Cavs gear up for national tournament
Not many people make trips to Myrtle Beach, S.C. in late December; that trip is usually taken in hopes of catching a suntan or some waves.
But for the East Rutherford basketball team, they heading to the coast to compete with some of the top high school basketball teams from all over the country in the highly-regarded Beach Ball Classic.
"It's considered to many to be the best Christmas tournament in the country," said head coach Brad Levine. "The thought was that if I ever got my team to the level where I thought we could compete in it, I'd like to play in it. So many teams are repeat teams and it's hard to get in. We finally got an invitation last year and I felt that we could compete."
This year's Classic features teams from 12 different states. Levine's Cavaliers are set to face a team at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 26 that is traveling 1,036 miles from Milwaukee, WI in Rufus King. The Generals were runner-up in last year's state tournament.
King head coach Jim Gosz has accumulated a staggering 443-84 record in his 22 years at the school including four state championships.
The Generals are led by senior guard Austin Malone-Mitchell who is averaging 19.3 points per game so far this season.
"They're pretty good to say the least," Levine said of the Generals. However, the level of competition doesn't phase him. "No matter where you go the foul line is 15 feet away from a 10-foot high basket. We're gonna put our pants on just like they do. At any time anybody can beat anybody."
The Classic has featured names like Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, Raymond Felton, Grant Hill, Kevin Garnett, Deron Williams, Mike Bibby and Rudy Gay. Maybe an East Rutherford Cavalier will be added to that elusive list as an all-time tournament great.
"I don't want to pinpoint anybody because I don't think that's what we're about," Levine said when asked about players to watch over the course of the tournament. "Travis [Waldroup-Rodriguez] has been shooting well. I'm just hoping that team-wise our defensive continues to get better and better."
Just last week a key piece to the Cavalier team was reinserted into the lineup in junior guard Devonte Boykins.
"It's a different attitude when you have Boykins is out there. Everyone is out there and talking. They're running like a machine," Levine said. "I've been missing that leadership. He's the engine that makes the train run. He demands it out of the guys. It makes them play at a different level, we don't have any lulls."
However, as Boykins is still recovering from an ACL injury, his playing time may be limited.
"I don't know how much he'll play if he'll play at all," Levine pointed out.
The Cavaliers are making the short trip in hopes of winning, but they still understand that this tournament will have effects that last well beyond four days.
"All I'm asking of those guys is to go down there and enjoy themselves, have a good time and grow from it regardless of if we go 3-0, 0-3 or anything in between," said Levine. " They'll spend a lot of time together and in cases like that you can really grow. Instead of everyone going their separate way for 10-12 days, you're together 24/7. I think this is going to be a really good thing."
This year's Cavaliers (8-1; 2-0 SMAC) is loaded with talent which not only helped earn the tournament invite, but will help them remain composed in such an atmosphere.
"I have kids that are used to playing in theses big tournaments," Levine said. "This is a great opportunity to see how good we are and how good we can be. You know for every minute you're there that it's going to be top-level basketball. If you go down, compete and play well then you've learned from it."
As much as this tournament is a learning experience, Levine's competitive drive is unmistakable.
"We can be a better basketball team because of this," said Levine. "But make no mistake, we're going down there to win, that's the object."