Thursday, July 31, 2008

VEGAS: Mustangs 17's

You can look at the Mustangs performance in Vegas and some might consider it a let down but if you take a closer look it isn't as bad as their 1-3 record states. The 17-u squad played up in one of the Adidas Super 64 super pools. Too many times over the AAU season teams shy away from the super pools just to get easy wins, but that has never been the case for the tough and scrappy Mustangs.

Only this time the lack of having a high major player caught up with the Stangs, Drew Valentine and Duke Mondy are as close as a high major recruit that the Mustangs can showcase, but even they weren't enough. The wing duo did their best to carry the load but in the end the talent factor was too much to overcome.

Coach Rod Watt's team started the week with a 82-72 loss to Team Philly and point guard Maalik Wayns, a Villanova commit.

The Mustangs then bounced back the following morning with a 81-73 win over Texas Select. Doug Anderson helped the Mustangs jump out to an early double digit lead with a pair of dunks that caught everyone's attention. Texas was able to rally back and even take the lead midway through the second half thanks to the play of Shawn Williams. The 6-7 wing has offers from Florida, Kentucky, Texas, UCLA, and Louisville among others. Valentine drew the defensive assignment and was able to shut down Williams down the stretch enabling the Stangs to get the win.

In their final pool play game the Mustangs faced one of the nation's top players in Lance Stephenson. The 6-6 guard is considered one of the nation's top 5 players with his physical style of play. Even though it would take a complete team effort to contain Stephenson, it was Mondy who drew the match-up every time down the floor. Mondy was able to play Stephenson tight knowing 6-9 Matt Balkema had his back in the paint. The Stangs held onto a 4 point lead late in the second half, but then their shooting went cold allowing Raising Champions to rally back for a 80-75 win.

Even with a 1-2 pool play record the Mustangs were awarded a spot in Adidas' Championship bracket (top division), since they participated in the super pool. In the first round they drew the North Carolina Fire, who were 3-0 and won their pool.

LaDonte "Buckets" Henton had been quiet for most of the Vegas trip as he was forced to sit with an ankle sprain. In the playoff game he sucked it up and paced the Mustangs with 24 points. Also leading the way was Mondy who couldn't miss from downtown.

The game stayed tight for two whole halves. Late in the game the Mustangs found their selves trailing by 3 points with time running out. N. Carolina had seen enough of Mondy and decided to double team him. That left point guard Jalen Jarrett open to nail a 3-pointer at the buzzer forcing the game into overtime. Unfortunately the Mustangs had trouble finding stops in overtime as they fell 85-82.

Even though the OT loss was a tough pill to swallow, the Mustangs had a solid Vegas trip as they showed they can play with the nation's elite. In the end players like Valentine, Mondy, Balkema, and Anderson might not get that high major offer BUT they certainly have no problem matching up with those guys, and that credit has to be given to the heart and character those young men boast.

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