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March Madness Recap
Connect Basketball captures third straight March Madness title
For Decatur Parks & Recreation
Connect Basketball cruised to a three-peat with a 71-49 victory over Uncle Ricos in the tenth annual Mountain Dew March Madness Basketball Tournament at the Aquadome Recreation Center on March 10.
The 12-team tournament field featured a blend of former and current college and professional players, including Mike Wilks of the 2005 NBA champion San Antonio Spurs and Connect Basketball captain Chris Weaver, a two-time March Madness tournament MVP.
Connect Basketball, which also won the tournament in 2010 and 2011, averaged 70.3 points per game while allowing only 48.8 points in six games. Led by Weaver and a roster that included Kevin Baker, Antoine Hill, Jason Jonus, Justin Jonus, Jason “The X-Factor” Jonus, Leventrice “Boss” Gray, Will Ginn and Darryl Butterfield, Connect Basketball advanced to the finals by downing D-Rock 58-43 in the quarterfinals and Ball Starz 55-41 in the semis.
“I play in a lot of these weekend tournaments, five to seven throughout the year,” said Weaver, who prepped at Arab High and earned all-conference honors and two trips to the NCAA Tournament at Samford. “The March Madness tournament is always well-organized, with 12 to 16 teams that are competitive. We get to play at least five games, and the games are played on time. I played in a tournament (the previous weekend) in Atlanta where my team played two games and then waited four hours for the next game.
“I have a lot of connections through basketball, and the teams I like to put together are guys that play unselfish and can shoot the basketball. Guys get tired during a tournament, and they’re not able to penetrate (the lane) late in games, and the outside shot is going to be open.”
Uncle Ricos, comprised of Will Gardner, Jamie Gardner, John David Gardner, George Drake, Terry Haynes, Carlos Gomez, Jason Robinson, Chason Uption and Thiago Corvello, reached the finals with a forfeit win over Child Please in the quarters and a 70-58 victory over Pound For Pound in the semis. Uncle Ricos scored 58.4 points per game while giving up 55.8 ppg in five contests.
The highlight game of the tournament was the quarterfinal matchup between Connect Basketball and D-Rock, which lost to CBB on a buzzer-beater in the tournament championship game in 2010. Despite the 15-point margin of victory for CBB, the game was closer than the score indicated, especially in a frenetic back-and-forth first half.
It was the Weaver-and-Wilks show in the first quarter as the dueling point guards accounted for 18 of the 33 points scored. Wilks, who played sparingly over the final three quarters due to a leg injury, opened the game with 10 straight points, including a 3-pointer, a 3-point play and two jumpers, while Weaver tossed in five points and Butterfield pumped in seven points.
D-Rock’s Rolando McClain, a Decatur High product who plays linebacker for the Oakland Raiders, kept it close in the second quarter with a sequence that included a steal and layup, a trey from the top of the key and a reverse-layup, but the frontcourt of Butterfield (five points), Gray (four points) and Justin Jonus (four points), gave CBB a comfortable 32-25 halftime advantage that it would never relinquish.
CBB used an 11-2 run to put the game out of reach in the third quarter and outscored D-Rock 10-8 in the final period to win 58-43.
Wilks, who grew up in Milwaukee, Wis., but now lives in Hartselle with his wife Kimberly and son Isaiah, has played for the Spurs, Atlanta Hawks, Minnesota Timberwolves, Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Washington Wizards, Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder, along with pro teams in Italy and Poland. He credits D-Rock coach Marlin Hood with introducing him to the March Madness tournament.
“Marlin Hood is one of my closest friends in this area, so when I’m here I’ll always play in this tournament. No. 41 (Weaver) is a good friend, too,” Wilks said. “He’s the total package – always on the go, gifted, super-quick, a playmaker and a great player who is a first-class guy from top to bottom.” Despite being able to play basketball for a living, Wilks believes it’s important to finish school and focus on more than just hoops.
“There are 30 teams in the NBA – 15 guys at the most on each roster – and only 450 jobs,” said Wilks, who graduated with a 3.85 GPA and an economics degree from Rice University and co-owns a real estate investment company in Wisconsin. “That’s like hitting the lottery. I’m not saying you can’t try to make it to the NBA. You still need to get your education, get a skill. An NBA career typically lasts three years, and 95 percent of NBA guys have to work after their careers are over.
“I think television is fine, but the hype it creates makes guys appear larger than life. Teachers are more important than basketball players, but our talents are just more glorified. Everybody has talents.”
Wilks also organizes an annual basketball tournament held the first and second weekend in August at East Lawrence High School in Caddo that benefits the Tiffany Young Youth & Development Center, which honors the memory of his sister-in-law, a former Purdue University basketball player who was killed by a drunk driver.
“The center is located on Highway 20 in the Hillsboro community, and it’s one of the top pre-K programs in the state,” said Wilks, whose ultimate dream is to expand the center and build a brand-new facility. “It has 18 4-year-old kids, and my wife is the director.”
The March Madness games followed high school basketball rules and were played at the Aquadome, Carrie Matthews, Fort Decatur and T.C. Almon recreation centers. Each team was guaranteed at least three games, and eight squads advanced to the single-elimination playoffs based on their record, points allowed and points scored.
Tronorris Owens, an Austin High graduate who has officiated high school basketball games for 10 years and the March Madness tournament for the past six years, said he enjoys the passion and skills on display at the tournament.
“I like the love for the game, the excitement on the court,” Owens said. “There’s a lot of running and gunning, and the teams are not trying to stall.
“One of the best players I’ve seen is Weaver. He’s a Jimmer Fredette-type shooter, and he also has great sportsmanship. I’ve never had any attitude or problems from him.
“I try and let the players play as long as things don’t get out of hand. I don’t try to call fouls - unless I have to - and I try to stay consistent and be copacetic.”
Pool winners were Uncle Ricos (3-0, 173 points per game, 150 points allowed) , Connect Basketball (3-0, 238 ppg, 160 pa) and Ad Thru Sports (2-1, 178 ppg, 171 pa). Runners-up were North Alabama (2-1, 195 ppg, 155 pa), Ball Starz (2-1, 164 ppg, 152 pa) and D-Rock (2-1, 196 ppg, 175 pa). The tournament field also included Child Please, First Bank, Rogersville Car Wash, Team Vaughn, Pound For Pound and Alabama Villians.
Wilks was awarded the Most Sportsmanship Award, while Gray, a 6-7, 210-pound senior forward at Union (Tenn.) University, earned Most Valuable Player honors after scoring 24 points in the playoffs, including 10 points in a tone-setting performance in the championship game.
In addition to hauling home the championship trophy, members of CBB also divvied up 20 cases of Gatorade, Mountain Dew and Diet Mountain Dew. Next year’s tournament will be Saturday, March 16. For more information, call 256-341-4934.