Arizona Divinity Basketball’s 14-and-under team, from Phoenix, went undefeated at the Grassroots 365 Invitational: Southwest 2018 basketball tournament at the American Sports Center in Avondale, finishing off the competition with a 63-29 victory in the final over rival Blue Chip Nation Elite on June 17.
Divinity dominated the game throughout, especially on the defensive end, where it had the advantage in size and athleticism at nearly every position. The team’s length and strength on the ball made it difficult for opponents to dribble anywhere near the basket, and offense came easily off steals and running out in transition. Blue Chip Nation Elite scored just eight points in the first half, to Divinity’s 30.
Like many club basketball teams, Divinity plays tournaments nearly every weekend, and has seen its share of success, often playing deep into competitions, but guard Daylin Martin, 14, said winning this tournament was a real confidence booster for the team.
“Winning this tournament feels good, we’ve done it many times before, but now we’re playing together and as a team. We swung the ball, weren’t arguing and everyone played their part,” he said.
As seemingly easy as the results came for Divinity, coach Devon Speaks said the season, which begun after high school and junior high competition wrapped up, started rocky, and Divinity came up short in several tournaments, losing to teams the players believe they should have beaten.
Divinity, thus, kept attacking in the championship game, continuing to compete on defense and secure easy baskets on lay ups resulting from steals until late in the game when the result was no longer in question.
“It’s a lot easier because we’ve been in this position and lost these games because we thought we were going to walk in and win easily,” Speaks said.
“So, they’ve improved in the last few months in closing games out and closing tournaments out that they know they should win. I try to remind them of the days we’d give these games up and they’re at the point where they don’t want to do that anymore.”
At such a young age, having never donned the jersey of their eventual high school teams, winning is not the goal for Divinity’s players, who still have a lot to improve in their games, as well as building strength and basketball intelligence.
Thus, Speaks puts a lot of emphasis on not only strategy, but conditioning as well, especially for late-game situations.
“We run a lot and do a lot of plays, and so then we have energy late in the tournaments. Coach does a lot of fourth-quarter or overtime stuff where we have to have the conditioning to be ready in those situations, so we don’t get tired,” Martin said.
Encouraging players to get out to high school open gyms and just play pickup basketball for fun to develop their individual skills, Speaks said the summer will be a great opportunity for his players to continue to improve both as players and young men.
“Their goal is to get themselves into what they call a ‘baller state of mind’ where they’re not scared of the moment or the competition, they just go out there and compete and play their hardest,” Speaks said.
“And then their conditioning is good enough that they can be ready at the end of close games and still play their hardest.”