By Kevin McCaskill Jr.
The 17u Red Division came down to Rhode Island Elite 🏝 and NJ Scholars Elite 👨🏽🏫👨🏾🏫👨🏿🏫.
NJSE was led by “the #1 Sophomore in the country”, Dajuan Wagner Jr.
RI Elite was led by two tough Guards, Sebastian Thomas and Sam Kodi.
RIE came out on fire in the first half 🔥. Thomas hit a step-back 3 to start the scoring onslaught for RIE. Thomas was getting his shots off early. Kodi was aggressive all game. There might even be video out there of a slight verbal back and forth with DJ Wagner. Kodi accepted the challenge and rose to the occasion against Wagner and NJSE.
RIE was up 14-6 and then all of a sudden there was a lengthy break in the action. I believe one of the refs asked someone to leave that specific area but I dont know 🤷🏽♂️.
When the game got underway again, RIE was still hot. At the 5 minute mark in the 1st half RIE was 29-14 😳. NJSE couldn’t stop Kodi or Thomas from getting to the basket. Offensively, NJSE had to work for everything; they weren’t getting easy shots.
At halftime, RIE was ahead 38-29. DJ Wagner started to heat up at the end of the 1st half. NJSE’s Quadir Copeland also stepped up for his team. RIE was still being aggressive and hitting shots.
In the second half, NJSE turned up the defensive pressure, led by DJ Wagner. He plays tight man-to-man defense. He doesn’t let any Guard just stand and dribble. He gets up into his man and puts pressure on the offensive player.
7’0” Sophomore Aaron Bradshaw started to dominate the paint. He changed more shots than he blocked but either way he was a positive force for NJSE in the lane.
NJSE took the lead midway through the 2nd half and never looked back. The game was still close however. RIE didn’t stop playing after they squandered their lead.
RIE got as close as 1 point, 62-61 but they wouldn’t get back on the leading side.
NJSE stood tall against all competitors for 2 days and beat Rhode Island Elite 68-63 to win the Hoop Group 2021 New England Jam Fest 17u Red Division [the top division in the tournament].
The team took pictures with the 🏆 and Hoop Group banner.
After the celebration, I spoke to NJSE HC Sean Colson, again.
Coach, you just won the HG ‘21 NEJF [17u Red Division]. How does it feel?
“Great, man. The team did it. Down 17, 18 points, the team came back, fought really tough, shared the ball and really got down and started playing defense. That’s how we got the win”.
What went wrong in the first half?
“They were giving us matchup problems with all the Guards. They just played harder than us to be honest. 5 minutes left in the first half we started diggin’ down gettin’ stops. We were down 18 and then 9 at the half. We scored the 1st play out of the 2nd half, now its 7. 18 turned into 7 really quick, so now, it’s a game. They are a good team”.
Is DJ Wagner self motivated or does he need other people to give him energy?
“I’m quite sure he is self-motivated but it’s probably a combination: his dad was the #6 pick in the [NBA] Draft. He was a great player; Milt Wagner, his uncle, played for the Lakers and had a long NBA career. At the end of the day though, DJ is selfless. He really doesn’t care about the attention, none of that. He’s just trying to win. Its just great to have the best player be unselfish”.
Where is your next tournament?
“Next weekend, Boo Williams in Hampton, VA. Everybody will be there, the big boys. We got a week to get prepared and Friday we will be out there”.