Epic Kenner League Playoffs Recap: Freshmen Continue to Impress, Nolan Smith Sucks and Greg Monroe finally wins at Georgetown

Before I begin please realize I spent basically my entire weekend inside McDonough Gymnasium watching summer league basketball.  Thank you.

For those willing to sacrifice their Friday night like I was, the morale entering the evening was not that high, with it being a night after Moses Ayegba going down with what appeared to be the most serious of three Kenner League injuries to Hoya big men. I think more than a few people would have even been thankful for the Tombs to get bounced early, just to try and put a halt on the injury plague. A weekend with no new injuries would've been a victory in itself – but Kenner fans were in for a much more exciting weekend than that.

The appetizer for the evening was a fine one: a fast-paced game that saw gorgeous offense trump some relatively energized playoff defense. Austin Freeman and Jeff Green put on a dueling shooting contest with performer extraordinaire Isaiah Swann, who was showing his limitless range and at time putting on a clinic of how to use an assortment of jab steps and pump fakes to make your opponent look foolish. In the end The Clyde's triumphed, and particularly of note was that Aaron Bowen came to life as a third or fourth option, finally connecting on three 3-pointers. His value-added completely changes when he has the jump shot going.

 

Recaps of the Games and Deep Thoughts after The Jump:

Friday Night's Quarterfinals: The Tombs versus Hollis Thompson's Team Turner ft. Nolan Smith.

The much anticipated Tombs' 8:50 pm semifinal did not disappoint – and even eased some of the Moses blues on this Hoya fan's mind (Moses was slowly walking over the weekend without crutches, but with a heavily wrapped leg). The Tombs couldn't have drawn a more challenging opponent: Coach Rodney Turner is the Vince Lombardi of Kenner League-- I have no doubt they'll name the championship trophy after him some day. He's a notorious Tombs-slayer in the playoffs, he was going for his 7th Kenner League championship, he shouts continually at both his players and the refs (often as politely as you can shrilly scream as someone: "CAN SOMEONE PLEASE EXPLAIN...") and he has a Rolodex of Kenner League ringers around DC that is the envy of any coach. Against the young Tombs he rolled out regulars Mamadi Diane, Jared Cunningham, Sean Mosley and of course Hollis Thompson, and he added the recent 21st draft pick in the NBA, hated Dookie Nolan Smith.

The first half was one of Greg Whittington's best, he compiled 8 points, 2 blocks, 3 steals, highlighted by an impressive grab over his head to break up of a fast break, and a couple of boards. He drilled a three and also drew a foul posting Nolan Smith up in the lane. In the same half, Otto Porter didn't make much of a dent scoring, but he had a sequence that perfectly captured the influence he can exert on a game – on mirror back to back plays, Otto grabbed a defensive board, brought it down the court and collected an assist. He grabbed a third rebound, but an off balance shot by a random Tombs player cost him the streak. In the second half, the two players combined for one of the prettiest plays of the game where Otto pulled off to the side on a fast-break with no numbers and flicked a pass to a slicing Whittington. As there was some traffic around, I assumed Whitt was going to just in for the lay-up – but instead he kept rising and elevated for a powerful dunk. Despite an impressive rebounding night by Otto where he cleaned up ten boards, for many the above the rim the story was...

 

Jabril Trawick versus the NBA

No one plays with more heart, or a bigger chip on their shoulder than Jabril Trawick.  And that's never more apparent when he goes up against NBA players. This is conjecture, but from tweets, and more importantly, demeanor, Jabril makes it clear that he thinks he belongs on the floor with everyone.  From refusing to defer to Jeff Green in the opening weekend, to swatting him last weekend (and taking it repeatedly at Greg Monroe as you'll read later), Jabril seems to draw near limitless intensity when he's playing an NBA caliber player. And Nolan Smith brought the best out of him. The two players were jawing at each other early and the ref gave both a warning loud enough that the entire gym could hear. But it was Jabril, with his uninterrupted intensity that would cause Smith to break first. The two were going back and forth all night, but it was Smith who stepped over the line and got slapped with a technical after whining about a Jabril swipe at halfcourt that led to an easy dunk – and on the ensuing possession he had two fouls on Jabril under the basket, one of which included a cheap shot.  Coach Rodney finally had to take him out and Smith, the picture of class, took off his shirt in the middle of the court as he walked over to the bench.  Jabril bullied his way to a 13 point half where he was perfect from the floor. On a full court drive he used a hesitation move near the foul line and than rammed his way to a pretty scoop lay-up. After the play, Hollis Thompson's mom, a charming woman, turned to the recapping press holding court in the back row and said, "You better include that in your write-up."


Speaking of Hollis though, there wasn't a whole lot to report – especially in an invisible first half.  He came out strong in the second, pouring in 9 points, mostly in a short spurt, on perfect shooting.  Hollis was the model of efficient basketball – his offensive rating, if someone took the time to keep painstaking play-by-play notes of KL, would have been through the roof (as I suspect it will be this season). He had some success with spot up threes and when he drives he gets fouled or scores often.  But whether or not he can demand the number of possessions it takes to be a lead man is a question that was left unanswered.

 

Back to the game, despite Jabril's personal victories over Smith, that didn't mean the Tombs ran away with it, as technical fouls would dominate the game due to Kenner Rule: 7+ personal foul = technical.  Jabril's tough on ball defense outside of the perimeter lead to him fouling the quicker Smith (who would return). And after holding the lead for most of the whole game, Team Turner's pressure started to get to the Tombs as Otto was stripped in the backcourt as he received an inbounds pass and Greg Whittington lost his handle.  It looked like a devastating turning point for the young team.

 

But it wasn't.

 

The young men steadied themselves, and went to a surprising hero on the last two possessions.  The game was first returned to a tie by the type of play that makes all of us in the Otto Porter fan club swoon: Otto swooped in to tip a ball at half court and gathered it for an easy transition dunk.  Then it was all Mikael Hopkins.  First he had the shorter Mamadi Diane on hips in the post and with surprising confidence, Hopkins executed a strong post move and drew the foul – and calmly sunk both shots.  Then down one, Hopkins again went to the hoop, this time with the talented 6'8 Jared Cunningham d'ing him up – he muscled his way to the hoop but missed the shot, which was collected by a Tombs teammted – missed and then finally, and with the thunderous approval of the McDonough crowd, was tipped in by Hopkins giving the Tombs a one point lead.


Don't take my word for it, a Casualite risked being forced to re-take alcohol edu or whatever else lies within DOPS jurisdiction to take this excellent footage of the closing minutes: Casual Spy.

 

SATURDAY SEMIFINALS:

 

Clyde's vs. Henry Sims and Markel Starks of DCX.

In the 2:00 game, the Clyde's playoff march continued with dominance by Jeff Green and Austin Freeman early. Jeff was just toying with DCX, scoring at will and just disrespecting Henry Sims by letting him catch the ball on the block and promptly swatting him in back to back possessions. But the non-nostalgic story line for Hoya fans was the play of Markel Starks. It looked like DCX wouldn't even compete until Markel started to light it up.  In short succession, he drained his first three of the afternoon, sliced for an easy lay-in, and then responded to a Jeff Green three with one of his own.  All told, he dropped 16 points in the first half on eight shots, including 3-5 from three.  After passive play last weekend, he came to play and despite not dominating the ball, he was never hesitant to take a necessary shot. He gathers himself quickly on his pull-up and considering he can get his shot off quickly, he's a tough move to stop when he gets it going.  Markel also had some success taking the ball inside, including an acrobatic lay-up that he brings down near his waist before scooping it up, but I wonder if better inside game was influenced by the lack of an inside presence on Clyde's.

 

Markel couldn't get it going in the same manner in the second half (finishing with 22) but he continued to provide a steady hand as Henry sprung to life. After a nice assist in the post, Hank salvaged a pick and roll situation by throwing down a powerful follow-up dunk on a Starks three that spun out. And Hank continued to have himself a good half highlighted by a runner over Jeff with 2 minutes left and the game on the line.  He finished with 12 points in the second half and easily pushed himself to the double-double in boards.  DCX build a seven point lead... but Austin decided he would like to continue playing.  The lead was erased quickly and Jeff Green went for the SportsCenter highlight, dribbling the clock down to nothing before launching a fade-away, turnaround three at the buzzer that missed and sent the game into overtime.  But the extra frame didn't produce any excitement – Clyde's scored 14 straight points before DCX even got on the board with a junk-time lay-up by Starks.

 

SEMIFINAL #2: THE TOMBS VERSUS THE NEFARIOUS TOWNIE SQUAD BOSS AUTO


After an upset over the highly talented and favored Team Turner, the Tombs faced the opposite type of team: Boss Auto. The Tombs were now the superior squad and on a fast track to the final. The black clad Boss Auto wouldn't be so obliging, though; they are one of the few with a player for every position and the only with a hefty stock of back-ups for each.  Their offense is limited, but their team defensive dedication and prowess is unmatched at Kenner League and they have enough athletes and wide bodies down low to cause problems.  And problems they would cause, starting with the interior.  Tyler Adams was sorely missed as Hopkins repeatedly got bodied down low, and after an early basket ended the first half 1-5 with a couple of turnovers.  Whittington, who's mostly been freed up to guard the perimeter or play some free safety, was pinned in the post a few times and that wasn't pretty.  Otto filled the statsheet with three steals, a massive block and a strong performance on the offensive glass, but he struggled to initiate the sluggish offensive – I was encouraged that he looked to penetrate with the dribble more, but that wasn't able to pick up the offense much either.  The sore spot of the performance though was fan favorite Jabril Trawick.  His anger which served him so well the night before was warped and redirected at himself in a destructive frustration.  He started early with a nice +1, but he would soon start to press.  Missed shots led to overaggressive drives led to bad turnovers.  The sloppy play was punctuated again and again by Boss Auto leaking out and cherry picking easy lay-ups. At half, it was 28-21 Boss Auto in control.

 

In the second half, Hopkins stepped up his game by making himself for active around the hoop and ended up with a ten points half and no missed shots – and with the help of a fast start by Otto, the Tombs pulled the game even. Then it fell apart again.  The play was sloppy, but Boss Auto deserves some credit.  Passes into the post that weren't a problem during most of the season were suddenly being tipped away and help defense made points in the paint exceptionally difficult to come by.

 

Down 17 with 6 minutes left, a few fans started to head for the exit.  But the tide finally started to turn as Whittington breathed hope into the game with a three pointer and then Otto followed with one of his own to take the score to 11. For the next few minutes, the Tombs help the line and ramped up the defense.  The pressure of Otto, Hopkins and Whitt drove the comeback, as their length tipped tipped a number of passes and put immense pressure on a Boss Auto team with no true skill players.  Luck (and ancient referee core) were being the Tombs as well – their length bothered a number of lay-ups, but a handful barely rolled off.  While Jabril's defense and heart has been at the center of so many recaps this summer, but because of fouling issues and an off-day, he wasn't on the floor for most of the rapid comeback.  Max Kenyi of Harvard was the hero in the closing minutes with incredible on-ball defense that forced a couple of turnovers late.  Jabril did return for a huge basket as he posted up in the lane and overpowered a smaller guard for a lay-up and it was Kenyi's free throws that sealed the game an outrageous comeback for the (Kenner League) ages.  

 

The Kenner League Championship: The Tombs v. Clyde's:


Heading into three o'clock championship game, the Tombs were a clear underdog to a Clyde's team featuring Jeff Green and Austin Freeman. When ten minutes before tip, Greg Monroe walked out in his blue Clyde's uni, it seemed like the Frosh didn't stand much of a chance.  The initial fears were confirmed as Clyde's assumed a comfortable 9 point lead, with Greg Monroe playing with some of the most intensity I can remember out of him.  He was punishing the again foul-heavy Mikael Hopkins down low.  On one rampage that pushed Clyde's into the lead, Monroe had a dunk, block, assist and steal in consecutive possessions.  The run was only ended when the Clyde's coach mercifully took Monroe out for a breather.  The only thing Monroe didn't do successfully in the first half was when he verbally directed Aaron Bowen and then told him to go backdoor - fortunately the Tombs were able to pick up on the cues and it ended being batted out of bounds off Aaron.

Otto Porter attempted to fight back with some aggressive play, and he stroked a three early, but he tried to juke back and forth with his crossover at the top of the key but ended up having it poked away into the hands of a Tombs teammate.  Hopkins made a smooth spin move and finished with a bank shot, but after that, he struggled mightily down low, missing his next five shots in the half.  Otto came up short on his second attempt but collected the rebound himself and sunk one of his patented mid-range fade shots.  In another pretty play, a teammate passed it over his head on a fast break and he collected it as he was fallowing out of bounds and flipped it over to Greg Whittington for a dunk.  Whitt had a quiet scoring game, but had three steals in the first half, including two on back to back possession on the full court press.  Those two pressure plays were crucial to the Tombs clawing back into a tie at the half, 43-43.  Bowen had a solid half as well, picking a couple steals by sneaking up on help defense, and had three finished at the rim, including one nice drive on his own.  Jabril for his part limited the overaggressive offense that burdened him against boss Auto, attempting only four shots, but he collected two steals, three tough rebounds and block.

The second half was one of the best and most dramatic stretches of basketball we were privilege to all summer. Hopkins continued to pick up fouls but Trawick and him helped set a bit of a different tone in the second half as they combined for a block on Greg, and then Trawick recovered it and threw it out of bounds off Greg's leg.  Monroe would continue to dominate, but one of the first true victories in the defense post for the Tombs seemed to invigorate them. Whittington helped power an early Tombs surge, first scoring when his preferred smooth drive and floater (at 6'9 though, his floater doesn't need quite the same arc as Vee's had) bounced around and in (it hasn't dropped in awhile) and then following up a miss with a atop over Jeff.  The near consecutive scoring plays and an ugly wide-left miss on a three by Bowen confirmed what I had been thinking after a first half that saw Bowen and Whittington guarding each other - I don't see see how Bowen can see the floor over Whittington. More to come on this.

Jabril Trawick, after one of his most disappointing games, bounced back to finish off the summer with a powerful 13 point performance in the second half.  He scored first off an offensive board and got to the line again as he tried to put Jeff Green on a poster - Jeff slapped Jabril's wrist and the ball came loose, but the intent was clear.  As Jabril walked to the line, he shouldered Jeff and a few words were exchanged.  Later in the half, twice in a row Jabril drove from the wing right at Greg Monroe and scored managed to convert one of the lay-up.  Don't overlook "from the wing," Jabril is excellent when he's in motion towards the hoop, but he's struggled when he tries to drive from the top of the key. Many of his best plays have been within the framework of an offense (post-up, cut, nice pass).  When he tries to do it all himself, is when he gets into trouble.

Otto had another steady 10 point half, collected a number of assists and boards, many on the offensive glass) including a combination of both when he tapped an offense board to a cutting Hopkins for a powerful dunk.  Amped up by the play, Hopkins had a solo block on Monroe in the next play.  During the half, Jeff Green took to making life difficult on Otto, preventing him from dribbling in the paint, and despite high effort defense by Otto, Jeff broke free for an uncontested dunk on an iso play. Whittington finished a nice spin in the post, but it was a few plays later that central drama of the day took place.

Commence the Aaron Bowen Transfer Watch

With 7:51 left to go in the game, the whistle blew as play was stopped at Greg Whittington and Aaron Bowen got into a shoving match at halfcourt on the side closest to the crowd.  I only caught the tail end of it, and there certainly weren't blows, but the arms-extended shoves were earnest.  After an initial call of technical, it was revealed that both Greg and Aaron were tossed from the game.  Whitt showed some savvy by first stopped to plead his case to JT Jr. before heading up to the balcony behind the bleachers to watch the rest of the game.  The players kept their distance on the balcony, and Bowen was actually telling his side of the story, so I missed a minute or so of game time straining to overhear his testimony.  All I caught was that there was trash talk leading up to the incident (bad day to be struck by allergies), but it was interesting to hear Bowen fundamentally cheer on The Clydes team, expressing his dismay at the important Clyde's setbacks.  The ejections hurt The Tombs much more so than the Clyde's (not a bold statement there, Clyde's had Austin, Greg and Jeff to fall back on) - Whittington's defense was missed.  Earlier in the half, he had dogged Jeff the full length of the court and bothered him into airballing a three. It's easy to see how these Whittington and Bowen impede on each others minutes: both play 2-3 guards but neither have elite handles, both rely on three point shooting, excel in the fast break, have converted a number of tip-ins. Bowen's ability to make strong cuts lends itself to playing time in JT3's offense, but Greg has been the better shooter and defender (his help defense has been quite impressive and I was pleasantly surprised by his on ball defense when he was challenged today) and has a much higher ceiling.  Hopefully this leads to some fiery practices, but on first glance, one can't help but wonder if Bowen is too good of a fit on a team of former Hoyas.

Back to the game, there were a few highlight plays, like Otto's windmill-like arms swatted away an easy fast break score and Jabril taking the ball the full length of the court off an outlet and finishing past Jeff in the fast break, but it was mostly defined by the determination of Greg and Jeff not to lose. Still the Tombs managed to keep the game close and managed to get the last shot after a questionable offensive goaltending call on Clyde's that had Austin and Greg (and Bowen) up in arms - that last shot however was a long three taken by Jamaal Wise, missing and disappointing all Hoya fans when he glanced at Otto up ahead of him before keeping it himself.

Overtime opened with Otto battling off a Clyde's defender and finally securing the tip and scooping it to Max Kenyi for an opening layup. After that, the scoring pace slowed considerably, especially from the freshmen, and last night's hero Kenyi had a few costly turnovers, but got the ball back by a clean swipe from Jeff that send the ball high into the air.  So the Tombs ended up again with the ball with under twenty seconds left, game tied.  Jabril insured it was going to be a Hoya with a chance for the heroics, letting the clock run down and then driving in for a lay-up that he wasn't able to convert over Monroe.

Onto the second overtime (we're talking three minutes running clock here)... Clyde's scored the first few buckets but a block/steal by Otto went to other way to Jabril for an impressive reverse layup to cut the lead to two.  Otto, for all the great work he's done this summer, didn't have a strong overtime aside from the few described plays - he wasn't able to assert himself offensively.  That was almost washed away when, The Tombs down four, Otto lined up a three that would've sent the near full-bleachers into a frenzy.  Alas, it rimmed out (while Otto doesn't have a killer 3PT %, he was only 2-6 today, it always looks like it has a shot to go in out of his hand) and Jeff Green drilled a long, long pull-up three that was the dagger.

 And so it ended, a few minutes later, an unbelievable slate of highly competitive and certainly formative games for the freshman who left everything on the floor.  While Greg Monroe and Austin Freeman walked away from the Kenner League championship swag, but after a summer like this, you have to be optimistic that the current group of freshman can earn a label that eluded their recent predecessor: Winners.  

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