Hopefully everyone has been enjoying their last couple weeks! If you’re all hoops, this two-week period probably feels as weird to you as it does to me. There’s nothing going on. If you play fall sports, it’s like it never ended – you’re just on a different playing field.
The last few days of down time, which have been spent catching up on stats, organizational work, and breaking down film to put on the drive & cut clips up for highlights, also gave me some time to reflect on recent basketball events. Nothing continues to stick in my head like last weekend’s Mase Madness.
If you follow me on social media, you already know my thoughts about the event, but it bears repeating. Thanks to Scott Gantos, who reached out to me about it in mid-July, I was able to get involved with this charity tournament held at Johnson City Middle School. I liked the idea at first, especially to put a couple dream teams of different ages together that bridged the gap of regions & AAU programs. Then it became a hassle to balance the back end of EST, the Battle of NY at Shen, and Mase the following weekend – plus, who wants to play basketball the 2nd weekend of August when you haven’t had a break yet? Thankfully, a couple dozen very solid players between the 518 and 315 area codes did want to, and Mase Madness became the most fulfilling experience I’ve had on a basketball court in quite some time.
The atmosphere is great. It’s much like the EST summer league, with music being played through the games and a different buzz in the gym. They go all the way with a DJ though, not my ‘put a playlist together and connect the computer to a speaker’ method. It’s basically a ‘can’t miss’ event if you’re in the Southern Tier. There are divisions seemingly for all ages. They went as low as 10U on the boys & girls sides, and there were competitive varsity divisions for each. There was also a competitive women’s division, along with competitive and recreational men’s divisions. Basketball for everybody.
The level of play was worth the trip. We put three teams together, and it seemed like every time I was on a sideline, we were going up against a stacked squad coached by Dan Whalen. This team featured a super-athletic backcourt of Susquehanna Valley 2018 Trinasia Kennedy and Binghamton 2019 Lexi Gruss, the highly-regarded McPeek sisters (Montverde Academy 2018 Lauren McPeek and Montverde 2019 Kendra McPeek), and a 6’4″ post that has been blowing up in the eyes of D1 coaches in Susquehanna Valley 2019 Maeve Donnelly. Not to mention Laycee Drake, a rising freshman at Hancock that’s one of upstate NY’s best 2021s. Gruss & Kennedy continued to stick out to me in this tournament like they had in July as two players improving at an alarming rate. If it was said in March that you’d be going up against a team with two BNY Select guards that you really needed to focus on, and the names that followed were Gruss and Kennedy, you would probably get scoffed at. Now, that’s absolutely the case. Both have become much better shooters, which makes defenders respect the range & allows their elite speed and quickness to become even more effective. Kennedy has improved her ability to finish in various ways around the rim; Gruss has become a better playmaker. Both are elite on-ball defenders with their athleticism, defensive awareness, and tenacity. If there was any buzzkill in this tournament, it’s that two players slated to be on their roster were unable to play due to injury. I actually got to coach against rising Binghamton senior Annie Ramil for a little while, who was sadly in a boot instead of where we all would’ve rather seen her, on the court. Morgan Gentile, a Troy (PA) standout who’s now transferring to Elmira for her sophomore year, also had to miss the weekend after twisting her ankle during the week. They were great battles to begin with; the addition of two high-level wings like Ramil & Gentile would’ve made the battles even better.
Seton Catholic, as usual, also put their school team in the tournament. I unfortunately was able to see very little of them, as I was never on the sideline against Seton and one of our teams always played at the same time. However, I was able to get a couple minutes here & there with eyes on their games. This was a building experience for them, mixing longtime standouts Hanna Strawn, Julia Hauer, and Marina Maerkl with some younger faces like Reese Vaughan. Hauer, a 2019 that recently got her first offer from Siena, had one of the performances of the weekend, dropping 33 in a close win on Friday night. I’ve seen the Seton girls as much as a lot of the 518ers; no secret that the Saints, now in Class A, will have success once again.
Now to our teams. I spent most of my time on the sidelines of two of our three teams – the blue team (Piedra), a team full of 2019s, and the green team (Sambursky Eye Center), which featured 6 guards/wings in the 2021 class and 2 posts in the 2020 class. I’m not sure who I was more impressed with, but I was extremely impressed with both.
The Piedra squad ended up winning the varsity division title, beating our third team, the orange one (The Partners), in the finals. Two blowout wins Friday night were followed by a closer win over Seton, a quality win over the aforementioned team with Gruss, Kennedy, & Co. in semis before the final win. Eight girls, three from Section II and five from Section III. Four from I-90 Elite, three from NY Havoc, one from JC Ballers – or as one of the parents dubbed this team, the ‘I-Havoc Ballers’. You would’ve thought this group of girls had 6 months to prepare with the way they played at JC. They’ve played together in smaller groups, and half of them got together on the same team at my Summer Kickoff Showcase in mid-June, but nothing would’ve made me expect the level at which they gelled. Everyone stood out at different times. They had runners like Madison Smith (West Genesee) and Allison Moreau (Sauquoit Valley), trailers like Cat Almeida (Shenendehowa) and Alyssa Stevenson (South Jefferson), players that would get them the ball like Mackenzie Smith (West Genesee) and Grace Heeps (Northfield Mount Hermon by way of Columbia), and ultimate half-court assets like Mackenzie Martin (Westhill) and Renna Poulin (Tamarac). They all had their moments. Poulin was great early Friday night. Madison Smith stood out in the later stages of Friday night. Alyssa had big stretches Saturday. The first half of the semifinal game was a Grace & Cat takeover, with Grace looking as confident scoring off the ball as she has in a long time, and with the 6’5″ Cat not only being dominant in the blocks, but also showing off some perimeter skill. Mackenzie Martin had her shining moments in the process, which she did all through Sunday. Renna & Allie Moreau went to work in the 2nd half of that semifinal game. Mackenzie Smith took over for a couple stretches as well, early and late. They all held their weight in the finals, almost looking like they were savoring the stretch of their last game. If I was to a list of standouts, they’d all be on it. It was so balanced, we found it impossible to choose an MVP (which they asked for). An official was talking about this group after and said he was trying to figure out for a few minutes whether they were running set plays or if they just had that kind of continuity. First time they had ever seen the court together, and I was more than happy to see it with my own eyes. It definitely has made me more motivated to try & put that group of eight together for something else down the road!
The younger team turned heads the entire weekend as well. They didn’t have the success of their two older counterparts, going 1-2 in pool play and not making playoffs, but they didn’t go down without a fight. They lost 51-44 to our orange team, which had Grace & Cat filling in alongside highly regarded Michigan commit Danielle Rauch among others. They lost by 7 in their 2nd Saturday game as well, dropping it to Gruss, Kennedy, & crew. They ended their weekend with an 18 point victory. For the younger team, Sarah Mattfeld really stepped up. The rising freshman at Catholic Central looked as good and as comfortable as I’ve seen her since a leg injury forced her out of nearly all of basketball season. She has made great strides over the last couple months, and how she showed – at both ends – against older players with scholarship offers, often inviting the challenge and wanting to guard the opponent’s best player, was all of the proof anyone needed to see she’s ready to make the next progression in her game. Momo LaClair was very good throughout the weekend as well. The rising freshman at Jamesville-DeWitt, no stranger to getting the call in the bigger moments, played with no fear or second thoughts against the older players. After all, she did it last year for a state champion team as an 8th grader. Momo was a distributor, but she’d look to attack and get her own when it was needed. You’re not going to find many better 2021s in upstate NY than her.
The orange team, The Partners, was the mix & match group. Players represented every class from 2018 through 2022 on this team. In fact, it was a 2018 connecting with a 2022 on back-to-back possessions to forge a win in a tough game (against, you guessed it, Gruss/Kennedy & Co.) Saturday. That was when the aforementioned Danielle Rauch, a rising senior at Bishop Ludden, found South Jefferson 2022 Jackie Piddock in the left corner two straight times. One of Piddock’s threes swished through to tie the game, and the second swished through to give them a 3 point lead. Rauch ended up canning 4 straight free throws in the waning seconds to win by 5. Those two will more-than-likely do battle in March 2018, as Bishop Ludden & South Jefferson look to be the frontrunners in a stacked Section III Class B. But for now, it was great to see them on the same side. As the weekend went by, players for this team changed. Grace & Cat went back to their normal team Sunday. Jackie wasn’t able to play Sunday, either. Liverpool 2018 Jenna Wike and Jamesville-DeWitt 2018 Jamie Boeheim couldn’t make Saturday, but they were there for Sunday. They joined a few that were there for the full weekend – alongside Rauch, South Jefferson 2020 Abby Piddock, Jamesville-DeWitt 2018 Kasey Vaughan, and Colonie 2019 Kyara Triblet. A fun battle between them and the blue team in the finals. All-in-all, one of my favorite weekends in a long time. I’d like to thank all of the girls that participated on our three teams this weekend. They are, by graduating class:
Jamie Boeheim (Jamesville-DeWitt)
Danielle Rauch (Bishop Ludden)
Kasey Vaughan (Jamesville-DeWitt)
Jenna Wike (Liverpool)
Cat Almeida (Shenendehowa)
Grace Heeps (Northfield Mount Hermon)
Allison Moreau (Sauquoit Valley)
Renna Poulin (Tamarac)
Mackenzie Martin (Westhill)
Mackenzie Smith (West Genesee)
Madison Smith (West Genesee)
Alyssa Stevenson (South Jefferson)
Kyara Triblet (Colonie)
Makayla Blake (Colonie)
Lindsey Lawson (Cazenovia)
Abby Piddock (South Jefferson)
Catie Cunningham (West Genesee)
Momo LaClair (Jamesville-DeWitt)
Sarah Mattfeld (Catholic Central)
Lilly Phillips (Cambridge)
Sophie Phillips (Cambridge)
Lexie Roe (Fayetteville-Manlius)
Jackie Piddock (South Jefferson)
Now, onto the rest. This won’t be long, I promise.
– Look out for information regarding the 3RD ANNUAL UPSTATE ELITE SHOWCASE. The event will be held on SUNDAY, OCTOBER 1 and plans are made to have it at the Pat Riley Sports Center at Schenectady High School, which is where last year’s UES and this year’s Summer Kickoff Showcase were also held. SAVE THE DATE! Worth mentioning – there’s also a showcase scheduled for the 1st at Whitesboro HS called the CNY Basketball Showcase. It’s recently been brought to my attention that they’ve been including my name in ‘who will be there’, and I came across it on their website as well. This is NOT TRUE and AT NO POINT WAS IT EVER COMMUNICATED AS SUCH. Perhaps I lose a few people to that showcase that would do mine, but I think the track record already being shown & the work ethic over these years speaks for itself. Info will be out soon; I hope to see you at the Upstate Elite Showcase on the 1st!!
– You can catch me at two more events during the month of August, and they’re both in Syracuse. I’ll be at the 2nd annual Slinky Skills Academy at Nottingham HS next Saturday, 8/26. That’s a later start, going from 3-8 PM. I’ll be back in the Cuse that Tuesday, outside at the Great New York State Fair for the State Fair games. I’m more than happy to be able to take part in the 9th/10th grade division showcase games. For the four teams that will be put together, their first games will be at 1:00 & 2:00. The losers play at 5:00, and the winners play at 6:00. The senior division all-star game ends the night, slated for an 8:00 start. You know, since it appears that I have to announce where I’ll be going forward!
Thanks, as always, for following along. The plan is for the next ‘journal’ to have all pertinent info for the Upstate Elite Showcase set in stone. Hope to see you soon!