- Christopher Lawlor, High School Basketball
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Kenny Gillion had a prophetic moment less than 15 hours before the AAU U-17 national final.
"Our bigs, Keith Clanton and Guillaume Pina, will be the difference," said Gillion, the coach of Team Breakdown, a high-powered boys' basketball club team from Southern Florida.
When Clanton left the Milk House court on Friday clutching the tournament's Most Valuable Player and a gold medal draped around his neck, Gillion's proclamation came to fruition.
Gold means first place and for the second straight year, Team Breakdown walked away from Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex the team of the year, whipping rivals, New York Gauchos, 77-60, before a large raucous crowd.
"They're a tough team; they played well," said Moe Hicks, the director of basketball for the Gauchos and head coach of Rice High in New York.
Clanton bagged the tournament's top individual honor despite playing with Boynton of American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.) and Knight of Pine Crest (Fort Lauderdale). Clanton has offers from South Florida, Central Florida, Butler and Virginia, but several more high majors will be involved. Boynton missed the first portion of the tournament after tweaking his ankle in the opening game.
Paul Biancardi, ESPN's Scout Inc. national recruiting director, said Boynton might be the best player in the tournament and one of the top in the Class of 2009, but Knight has the best pro potential.
"[Knight] elevates on his 3, he can defend well and can make others on the court better," Biancardi said. "He has the ability to take over a game."
Junior guard Doron Lamb led the Gauchos with 17 points.
It was Breakdown's second win over the Gauchos this season and their third major tournament title on the summer circuit. Previously, the Florida team edged the Gauchos on a buzzer-beating shot in the semifinals of the Real Deal on the Hill in Fayetteville, Ark.
Scott Wood, the slender 6-6 wingman from Marion, Ind., hopes his showing at the AAU U-17 tournament this week has a carry-over effect.
"I played well here," said Wood, who has committed to North Carolina State. "My teammates are great."
Wood totaled 225 points (22.5 points per game) in 10 games. His SYF Players took third-place -- the organization's highest-ever finish at the U-17s -- defeating traditional power BABC (Boston) on Friday afternoon at the Milk House. Wood scored 19 points in the bronze medal game, beating BABC for the first time in three tries this summer.
The AAU showcase tournament allowed Wood to regain his scoring touch after an injury (hematoma near his hip) robbed him of more than eight games last season at Marion High.
Without Wood at full strength, the Giants (24-5) advanced to the Indiana Class 4A final, but fell to Brownsburg, 40-39. Wood struggled in the low-scoring affair, scoring four points (on 1-for-8) nearly 20 points below his average.
At the U-17s, Wood struck for a tournament-high 41 points to knock out Houston Hoops in the playoffs on Wednesday, but had limited mobility in the 67-60 semifinal loss to the New York Gauchos. He managed 14 points, scoring eight in the fourth quarter when SYF made a run.
It's that heart and never-say-die attitude that propelled SYF (Sports Youth Foundation of Gary, Ind.) to a 60-5 record this summer. Coach Wayne Brumm's group went 8-2 in the U-17s, without the notable superstars.
Brumm, a financial funds asset manager, has coached SYF for 11 years. This year's tournament was SYF's best-ever finish. That's impressive considering that three years ago they had bruising power forward Luke Harangody of Notre Dame (the reigning Big East Player of the Year) and do-everything guard Tyrone Appleton, who signed with Kansas after earning All-American honors at Midland (Texas) Junior College. That team with superstars took eighth, but this year's SYF version, devoid of household names factored in intangibles.
Brumm pinpointed the elixir for success.
"They really, really loved one another," Brumm said. "This team was tight. They cared about one another and picked up their teammates when they were down. They didn't criticize one another, defining the true meaning of team."
In an instant gratification society, where teens are driven by cellular phones and text messaging, SYF were a throwback team, befitting images of the movie "Hoosiers."
"They really cared about the game and their real strength came believing in one another," Brumm said.
Most agreed, because SYF did not win any high profile tournaments this summer, it flew "under the radar," Wood said.
"They might have been soft in the beginning of the (U-17) tournament, but then they played great defense and rebounded the basketball," Brumm said.
Wood, who is a preseason candidate for Indiana's Mr. Basketball (Marion has four previous winners), played with prep teammates, Ja'Rob McCallum and Jovon Freshwater, who aim for Marion's eighth state championship this year and the first since 1987. The Giants and preseason favorite Lawrence North (Indianapolis) meet in early December.
"Can't wait for the [high school] season," Wood said. "But this summer was great. I'll miss playing with these guys. We're really close."
Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA Today, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also for worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, where he ran the Gatorade National Player of the Year program for nine years. A New Jersey resident, he grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.
Team Breakdown's interior players led it to victory at the AAU U-17 nationals, writes Chris Lawlor.