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/ July 20, 2004

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - This weekend at the annual Playaz Ball tournament The Tim Thomas Playaz Basketball Clubs captured two of the three division championships.

The Playaz won the 15-and-under and 17-and-under AAU Playaz Ball divisions at the two-day event held at Seton Hall University. Their 16-and-under squad fell just short of completing the sweep as it lost in the finals to DC Assault, 68-58. DC was led by rising sophomore guard Nolan Smith's 30 points.

In the 17-U finals, the Playaz beat the New York Ravens 66-56 behind 16 points from Gerald Henderson.

The Playaz reached the 2004 Playaz Ball championship with Saturday morning playoff wins over New Heights (79-53) and GC Ballas (74-70). Henderson also had 16 points in both these games and Brandon Costner added 16 versus New Heights and 17 against GC. Rising junior Lance Thomas of New Heights had 22 points and fellow Class of 2006 standout Paul Harris finished with 17 points for GC in the two teams' respective losses.

The Ravens had to endure a tough path en route to the finals. They were without starting wingmen Ricky Torres (knee) and Greg 'Playstation' Johnson (shoulder) and they also had to go the lengths of overtime to defeat DC Assault in the semi-finals.

The decision by the Ravens' coaching staff to keep Torres (knee) and Johnson (shoulder) out of the playoff rounds was with hope that the added rest helps them heal before the team heads to Las Vegas, Nev., this week to compete in the Adidas Super 64 tournament.

However, getting past a hot Playaz team proved to be too much without Torres and Johnson in the lineup.

Things did look good to start the game though when guard Elvis Lora opened up with a three-pointer. Then, only a minute in, Ravens forward Chris Bethel, their one true inside presence, had to sit due to sickness.

In the meantime, Rick Jackson picked up the slack offensively that Bethel would usually provide. But as soon as Bethel checked back in midway through the first half, he was called for three fouls and had to sit with seven minutes still remaining until halftime.

It was during those minutes before the half that Henderson and guard Jawan Carter kept the Playaz in reach of making their eventual second half run. They went into halftime down just four, 33-29.

Lora would have an off day shooting his usually reliable three-point shot and Bethel never really could get going for the Ravens. With those two factors working in favor of the Playaz, they were able to close the door easier when they recognized a weakness and acted on it successfully in the second half.

Both teams had trouble executing coming out the break. The first five minutes saw several turnovers committed by both teams. In addition, Bethel was hit with his fourth foul about two minutes in. That gave the Playaz a second chance to now get the one advantage they didn't convert on while Bethel had been out in the first half.

The Playaz hit the offensive glass hard and converted three-straight put backs to give them a 49-43 lead.

The Ravens tried to answer with Lora's crossover on Carter and three-point play after he drew the foul on a made jumper. Bethel immediately checked back in, but the Playaz remained aggressive to maintain their lead.

Henderson got to the free-throw line after being fouled on two more follows and Carter nailed a three-pointer to extend the Playaz lead to nine, 55-46.

With just under six minutes remaining, Bethel fouled out and the Playaz never let their lead get to less than six.

Henderson blocked a Jackson lay-up in the closing moments that would seal the championship victory for the Playaz.

Lora had 13 points and Jackson finished with 12 points for the Ravens.

Patrick Stevens is a senior Journalism major at the University of Rhode Island.







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