baker, with 18, Devonte Campbell (Culver), with 16 and a game-high 9 rebounds, Connor Gimore (Cushing Academy), with 16, Anthony Pate (New Hampton), with 14, Corey Johnson (West Carleton), with 13, and Trae Bell-Haynes (Bill Crothers), with 12.
The message of the Platform wasn’t lost on the players.
“It means a lot to me,” Baker said. “I never thought I’d be here, really. Playing ball.”
NPH Platform Statistics
- Obi Okolie: 19 points, 2 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 block
- Russell Baker: 18 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist
- Devonte Campbell: 16 points, 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block
- Connor Gilmore: 16 points, 4 rebounds
- Anthony Pate: 14 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists
- Corey Johnson: 13 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal
- Trae Bell-Haynes: 12 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists
- David McCullouch: 6 points
- Calvin Epistola: 3 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals
- Shaq Harris: 2 points, 5 rebounds
- Chase Vassell: 16 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal
- Gene Spagonolu: 14 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal
- Kadeem Smithen: 14 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist
- Rashawn Browne: 13 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal
- DamiAnn Prehay: 12 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assists
- Jake Babic: 9 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists
- Cassidy Ryan: 8 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals
- Kareem South: 8 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist
- Marcos Clennon: 6 points, 4 rebounds
- Juwan Miller: 4 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG & NPH @Northpolehoops