200 of the Nation’s Best AAU Teams Come to New York State’s Capital Region for 2004 GymRat CHALLENGE

Written by James Allen, GymRat CHALLENGE Evaluation Team Coordinator and Troy (NY) Record
With input and information compiled by GymRat CHALLENGE Site Coordinators and Evaluation Team

ALBANY, N.Y. — While temperatures in the Capital Region finally started to reach seasonal averages over the Memorial Day Weekend, the heat generated on the court by the field of 200 AAU teams at the 2004 GymRat CHALLENGE proved to be enough to thaw the most potent December snowstorm.

Approximately 2,500 of the nation’s best AAU boys basketball players from Minnesota to Miami, Houston to Boston, Memphis to Montreal, and beyond competed at Siena College, the University at Albany and Colonie High School for titles at 17, 16 and 15-year old and under levels in what is now the largest event of its kind in the Eastern United States, and the third largest event of its kind on the entire North American continent.

The event featured several memorable individual performances, plenty of hidden gems and three quality championship team efforts at the various age levels.

In the 17-year old and under division, the Rhode Island Breakers survived several close contests and some injury problems to secure the 2004 GymRat CHALLENGE title for head coach Dave Vitale. Led by 17-U Most Valuable Player Joe Mazzula and sharp-shooter Jimmy Baron, the Breakers staved off a determined Stamford Express squad, 62-59, in the championship game Sunday evening.

In what proved to be crowning achievement of a Tour-de-Force weekend showing, the DC Blue Devils defeated the Connecticut Flame, 70-58, to secure the 16-year old and under division. Jeff Peterson poured in 19 points and 16-U MVP Patrick Prewitt added 14 points to lead a balanced DC attack.

The 15-year old and-under division wasn’t without its share of drama and intrigue. The Albany City Rocks turned in a series of nail-biting victories to advance all the way to championship game, and then overcame a 12-point deficit over the final three minutes of regulation against the fellow NIKE national powerhouse New York Gauchos to force a thrilling overtime session. Led by the intimidating inside presence of 15-U MVP Austin Wallace, the Gauchos finally emerged with a 42-38 title triumph.

Here is a more in-depth breakdown of each age group, along with the listings of Most Valuable GymRats (MVG), All-GymRat CHALLENGE, and Honorable Mention selections.

17:U Age Division

The Rhode Island Breakers lived up to their nickname at the 2004 GymRat CHALLENGE, ‘breaking’ the title aspirations of several formidable foes with a series of second-half comebacks to secure the 17-and-under division title. Rhode Island likely wouldn’t have escaped its Round of 16 contest against the NYC Rise Panthers without the stellar play of tourney MVG (Most Valuable GymRat) Joe Mazzula. The 6-foot-1 lefty point guard sliced through the Panthers for a game-high 18 points, including 10 over the final three minutes. Shawn Crawford provided the Panthers a 51-49 lead on a 3-pointer with 18 seconds left and when Anthony Clarke stole the ball with 12 seconds left, Rhode Island’s tournament appeared to be over. But Clarke missed on a lay-up and the Breakers outletted the ball to Jimmy Baron, who drained a 3-pointer with one second left to propel Rhode Island to a thrilling come-from-behind triumph. In the semifinals, the Breakers trailed the powerful New York City Jaguars by 14 midway through the second half before Mazzula and Baron worked their magic again. Baron scored 17 of his game-high 20 points after intermission — including completing several gorgeous set-ups from Mazzula. Baron drained five 3-pointers in the second half, while Mazzula contributed 11 of his 15 points after intermission as the Breakers rallied for a 66-63 victory. T.J. Stokes scored 18 points and Richard Thomas added 16 points for the Jaguars.

Mazzula suffered a leg injury in the semifinal victory and it limited his unstoppable drives to the basket against the Stamford Express. Still, Mazzula maintained his effectiveness by hitting timely jumpers and setting up teammates like Baron, Dave Wilson and Zerimar Ramirez to spoil Stamford’s bid for the tournament title. Job Casimir, Stamford’s dynamic 5-11 point guard, put together a spectacular three-point blitz that fell just short. Mazzula, who won’t celebrate his 16th birthday until June 30, put the Express away with two foul shots with three seconds left and later received a victory ride from his teammates after the announcement he had earned MVP honors.

“It was difficult playing hurt, but it was just a matter of keeping my mind focused on the task at hand. I didn’t want to let my teammates down,” said Mazzula, an honors student at Bishop Hendricken. “This was such a great team effort,” Rhode Island head coach Dave Vitale said. “Joe is very deserving of MVP honors and Jimmy Baron hit a lot of big shots. We were behind in some games and fought back with defense and smart team play.”

17:U GymRat CHALLENGE-MVG-Most Valuable GymRat

Joe Mazzula (6-foot-1 Point Guard, Rhode Island Breakers): The talented lefty slasher simply couldn’t be stopped on his numerous junkets to the basket. Mazzula spearheaded a serious of comebacks in the championship round to guide the Breakers to the tournament title. The 15-year old point guard, who is also the New England region 400-meter sprint champion in track and field, displayed exceptional decision-making skills, a silky-smooth jump shot and an uncanny knack at making crucial defensive plays by attacking the passing lanes or simply shutting down anyone he guarded. Mazzula, who turns 16 on June 30, played on guts alone in the championship game after suffering a leg injury at the end of a semifinal victory over the NYC Jaguars. Mazzula will be a junior in September, meaning he still has two years left to expand on an already-advanced game.

17:U All-GymRat CHALLENGE Team

T.J. Stokes (6-7 PF, NYC Jaguars): A man-beast in the paint, Stokes sports a chiseled physique and he knows how to use it. One of few post players to effectively use the glass, Stokes also showed off a quality 15-foot jumper, superior passing skills in transition and a fierce shot-blocking presence.

Cole Aldrich (6-10 C, Minnesota Magic): With a body by Paul Bunyon, this FRESHMAN prodigy impressed with exceptional footwork, superior hands, and poise beyond his years. Runs the floor, catches, and scores in traffic. Ripped off a ferocious baseline dunk with defenders bouncing off of him in final game of pool play — garnering attention and awe of fans, coaches and officials on two adjacent courts. With the unique combination of size, strength, skill, and upside mobility, the future is extremely bright for this Minnesota man-child. Don’t be surprised if the conversations about Aldrich in three years revolve not around what college program he will choose, but rather which NBA Draft position he will occupy.

Tyrone Hanson (6-7 SF/SG, NYC Jaguars): A wing player who does it all. Drains jumper with regularity and goes to the rim with a purpose. Seems to be just scratching the surface of considerable all-around skills.

Isaac Sullivan (6-9 C/PF, Stamford Express): Long, lean high-flyer who soared all weekend. Sullivan’s volleyball-like-spike blocked shot in the semifinals against the New Hampshire Playerz invoked memories of Patrick Ewing’s swatfest in the 1982 NCAA title game vs. North Carolina — yes, it was that nasty. Nice array of power moves in the post to go with soft touch on 10-to-12 foot jumper.

Job Casimir (5-11 PG, Stamford Express): Explosive first-step, coupled with a knee-buckling crossover, helped Casimir frustrate anyone unfortunate to guard him. Really made the Express go in transition, while also showcasing three-point shooting touch. Superior body control going to the basket and surprising leaping ability.

Eric Young (6-4 SG, Houston LYNX): Soared over everyone in his path. Best pure leaper in the tournament, Young also displayed excellent ball-handling skills, extreme three-point range and the ability to shut down anyone he covered — large or small.

Tyler Roche (6-6 PF, New Hampshire Playerz): Roche, a polished forward, is the main reason for the Playerz’ surprising run to the semifinals. Smart player who uses body well, moves extremely well for his size and owns a soft mid-range jumper. Sneaky-smart around the basket, Roche displayed exceptional hands. Scored game-high 28 points vs. D.C. Warriors.

Jeffrey Allen (6-6 PF/SF, D.C. Warriors): This DeMatha High standout earned tourney nickname “Dunk You Very Much” as he PUNISHED opponents with an array of power moves in the paint, plus a consistent 12-to-14-foot jumper. Solid rebounder and shot-blocker.

Johnny Garcia (6-8 PF, Long Island Lightning): A member of 2003 GymRat CHALLENGE 15-and-under all-star squad, Garcia proved once again he is destined for the big time as he was virtually unstoppable in the post. Gifted rebounding machine out-played older foes on offense and defense.

Richard Thomas (6-5 SF, NYC Jaguars): Soars to the rim with the greatest of ease, Thomas is a supreme finisher around the basket. Has prolific scoring potential.

Matt Smith (6-7 SF/PF, Middlesex Magic): Middlesex may have been the last entrant into the tournament, yet it did feature the well-rounded game of Smith. Drained 3-pointers and eight-foot inside jumpers with equal regularity to help his team advance to the quarterfinals. There is a lot to like here.

Jimmy Baron (6-3 G, Rhode Island Breakers): The Worcester Academy bound CLUTCH sharpshooter hit BIG shots when they counted for the 17:U champs, including a game winning three in the round of 16. Arguably, the best range in the event, but make no mistake, there are several dimensions to Baron’s game, including an adept ability to put the ROCK in the right place. High basketball IQ meets big basketball ability.

Honorable Mention Selections
Dave Wilson (6-5 F, Rhode Island Breakers)
Michael Gore (6-6 G/F, Rhode Island Breakers)
Zerimar Ramirez (6-6 C/F, Rhode Island Breakers)
A.J. Stephens (6-5 F, Stamford Express)
Otis Lewis (6-5 F, Stamford Express)
Bryant Lassiter (5-8 PG, NYC Jaguars)
Akeem Vanderhouse (6-5 F, NYC Jaguars)
Corey Hassan (6-3 G/F, N.H. Playerz)
Troy Bowen (6-4 F, N.H. Playerz)
Ryan Callahan (6-3 F, N.H. Playerz)
Zack Mitzin (6-9 C, Middlesex Magic)
Norman DeSilva (5-9 PG, Middlesex Magic)
Amir Johnson (5-9 PG, Keystone Gators)
Nate Davis (6-3 G/F, Keystone Gators)
Ryann Bradford (6-6 F, Keystone Gators)
Antonio Dimaria (6-6 G/F, Keystone Gators)
Adrian Rogers (6-7 C/F, Houston LYNX)
Justin Olubuyi (5-11 G, Houston LYNX)
Brandon Bush (6-4 G, Houston LYNX)
Michael Fuller (6-6 F, Houston LYNX)
Aleks Perka (6-8 C/F, Houston LYNX)
Nigel Munson (5-10 PG, D.C. Warriors)
Desmond Adedeji (6-8 C/PF, D.C. Warriors)
Jamal Robinson (5-11 G, D.C. Warriors)
Eric Moore (5-11 PG, Morris County Bulls)
Fran Tchuisi (6-9 F, Morris County Bulls)
R.J. Wilkins (6-0 PG, Minnesota Magic)
Mike Moberg (6-7 PF, Minnesota Magic)
Kevin Gullickson (6-7 F, Minnesota Magic)
Jamal Abu-Shamala (6-4 G/F, Minnesota Magic)
Travis Busch (6-4 G, Minnesota Magic)
Christopher Cooks (6-0 PG, Fairfax Stars)
Brandon Betz (6-3 F, Fairfax Stars)
Mark Mugerwa (6-6 C, Fairfax Stars)
Ben Oliver (6-6 C/F, Fairfax Stars)
Chris Darnell (6-8 F, Virginia Legends Select)
Randy Wilson (6-4 G, Westchester Hawks-KARGER)
Carlos Pellot (6-3 G/F, Westchester Hawks-KARGER)
Dan McGeary (6-0 PG, Boston Blazers)
Ryan McLean (6-6 PF, Boston Blazers)
Dan Lewis (6-7 F, Lancaster Elite)
Niko Traykov (6-6 G/F, Lancaster Elite)
Anthony Marra (5-11 G, JKMBA Jaguars)
Leo Nolan (6-8 G, N.J. Cyclones)
Jason Wilson (6-2 G, N.J. Cyclones)
Devon Moffit (N.J. Cyclones)
Tim Ambrose (5-11 PG, L.I. Lightning-BARON)
Drew Desmasais (6-6 F, L.I. Lightning-BARON)
Anthony Clark (5-10 G, NYC Rise Panthers)
Joseph Vines (6-5 F, NYC Rise Panthers)
Shahee Martin (6-5 F, NYC Heat-CADOGAN)
Jamel Ferguson (6-2 G, NYC Heat-CADOGAN)
Vernon Teal (6-2 G, NYC Heat-CADOGAN)
Anthony Nelson (6-0 G, NJ MSU Skyliners)
Kevin Wolmack (6-3 G, NJ MSU Skyliners)
Corey Williams (5-10 G, NJ MSU Skyliners)
Justin Jarvis (6-4 F, CT Knights-SEAMAN)
Julian Allan (6-4 F, CT Knights-SEAMAN)
Eric Newkirk (6-1 G, SHAQ Attaq)
Terrell Hollins (6-5 F, SHAQ Attaq)
Bryant Dunston (6-7 F, Student Athlete Broncos)
Lawrence Williams (Student Athlete Broncos)
James Lewis Brown (6-9 C, Springfield Trailblazers)
Brad Sheehan (6-9 C, Albany Capitals-Black)
Rashad Bishop (6-3 F, PLAYAZ Black)
Alban Shala (6-3 G, Connecticut Flame)
Steve McCoy (Harlem Lions)
Shaun Smiley (Niagara PAL Wizards)
Rob Garrison (Niagara PAL Wizards)
Hashim Bailey (PLAYAZ Black)
Deion Stumbin (PLAYAZ Black)
Ramar Pannell (PLAYAZ Black)

16:U Age Division

The D.C. Blue Devils came to the 2004 GymRat CHALLENGE with a stacked roster and a reputation for above-the-rim exploits. The team did nothing to disappoint in claiming the 16-and-under tournament title. Led by tourney MVP Patrick Prewitt, Hillary Hailey, Jeff Peterson and Ricky Pride, the Blue Devils breezed through pool play before clawing their way through a number of quality squads to secure a berth in the final. Ahead of the Game provided D.C. a stern test in the Round of 16, but 6-foot-6 forward Jourdan Morris poured in 14 points as the Blue Devils avoided the upset with a 63-60 victory. Trailing by double digits in their quarterfinal game vs. D-Squad, the Blue Devils rallied behind the play of Peterson, Prewitt and Pride to notch a 64-60 triumph.

The Albany City Rocks posed another stiff CHALLENGE for D.C. in the semifinals. Albany battled the Blue Devils on equal terms before Prewitt scored nine of his 12 points after intermission to help D.C. pull away for a 73-64 victory.

The Connecticut Flame, led by 6-6 forward Greg Avila, stayed with the Blue Devils though most of the championship contest before Prewitt (14 points) and Peterson (19 points) took over down the stretch as D.C registered a 70-58 title victory.

16:U GymRat CHALLENGE-MVG: Most Valuable GymRat

Patrick Prewitt (6-0 G, DC Blue Devils): This super sophomore is already getting plenty of Division I attention and his performance at the 2004 GymRat CHALLENGE will only add volume to his mail box. A wiry high-flyer, Prewitt did a little bit of everything for the Blue Devils. When his team needed him to score, he scored. When D.C. needed a defensive stop, there was Prewitt front and center. Prewitt attacked the basket with a vengeance, while also displaying above-average passing skills, dribbling ability and a team-first mentality.

16:U All-GymRat CHALLENGE Team

Hillary Hailey (6-9 F, DC Blue Devils): Superior athlete who runs floor extremely well. A solid inside/outside scoring threat with incredible length, Hailey blocks shots, hits open teammates and scores consistently.

Brian Ledbetter (6-2 SG, Albany City Rocks): Slasher extraordinare is a high-riser who actually finishes. Isn’t limited to above-the-rim game, as Ledbetter owns a solid mid-range jumper, quality passing skills and a willingness and zest to defend high-scoring opponents.

Robby Marshall (6-3 F, D-Squad): Rugged inside presence at both ends of the floor. Marshall is a superior rebounder, shot-blocker and shot-changer. Solid low-post game and runs floor extremely well.

Greg Avila (6-6 F, Connecticut Flame): Relentless competitor who is super strong, rugged and athletically gifted. Scores in a variety of ways and makes players around him better.

Andy Robinson (6-1 PG, Schenectady Patriots): Lock-down defender who drains plenty of 3’s and glides to the basket with prolific results. Exceptional leader with excellent temperment and superior court presence.

Cal Morrison (PG, Ahead of the Game): This Benjamin Banneker High standout dazzled with ability to find the cracks in the defense before delivering jaw-dropping passes for easy baskets. When not setting up teammates, Morrison scores with a wild array of moves to the basket.

Honorable Mention Selections
Ricky Pride (6-1 G, DC Blue Devils)
Jeff Peterson (5-10 G, DC Blue Devils)
Kashef Montgomery (Rhode Island Breakers)
Charles Jenkins (6-0 G, NYC Finest)
Scott Young (6-5 F, SFL 16 West)
Jayson Castillo (6-2 G, Kips Bay ELITE)
Andy Pelletier (6-5 F, Albany City Rocks)
Taquan Smith (6-1 G, Albany City Rocks)
Chris Paquin (6-1 G, Worcester West)
Paul Chergy (6-4 F, New Hampshire Storm)
Brandon Mays (6-0 G, Long Island Lightning-LOPIANO)
Chris Lopiano (5-11 PG, Long Island Lightning-LOPIANO)
Brandon Dickerson (6-0 G, TGAND Express)
Adrian Price (6-6 C, Franklin Ballers)
Bruce Campbell (6-8 C, CT Young Gunz)
Kevin Decker (6-2 G, Connecticut Flame)
Scott Ronald (6-6 C, Renegades — Southampton, PA)
Michael Monroe (Newburgh Zion Lions)
Alberto Rue (6-1 G, YABC — Boston)
George Wilkerson (6-2 G, New York Ravens-GRAY)
Daequon Montreal (6-5 F, D-Squad)

15:U Age Division

The New York Gauchos displayed supreme confidence from the moment they arrived at the 2004 GymRat CHALLENGE. Even with a roster bursting with talent, the Gauchos had to overcome a Pool Play set back at the hands of the Central Jersey Hawks in order to reach the Championship Round as a Wildcard selection.

Just when the Gauchos appeared poised to claim the 15-and-under title, their NIKE powerhouse brethren, Albany City Rocks, enginereed a superlative late-game charge from a 12-point deficit to force overtime in the championship game at Siena College. A 3-pointer by Mike Culpo (game-high 16 points) provided the gutsy City Rocks a 38-35 lead early in the extra session, but the Gauchos calmly regrouped and scored the final seven points to post a 42-38 title victory. Austin Wallace, a 6-foot-8 center, earned MVP honors for the Gauchos. He altered several shots and waged a most-entertaining inside battle against Albany center Greg Holle.

15:U GymRat CHALLENGE-MVG: Most Valuable GymRat

Austin Wallace (6-8 C, N.Y. Gauchos): Let’s see — a 6-8 center who impacts the game with excellent shot-blocking and rebounding skills, while adding in an emerging offensive game. Sound familiar? Wallace’s debut at the 2004 GymRat CHALLENGE is a younger version of what Houston LYNX center Emeka Okafor did as a lanky 16-year old in the 17-and-under division in 1999. Altered several shots, blocked his share too and scored effectively around the basket. Wallace will only get better with time and experience.

15:U All-GymRat CHALLENGE Team

Greg Holle (6-5 C/F, Albany City Rocks): Extremely strong with excellent shooting touch from 16-feet in. Superior hands, Holle is a quality rebounder and improving defender.

Mike Henry (6-4 F, Central Jersey Hawks): Rugged inside scorer who can also take ball coast-to-coast and finish. Likes physical play and thrives in that element. Finds boards in traffic with sponge-like hands.

Joey Accaoui (5-9 PG, Rhode Island Breakers): Exceptional shooter with great range to go along with solid fundamental skills. Plays point and shooting guard. Sees the floor extremely well and finds teammates at right time. A pesky defender.

Edmund McCray (6-5 C, Metro Hawks-WHITE): Tremendous back-to-the-basket player who runs the floor well, blocks shots and owns the glass. Consistently knocks down 15-foot jumper.

Jimmer Ferdette (6-0 G, Northeast Sharks): A three-point shooter with a whole lot more to his game, Ferdette was rated the top outside-shooter in the 15-and-under tournament. Endless range, a lightning quick release and the ability to hit shots with defenders in his face. Ferdette can play point or shooting guard. Rebounds well for his size and doesn’t shy away from a defensive CHALLENGE.

Bradley Wanamaker (6-0 SG/SF, Philly Hoops): A highly-skilled wing player with a scorer’s mentality. Runs opponents into the ground, better than average shooter, and a go-to guy with the game on the line.

Martavius Moore (6-3 F, TGAND Express): A superior two-way post player who scores from the outside too. A solid passer and hard worker, Moore owns a variety of post moves, rebounds and blocks shots in bunches.

Rocco Rubino (6-1 G, Team Genesis): Relentless competitor with a gigantic heart. Quality outside shot to go with ability to finish around the basket; Finds teammates when THEY want the ball. An unselfish player who knows when to be selfish.

Honorable Mention Selections
Anthony Gill (5-11 G, N.Y. Gauchos)
Glenn Phillips (6-3 F, N.Y. Gauchos)
Mike Culpo (6-0 G, Albany City Rocks)
James Patterson (F, Albany City Rocks)
Luke Weaver (G/F, Albany City Rocks)
Rob Anders (5-8 PG, Firm AC)
Jeff Altimar (6-0 G/F, Boston Blazers)
Leroyal Hairston (6-1 F, Boston Blazers)
Brian Baker (5-11 G, Central Jersey Hawks)
Denny Wilhelm (6-3 F, Northeast Sharks)
Kevin Kucel (5-6 PG, Northeast Sharks)
Josh Herritt (6-4 C, Connecticut Flame)
Jamie Harris (G, Bingo’s All-Stars)
Robbie Keiffer (Philly Hoops)
Derrick Warren (5-10 PG, TGAND Express)
Jameson Keefe (7-0 C, CD Raptors-TANGREDI)