Tuesday, February 19, 2008

KC Keys 15th Annual Invitational Basketball Tournament

From Friday night through Monday night I watched a whole lotta basketball games at two tournaments. Because I'm a dedicated basketball reporter.

So I'm just now getting around to reporting on the 15th Annual Kansas City Keys Basketball Invitational, where I was watching the 5th grade division. The 5th grade division featured 13 teams in 4 pools, including the Kansas Players, who were entered in the Gold Pool with the Kansas City Kings and the Arkansas Tigers.

The Players, from Wichita, joined by versatile guard-forward Anthony Masinton-Bonner and forward Weston Hack from Lawrence, Kansas, entered the Keys Tournament as the reigning champions in their age division, having won the Keys tournament every year since they first entered five years ago in the K-1 division. The Players planned to keep their crown and continue their Keys dynasty this year.

And that would prove to be no easy task, given a talent-heavy 5th grade division that included the Arkansas Tigers, the Little Rock Triple Threat, the Kansas City Tarheels, and the St. Louis Majestics.

Pool play was held on Friday night and Saturday afternoon in several venues across the Kansas City area. The Players faced off with the KC Kings first, on Saturday afternoon. After a pretty tight first stanza (Players up by a mere 19-15 at the half), the Players pulled away in the second half and ended up winning 48-22.

The Players' next game was held at the Sprint Center's College Basketball Experience (CBE), which is a great facility for kids. The game court is surrounded by a variety of basketball skills centers -- kids can practice their dunking, their buzzer beaters, etc. The whole place is decked out with college basketball decor, including a video panorama in the hallway leading to the court. The boys were pretty impressed.

Before the game began, all of the players from both teams were introduced, along with the coaches. Another nice touch was that music was played during warm-ups, half-time and time-outs.

The Players match-up at the CBE was with the Arkansas Tigers, who had beaten them by two points a month earlier at the 1st Annual Arkansas Mustang Invitational. Both teams came ready to play, and it was a tough game from the beginning. The Players were led by Masinton-Bonner's slashing attacks to the basket and roving defense, and the inside game of center Cameron Ellis, who controlled the paint for most of the game.

The Tigers weren't intimidated by the Players' firepower, though. In fact, even though the Players built up a 15-point lead, the Tigers battled back, and ended up leading the Players by one with only a minute to go. But the Players weren't going to let the Tigers win this one. . . they pulled out the victory in the end -- and I mean the VERY end. The final minute had everyone in the gym holding their breath.

The Players needed heroic action as the clock wound down. And in a win-or-lose situation, Anthony Masinton-Bonner stepped up. A steal and an elusive left-handed drive for the layup by the right-handed Masinton-Bonner, who ended up with 21 points in the game and would later be named to the Keys all-tournament team (check out the story on www.kckeys.org), put the Players up by one point. After the Tigers failed to convert on their end of the court, another layup by Savante Lawson,on an assist from Masinton-Bonner, gave the Players a three-point lead. But the Tigers quickly pulled to within one point with a field goal of their own on the other end. On the next Players' possesion, Masinton-Bonner drove to the rim, but was fouled and missed his shot. Like a recurring nightmare for the Tigers, though, he scored yet again, converting on 1 of his 2 shots from the charity stripe, and putting the Players up by 2 points. The Tigers, having only seconds to respond, couldn't make a shot, and the Players won a nail-biter, 69-67.

So the Players headed into bracket play on Sunday as the first place team in their pool.

The Players played, and beat, the Minnesota Hustlers first, by a score of 53-33. That sent them to the semifinal game against the KC Tarheels. That game was more of a battle. The Tarheels, coached by long-time AAU standout coach Nodie Newton, boast a high-intensity full-court pressure defense, led by a speedy backcourt, featuring DeAngelo (D-Lo) Bruster and Cartier Dean. The Tarheel press was likely the most challenging the Players had faced so far in the tournament. Luckily, the Players' big-game experience paid off, and the boys stayed cool under pressure. After a close first half, the Players steadily increased their lead in the second half, and had the game tucked away down the home stretch, winning by a final score of 57-40. But I can definitely say that the final score didn't reflect the intensity of the game, because the Tarheels came to play ball and didn't let down for a single moment.

The Players then moved on to the championship game, where they faced the Arkansas Triple Threat. The Triple Threat had defeated the St. Louis Majestics in their semifinal game to earn their date with the Players.

The Triple Threat jumped out to an early 6-2 lead in the beginning of the game. But a couple of jumpers by sharp-shooting point guard Roman Young and guard Semaj Atkins tied the game. In addition, in-your-face-defense and attacks to the basket by Anthony Masinton-Bonner, and the inside play of Cameron Ellis, took the Triple Threat off-guard after their early spurt.

Ultimately, the championship game was nip and tuck all the way through, with the lead bouncing back and forth between the teams for most of the game. Towards the end of the game, though, the Triple Threat managed to build up a 7-point lead. At that point, the Players were looking a little rough around the edges. But I've got to hand it to them -- even though they were close to running on empty after a weekend of basketball, the Players somehow found the energy and inspiration to make the big plays -- on offense AND defense -- that allowed them to pull out a 2-point victory.

So the Kansas Players left Kansas City with another Keys Tournament championship. Congratulations to our boys for a great effort at the Keys Tournament: Anthony Masinton-Bonner, Weston Hack, Roman Young, Semaj Atkins, Cameron Ellis, Papi Conley and Savante Lofton. Congratulations also to Coaches Steve Young and Sebastian Bonner.

And congratulations to Anthony Masinton-Bonner and Roman Young for being elected to the KC Keys All-Tournament team!

Read more here

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