2016 Slam Dunk lives up to the hype

January 3, 2017

I’ve attended Slam Dunk to the Beach almost every year since 1994, and just typing that sentence brings memories flooding back. Nate Robinson’s junkyard-dog toughness. Guillermo Diaz’s 50-inch vertical. Jerome Harper’s otherworldly crossover. A.J. Price’s buzzer-beater to stop a flu-stricken LeBron James. J.J. Redick’s Mona Lisa of a jumper. The Tyson Chander-Ousmane Cisse throwdown. The band Cheers. The gloriously weird Christopher and his vaudevillian Village People routine.

As the grandson of a longtime coach who loved the game at first sight, I couldn’t have been luckier to grow up when and where I did. Back in the ’90s, the holidays in Lewes amounted to basketball paradise, and I thought I’d lost it forever when the Slam folded in 2003. Now, the Delaware Sports Commission has brought it back better than ever, and this year’s edition ranked right up there with the legendary 2002 tourney in terms of talent, depth and quality of play.

Cape High played host to five teams ranked in USA Today’s Super 25 and 70-plus Division I talents, including 21 players ranked among the top 100 in their respective classes by MaxPreps. Nine of the 18 games were won by 10 points or fewer. Spectators were treated to a buzzer-beating alley-oop by all-everything big man Mo Bamba, a 39-point outburst from North Carolina-bound off-guard Jalek Felton and a 20-dunk circus between Westtown (Pa.) and Gray Collegiate (S.C.) that is already being called “the most exciting game of the year” by hoops video gurus Ball Is Life.

We got a 32-point, 11-rebound night from slasher extraordinaire Keith Williams, who led Bishop Loughlin (N.Y.) to a nail-biting 82-79 win over Paul VI (Va.). We saw the future in freshman phenoms Jeremy Roach and Jyare Davis. We were treated to a spirited Special Olympics Unified game between the Sussex Riptide and the MOT Tigers. Preschoolers "hit the Quan" on the sidelines, a dude missed out on a new car by about 3 inches, and students from Cape's audiovisual classes documented all the action. I could go on for ages, but I’ve got some Casapulla’s to inhale and a Villanova game to watch. It’s safe to say that after all the fun and fireworks of 2016, Slam Dunk to the Beach is back to stay.

Slam Dunk to the Beach honor roll

These 32 stars, listed alphabetically, shined brightest at the 2016 Slam Dunk To The Beach:

So. G Precious Achiuwa, St. Benedict’s (N.J.) - 13.0 points per game, 9.0 rebounds per game, 2.0 assists per game, .688 field goal percentage, 3-for-6 three-pointers

Sr. C Mohamed Bamba, Westtown (Pa.) - 20.5 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 2.5 apg, 4.5 bpg, .857 fg%, 1-for-2 3fg

Sr. G Matt Cerruti, Archbishop Wood (Pa.) - 17.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.0 steals per game, .667 fg%, 5-for-8 3fg

Sr. F Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, Neumann-Goretti (Pa.) - 21.0 ppg, 12.0 rpg, 3.0 spg, 2.0 blocks per game, .750 fg%

Jr. G Matthue Cotton, St. Benedict’s (N.J.) - 22.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.0 apg, .500 fg%, 8-17 3fg

So. F KVonn Cramer, Mt. Pleasant (Del.) - 16.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 2.0 bpg, .789 fg%

Fr. F Jyare Davis, Sanford (Del.) - 22.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 2.0 spg, .366 fg%, 4-12 3fg

Jr. F Boubacar Diakite, Our Savior New American (N.Y.) - 15.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.0 spg, .314 fg%

Sr. F Danilo Djuricic, St. Michael’s (Canada) - 17.0 ppg, 12.0 rpg, 1.0 spg, 3.0 bpg, .400 fg%, 4-for-9 3fg

Sr. G Jalek Felton, Gray Collegiate (S.C.) - 25.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.0 apg, 4.0 spg, .487 fg%, 7-for-14 3fg

Jr. F Jake Forrester, Westtown (Pa.) - 13.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.0 spg, 1.0 bpg, .579 fg%, 1-for-3 3fg

Sr. G Collin Gillespie, Archbishop Wood (Pa.) - 19.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 5.0 rpg, 3.0 spg, .412 fg%, 4-for-11 3fg

Sr. G Jamir Harris, The Patrick School (N.J.) - 16.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.0 apg, .500 fg%, 4-for-9 3fg

Sr. F Najja Hunter, St. Benedict’s (N.J.) - 14.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 6.0 apg, 3.0 spg, 1.5 bpg, .647 fg%, 1-for-3 3fg

Jr. G Barly Kanu, Eleanor Roosevelt (Md.) - 15.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.0 apg, 2.5 spg, .480 fg%, 6-for-14 3fg

So. G Garrett Kirkland, Bishop McNamara (Md.) - 17.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.0 spg, .522 fg%, 7-for-14 3fg

Jr. G Caleb Matthews, Smyrna (Del.) - 14.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 5.0 apg, 1.5 spg, .321 fg%, 4-for-15 3fg

Jr. F Demetrius Mims, Baltimore Poly (Md.) - 17.5 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 2.0 spg, .444 fg%, 3-for-6 3fg

So. F Makhi Mitchell, Bishop McNamara (Md.) - 10.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.5 apg, 2.0 spg, .500 fg%, 

Jr. G Markquis Nowell, Bishop Loughlin (N.Y.) - 15.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 6.0 apg, 1.5 spg, .379 fg%, 4-for-13 3fg

Sr. F De’Vondre Perry, Baltimore Poly (Md.) - 20.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2.0 apg, 2.0 spg, 2.0 bpg, .483 fg%, 2-for-3 3fg

Sr. G Nate Pierre-Louis, Roselle Catholic (N.J.) - 17.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 4.0 apg, 7.0 spg, 1.0 bpg, .400 fg%, 1-for-5 3fg

Sr. F Tyler Polley, Sagemont (Fla.) - 15.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, .391 fg%

Jr. F Nazreon Reid, Roselle Catholic (N.J.) - 21.0 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 3.0 bpg, .500 fg%, 1-for-4 3fg

Sr. G Brandon Randolph, Westtown (Pa.) - 15.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 7.0 apg, 1.5 spg, 1.0 bpg, .500 fg%

Jr. G Cameron Reddish, Westtown (Pa.) - 15.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 5.5 apg, 2.5 spg, .632 fg%, 4-for-10 3fg

Fr. G Jeremy Roach, Paul VI (Va.) - 20.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.0 spg, .727 fg%, 3-for-5 3fg

Jr. F Ian Robertson, Cape Henlopen (Del.) - 10.5 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 3.0 spg, 3.0 bpg, .320 fg%, 3-for-13 3fg

Sr. F Bourama Sidibe, St. Benedict’s (N.J.) - 11.0 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 1.0 spg, 3.5 bpg, .526 fg%

Jr. G Brandon Slater, Paul VI (Va.) - 17.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.5 spg, 1.5 bpg, .467 fg%, 4-for-10 3fg

Sr. G Isaiah Washington, St. Raymond (N.Y.) - 23.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 4.0 apg, 3.0 spg, .429 fg%, 3-for-6 3fg

Sr. G Keith Williams, Bishop Loughlin (N.Y.) - 29.0 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.5 spg, .429 fg%, 6-for-13 3fg

All-Tournament First Team (plus one)

Sr. C Mohamed Bamba, Westtown (Pa.)

Jr. G Matthue Cotton, St. Benedict’s (N.J.)

Sr. G Jalek Felton, Gray Collegiate (S.C.)

Sr. G Collin Gillespie, Archbishop Wood (Pa.)

Fr. G Jeremy Roach, Paul VI (Va.)

Sr. G Keith Williams, Bishop Loughlin (N.Y.)

All-Tournament Second Team (plus one)

Fr. F Jyare Davis, Sanford (Del.)

Jr. G Markquis Nowell, Bishop Loughlin (N.Y.)

Sr. F De’Vondre Perry, Baltimore Poly (Md.)

Sr. G Brandon Randolph, Westtown (Pa.)

Sr. F Bourama Sidibe, St. Benedict’s (N.J.)

Sr. F Brandon Slater, Paul VI (Va.)

*Note: All-tourney selections must have played in two games during the Slam Dunk.

Tournament MVP: Sr. C Mohamed Bamba, Westtown (Pa.) - Mo was a monster from the moment he stepped onto the court at the Big House. ESPN’s fourth-ranked prospect nationally, the 6-foot-11 center averaged 20.5 points, 12.5 boards and 4.5 blocks in leading his Moose to wins over Gray Collegiate (S.C.) and Our Savior New American (N.Y.). He converted the game-winning alley-oop in the waning seconds of the victory over Gray. Mo wowed crowds with his rare combination of size and skill, showing off soft hands, a nice mid-range game and a 7-foot-8 wingspan that altered dozens of shots. The Harlem native lists Duke, Connecticut, Harvard, Kentucky, Michigan, Syracuse and Texas as his final college choices, but the Blue Devils and Wildcats have emerged as favorites. “I plan on bringing more than basketball [to college], but the biggest thing I’ll bring to the court is my defensive ability,” says Bamba, whose academic credentials are every bit as impressive as his hoops resume.

Tournament Breakout Player: Fr. G Jeremy Roach, Paul VI (Va.) - Going into the tournament, Brandon Slater and Aaron Thompson got all the press for Paul VI, but fans and scouts alike were blown away by this freshman. A born scorer, Roach lit up Lewes for 20.0 points per game on 16-for-22 shooting and paced the Panthers to a victory over Pennsylvania powerhouse Neumann-Goretti. His 26-point, five-assist showing in a narrow loss to Bishop Loughlin (N.Y.) a day later was a thing to behold. He dribbled circles around older players, attacked the basket fearlessly, and finished over 7-footers. Roach, ranked ninth in the class of 2020 by, has drawn interest from Virginia, Maryland and countless other schools.

Best Game: Westtown (Pa.) 70, Gray Collegiate (S.C.) 68 (Dec. 28): Thousands of spectators packed Cape’s Big House Dec. 28 for the Day 2 finale of Slam Dunk to the Beach expecting a high-level, high-octane battle between two of the nation’s premier teams. What they got was the very definition of Slam Dunk to the Beach, a three-ring circus of alley-oops and tomahawk jams that P.T. Barnum would’ve gladly booked. Simply put, it was the most entertaining game in tournament history. 

Mohamed Bamba caught a pass from Cameron Reddish and laid it in at the buzzer to give Westtown (Pa.) a 70-68 victory over Gray Collegiate (S.C.) in an up-and-down affair that featured 20 dunks - yes, you read that right - and at times resembled an NBA all-star game. The 6-foot-11 Bamba lived up to his billing as the nation’s top senior center, scoring 27 points and pulling down 13 rebounds to help Westtown survive a 39-point night from Gray Collegiate point guard Jalek Felton.

With the score knotted at 68, Felton and Gray Collegiate had a chance to win it in their final possession, but Felton was stripped by Brandon Randolph as the clock wound down. The ball took a few caroms and ended up in the hands of Reddish, who fired it to a streaking Bamba for the game-winner.

Felton, a North Carolina commit and the nephew of L.A. Clippers guard Raymond Felton, looked the part of a blue chip. He carried Gray on his back for most of the game, hitting seven of his nine three-pointers, rattling the rim on breakaway jams, and bringing the crowd to its feet time and time again. At one point in the first half, Felton drove to the basket through two defenders, faked a behind-the-back pass that nearly fooled a Westtown big man off his feet, and in the same motion hammered home a one-handed dunk. It was an And-One Mixtape moment that left mouths agape and saw a few kids run onto the floor in disbelief.

But Bamba and Co. overcame Felton’s heroics by scoring the game’s final five points and holding Gray scoreless over the final 2:36. After Felton hit a 15-footer to put his War Eagles up 68-65, Seyon Kpann answered with a put-back for Westtown and Bamba tied it with a free throw one possession later, setting up the final sequence.

“Gray Collegiate was a smaller team, but very athletic like us,” Bamba said afterward. “It was very fast-paced … Our coach had us deny [Felton], and it was perfectly executed from [Randolph]. [Reddish] came up with the ball, and all I had to do was finish.”

Felton finished 15-for-27 from the floor and left no column in the box score unchecked, adding six rebounds, five steals and four assists. Bamba went a perfect 12-for-12 from the floor and blocked four shots for Westtown (13-2), which also got 17 points on 8-for-11 shooting from junior wing Jake Forrester. Randolph, an uber-athlete who will play at Arizona next season, chipped in with 13 points, seven assists, and a show-stopping baseline throw-down on the head of Westtown’s Kendrick George.

“The rim just got really big,” Felton said afterward. “It seemed like everything that came off my hand was gonna go in.”

Forrester scored the game’s first nine points and got the crowd on its feet with a nasty one-handed put-back early in the first quarter.

Sophomore forward Juwan Gary scored 16 points and collected eight rebounds for Gray Collegiate, which plays a daunting national schedule and fell to 3-5 on the season.

Westtown shot an eye-popping 32-for-48 (67 percent) from the floor and hit 30 of its 34 tries from two-point range (88 percent).

Best Team: St. Benedict’s (N.J.) - With all due respect to Westtown (Pa.), Archbishop Wood (Pa.) and Bishop Loughlin (N.Y.), the Gray Bees played on a higher plane at the Slam. They dismantled a good Sagemont (Fla.) squad by 17 points Dec. 28, before embarrassing Gray Collegiate (S.C.) - the team that took Westtown to the brink a night earlier - by an 88-51 score. Their numbers in these blowouts were straight out of NBA 2K17. St. B’s shot 54 percent from the floor and 42 percent from long range during the tourney, held opponents to anemic 33 percent shooting, and assisted on 37 of its 58 field goals. Junior two-guard Matthue Cotton averaged 22.5 points and 4.5 rebounds for the Bees, pouring in 29 points and hitting seven treys against Gray, while senior guard Najja Hunter put up 14 points and six assists per night. St. B’s also got 13 points and nine boards per outing from sophomore blue-chipper Precious Achiuwa and double-double averages from senior big man Bourama Sidibe. Mark Taylor’s roster is loaded with at least nine Division I prospects, and that was very obvious at the Slam Dunk. After its performance in Lewes, this big, balanced, unselfish squad is all but guaranteed a spot in USA Today’s Super 25 rankings.

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