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LA Alpine Captures 8th NACBA Championship in Bean Town

The 2011 Men’s Elite division was whittled down from sixteen teams in 2010 to only a dozen teams this year in an attempt to increase the level of competition. Captains stepped up to draw the card that would seal their fate on Friday evening, and the madness began in earnest on Saturday morning. Two big factors made an impact on the 2011 outcomes, as teams had to adjust to different circumstances throughout the weekend. First of all, Saturday and Sunday’s games were played on slightly smaller courts (just slightly shorter than a typical High School court as compared to the NCAA regulation size that the top teams had become accustomed to). The other factor was that this year’s tournament was not officiated by the usual NCAA officials, so this year the teams had to acclimate themselves to a more rough and tumble set of circumstances in a tighter environment. But all twelve teams were faced with the same situation, so it would just be a matter of who could make the adjustments more quickly. The rim was still 10 feet high, there were still 10 guys on the court, and the ball was still round, so in the end it was still the same game Naismith invented. In Pool A, NY USAB A upset Washington CYC A in Saturday’s biggest shocker to come in first, followed by CYC, NY FBNYC A, and the shortrostered Cali Davis Dynasty. Pool B was easily the most difficult pool on paper, but Coach Tony Wong’s young LA Alpine team picked up where they left off in 2003, winning every game by double digits as they pressed everyone into submission on defense and shot the lights out on offense. LA was first at 3-0, the 2-1 NY RL Cruisers finished second, the Toronto Titans finished third, and NY Maximum Output came up short. In Pool C, the Seattle Bladerunners were first as expected, the revamped Toronto Dragons A were a tough second, Markham FCCM came up from the Mens Open to finish third, and the hometown Boston Hurricanes AAU disappointed their supporters by going winless.

On Sunday morning, first up were the four first round games. On Court 1, it was Washington CYC A v/s Larry Chow’s NY Maximum Output. Maxout sat out the 2010 tournament, and had looked rusty & out of synch as they unsuccessfully tried to pull it together on Saturday. Maximum Output’s Oak Nguyen (16 pts, 4-4 ft, 3 steals) went toe to toe with CYC’s Jeffrey Lee (10 pts, 6 assists) in a matchup of two fabulous NACBA Top 30 guards. NYC’s Alex Stewart and Gavin Cook did a good job slowing down Hank Huang by keeping him from posting up, but they failed to stop unsung Kenny Ho (8 pts, 2 steals) from getting two early triples. NYC did play their best game of the tournament, with wings Dave Mason and Derrick Tsou making a couple of highlight reel plays as they kept the score somewhat close. But CYC was up comfortably by 5-8 points the whole way, and advanced 40-34. On Court 2, the Boston Hurricanes (2004 Champs) got a chance to prove that their 0-3 Saturday showing was not reflective of their talent level as they drew a pool play rematch with the 2010 Open Champions, Markham FCCM. FCCM took the earlier game 34-31, but this time Boston defended their home court as they came out with a sense of urgency. They limited standout SG Darren Liu’s touches and threw an extra defender his way in order to make someone else beat them. Liu still reached double digits, but no one else did for Markham. SF Johnson Lam dropped a dozen, Marvin Chan fell just short of a double double, and Greg Maneikis had 13 points as the Canes won easily 53-35. On Court 3, Ron Yeung’s Toronto Titans came in heavily favored as they would meet FBNYC A. But Will Cheung (21 pts, 7-9 ft) won the pivotal matchup with Carlos Andrade (13 pts, 1 triple, 7 rebs). Toronto sorely missed the veteran leadership of PG Acer Huang, as Ren Hsieh (5 pts, 2 fouls) came up with smart plays down the stretch to lead FBNYC to a big 42-39 upset. The final game of the First round was the NY RL Cruisers v/s Cali Davis Dynasty. One neat subplot of this game would be the George Chan v/s George Chan PF matchup. The Cruisers’ George won the name game as he outdueled the Dynasty’s version 10 pts, 4 rebs to 0 pts, 4 fouls. Top shooter Eddie Wang was scorching early as he tallied 9 in the first few minutes and the Cruisers were comfy. Every New Yorker got into the scoring column as they waltzed 60-34.

In the quarterfinals, there were a couple of exciting matchups. The Toronto Dragons A-Washington CYC A matchup was a repeat of last year’s QF game where CYC advanced 57-39. It was a very similar game this year, as Toronto kept it close- trailing only 28-22 at the half. Kenny Ao (11 pts, 6 rebounds, 2 dimes) and Andrew Suen (16 pts, 2 trifectas) were playing well in transition for the speedy Dragons. But as the game wore on, Jeffrey Lee (11 pts, 4 assists) and Chris Lee (4 pts, 3 steals) sparked DC with their pressure defense on the perimeter, while Kenny Ho (13 pts) and Hank Huang (13 pts, 11 rebs, 1 block) shouldered the scoring burden. Toronto’s lack of depth became their Achilles and Washington won 60-46. The next QF was the best game of the round as the Cruisers looked to do better in their rematch with LA Alpine (52-34 in pool play). James Chen and Jonathan Chu were once again the primary scoring options for LA, combining for 28 points. But the Cruisers had seen the Alpine 1-3-1 press and figured out how to beat it by flashing their big men to the middle in order to relieve the pressure. The tempo was perfect for the Cruisers. LA led 22-18 at the half, but it looked like NY could emerge victorious with a little bit of luck. Perennial All-NACBA pick Tony Hu (16 pts), George Chan (10 pts, 12 rebounds), and Eddie Wang (14 pts, 2 triples) were the big three for NYC. But towards the end of the game, LA picked up a key charging call, Tony Hu fouled out, and underage big man Jordan Young had 13 unexpected points as Alpine squeezed a win out 48-45 as the Cruisers failed to capitalize on the mismatches in the paint. On Court 3, it was NY USAB A v/s the Boston Hurricanes AAU in a matchup of the only two teams besides Seattle to have won the big dance since 2003. USAB’s vet guard Jason Chin (13 pts, 3 trifectas) hit two big three pointers early on, PF Joe Vines (19 pts, 2 steals) was smooth as silk, and Top 18’er Andrew Lichtenstein came out of nowhere to score 8 first half points. USAB was up by double digits and appeared as if they would waltz into the Final Four. However, the Hurricanes didn’t just give in. They turned it up a notch on the defensive end in the second half, allowing USAB only four second half field goals. USAB was rattled as they watched the lead slipping out of their grasp. Pat Redmond hit four three pointers, and Kevin Redmond scored 18 to get the Canes in position to win. But time began to run out and Boston had to start putting USAB on the line. USAB missed quite a few freethrows but they did hit just enough to win, as they snuck by 49-45. Not many people watched the last game of the round, as the Seattle Bladerunners amped up their defense and led 37-9 at halftime against NY FBNYC A. Stephen Chang (12 pts, 7 rebs) and Wesley Hsu (19 pts, 4 triples) were amazing early on, and Seattle played their bench most of the game en route to a 69-45 victory.

Monday morning, and three of the teams that were here at the Case Gym (Seattle Bladerunners, Washington CYC, and LA Alpine) were in everyone’s bracket. Most others had picked either the Toronto Dragons A or the NY RL Cruisers to complete the quartet, but it was actually NY USAB who had burst their way onto the big stage by virtue of their Saturday shocker over CYC. USAB had thus received the all-important bye, leaving the Cruisers to face LA and the Dragons to face CYC in the Quarters. But USAB is certainly no stranger to the bright lights of Monday, having made it to the Final Four in both 2004 and 2007. All four teams were amped up to be playing in front a larger crowd and to finally get out onto a full size regulation court (home of the Boston Terriers).

On the Main Court at 9am, it was a rematch of the 2010 Finals and the 2009 Semifinals as the 3-time defending Champion Seattle Bladerunners would meet Washington CYC A. Seattle had CYC’s number as they have won 5 straight matchups dating back to 2003. CYC has to look back to 1998 and 2001 for their last victories. But CYC has been slowly retooling their roster over the years, specifically trying to find the Bladerunners’ kryptonite. One flaw in the DC gameplan was that they didn’t expect Top 30 PG Austin Yuen to be injured this year, as Seattle had replaced Yuen with 6-2 wing Ryan Dunn (All-NACBA, SF Duke/ Hoopaholics) and 6-5 SF Thomas Fang (Cal-Berkley). Although Yuen’s injury had changed some things for Seattle, it definitely made them a more physically imposing team. Both teams came out with mutual respect but plenty of confidence. The stands were buzzing with chatter. There were a bunch of college level players, guys who played pro ball in various places, countless All-NACBAIT picks, and quite a few NACBA Top 30 players lined up on the hardwood. How would Seattle deal with CYC’s speed? How would CYC deal with Seattle’s size? What defenses would each team implement? Who would be the first to toss a monster jam? CYC came out with an aggressive box and one on 6-3 All-NACBA guard Wesley Hsu. The idea was to stop Hsu from sinking the 4.3 trifectas he had been averaging thus far, and to cut off his playmaking. Seattle recognized and went to living legend Jim Shih (8 pts) underneath. Washington worked the ball to F Hank Huang, and he scored CYC’s first 11 points on a variety of inside moves and jumpers. The Bladerunners took note and began to realize that the zebras were granting the players a lot of leeway in the paint (2 free throws and only 6 total foul calls in the half combined for both teams). Seattle got physical on defense and made someone else beat them. A big steal led to a Kyle Kiang (9 pts, 1 treyball) breakaway jam and Seattle was usurping control. But CYC remained poised as they expected a tough game. The game stayed whistle free, and it actually fell into CYC’s favor as Seattle got no calls each time they went hard to the cup against their smaller opposition. CYC was bumping Seattle every time they went into the paint, and the errant shots were going all over the place. The quicker Washington team was the first to the ball, and they patiently worked the perimeter on offense to hit six deep dialups on cue as Keith Wang, Bobby Hsieh, Jeffrey Lee, and Chris Lee took turns from 22-25 feet out. Seattle’s Ryan Dunn and Thomas Fang closed the half out well and Washington led only 34-30 at the midpoint. Seattle had confidence, as they had pulled games out like this in the past, but Jim Shih and Kyle Kiang’s bodies were starting to betray them as three days of playing is not the best thing for guys in their 30’s. Plus, Kyle had been nursing a pulled groin all weekend. It would be up to the young guys to get the job done. The gameplan remained the same for both teams, and CYC hit a bunch more treys to stretch the lead to double digits. Seattle realized that the clock was their enemy, and they went for broke with about 7 minutes to go. They implemented a jump trap defense and got some big steals as CYC was caught completely off guard. MVP man Stephen Chang and Tim Wang (10 pts, two 3’s) clawed the Bladerunners within 3 points, but as time wound down, they had to start putting CYC on the line and they sank 13/16 ft’s in the second half to win the game 66-57. Hank Huang had 23 to lead CYC, while Stephen Chang had 14 and two threes for Seattle, as CYC won this physically draining game and ended Seattle’s three year reign. Seattle will be back, but CYC finally got the monkey off their back.

The other semifinal was a matchup of two undefeated 4-0 teams as LA Alpine and the NY USAB Warriors would meet. USAB has a huge amount of respect for Coach Wong’s LA team, as Warriors founder Bill Chan often cites Alpine as one of the biggest inspirations for the creation of the USAB program. LA came out wearing black, and NY was dressed in yellow and it looked like a bunch of bees on the hardwood. Alpine swarmed like killer bees, causing turnover after turnover after turnover. Jonathan Chu was unstoppable from the wing as he dropped 21 in the first half alone. Chu is as impressive a player as we have seen in recent years. He showed his full repertoire of moves, showing us that he can drive left, drive right, jab step and hit the treyball, and he can stop on a dime to sink pullup j’s. James Chen (21 pts, 4 treys) was a perfect complement on the other wing, and LA took USAB’s swagger early by going up by more than 20 before halftime. The only reason Alpine wasn’t up by 30 was that Joe Vines (16 pts, 1 trey, 5-10 ft, 7 rebs) was doing some scoring on the rare occasion that USAB broke the press. In the second half, Alpine was up by 24. Coach Wong called off the dogs a little bit and started to put some subs in as he knew they would be facing CYC in about an hour. USAB threw in the towel as they benched All-Tournament pick PG Nicholas Mui (2 pts, 1 foul) and inserted other options. Still up by a sizeable margin, Chu went to the bucket on a breakaway and Joe Vines made some contact out of frustration. As expected, no foul was called, but Chu and Vines got into a little scrum. Tony Wong does not play games and does not tolerate anything of the sort from his players. He demands absolute discipline and sportsmanship. He holds his program to a higher standard than anyone else. Wong immediately pulled his #1 option while USAB kept their go to guy in the game. That showed a lot about the state of the programs and how they got there. One team was at the top even though they haven’t been at the Nationals scene in 8 years, while the other team was just trying to get to that level by any means possible so they kept their man in the game even if it meant sacrificing discipline. NYC apparently needed that little bit of extracurricular stuff to fire them up as they finally hit some shots. The lead started to dwindle, as USAB’s Kevin Chang (16 pts) and Zachary Liu (5 pts, 2 steals) stepped it up a notch. LA’s PG Benny Hoang kept going to the line and the normally rock solid #00 hit only 1 of 5 down the stretch. Alpine remained confident and they didn’t go back to their trademark press. The Warriors were trying to make the score respectable and were playing hard to make it happen. Throughout the whole series of events as the lead was dwindling, everyone was just waiting for Jonathan Chu to be reinserted into the game but it wouldn’t happen. Apparently if LA would lose the game without him, then that’s just how it would have to be. The Alpine organization definitely earned a lot of respect for playing the game the right way from everyone who saw this matchup. In the end, Alpine did coast to the win 58-48.

The Championship game boiled down to a rematch of the 2002 Finals between LA Alpine and Washington CYC A. Back then, Los Angeles defeated Washington 50-43 as 6-4 MVP Daniel Liu (UCSD) had 16 points, 17 rebounds, and 4 blocks while Song Cun and Benny Hoang were NACBA Top 30 legends in the backcourt. Ironically, Daniel played the past couple of years with CYC as Alpine did not travel to the NACBAIT, but he did not play this year due to a knee injury. Song has also moved on, and Benny is really the only remaining holdover from those glory days. Gone are Brad Au, Johnny Phan, Kenny Phan and Joe Diep. For CYC, the core of Jeffrey Lee (Charles College), Chris Lee (Rutgers), Keith Wang (Gettysburg), and Bobby Hsieh (Catholic) persists in their upper years but the remainder of the roster has seen a lot of turnover. After Alpine left the NACBAIT tour, it became a big man’s game and CYC was forced to get taller in order to compete. Big men like Stan Hwang (6-4, 260), Daniel Liu, Hank Huang, and 6-5 All-NACBA C Brian Liang became necessary pieces. Even transitional guys like lanky 6-1 SF Tuan Tang (Penn State Abington) needed to be able to defend bigger guys. So a lot has changed since their last matchups at the NACBAIT. The teams have still faced each other annually in tournaments such as the LVI (CYC won the last meeting in 2010 as Chris Lee sank a 3 at the buzzer) so it’s not like these teams are completely unfamiliar with each other- but for some reason things are always different at the Chinese Nationals. Spectators were mostly predicting a 7-8 point win for LA, since they had been so hot from the outside all weekend (9 threes per game), CYC had just come off a real war with Seattle, and LA had pretty much cruised against USAB in their semi.

The opening tap went up, and it was game on. CYC knew to put their primary focus on Jonathan Chu, and had Kenny Ho deny him the rock. Veteran Benny Hoang saw this and immediately called a play for #45 James Chen. Chen curled off some greatly spaced double screens, caught the ball and in one motion swished a three without batting an eye. The play drew oohs and aahs from the stands. Washington tried to establish Brian Liang and Hank Huang early as they had obvious mismatches inside, but it became apparent that the 7th game in 3 days were too much for Liang’s gimpy knee. CYC would have to readjust their game plan. LA came down, and ran the same play as CYC stood befuddled with their defenders standing there looking at each other. Chen’s quick trigger resulted in nothing but net from 21 feet out. Chen hit his first four three’s before he missed one and LA was off to a good start. Before you knew it LA was winning by double digits. Alpine was full court pressing and it looked like it could turn into a blowout. You just can’t play a team like LA from behind. CYC regrouped and tied it up at 18-18 thanks to 4 treyballs (two each from Kenny Ho and Bobby Hsieh). Then it was Jonathan Chu’s turn to put on a show. Some backdoor lobs, some face up threes, some strong penetration against the man defense and the score was 40-24 at halftime. The second half rolled around and Coach Wong’s Alpine Striders kept the press going. CYC was able to work it to Hank Huang for two baskets early in the half, but after that it was clear that CYC just had nothing left in their gas tank, as the veteran team was totally drained from the Seattle game. Alpine’s full court ball pressure was amazing as all 5 guys were working in unison. Their recovery and to the ball speed on defense was reminiscent of their old teams. Jeff Lim and Jordan Young filled the gaps and did all the little things as this team did not let up on the gas one bit. It was full throttle all the way. LA tallied 14 steals for the game. CYC couldn’t get their legs underneath them on their shots as they were stuck on 28 points for about 13 minutes. LA went on a 23-0 run before Kenny Ho hit 10 straight points for CYC, including a 4 point play. But it was over and the stands were emptying out early. Alpine’s suffocating defense, and their 14/18 3-point shooting were the keys. Jonathan Chu (24 pts, 3 treys, 5-6 ft, 4 steals, 2 TO’s) and MVP James Chen (24 pts, 7-9 threes) were the stars for LA, while Kenny Ho (16 pts, 5 treys, 6 rebs) and Hank Huang (8 pts, 7 rebs) led CYC. The game has changed to a speed game and it looks like LA is going to be the team to beat for years now. Congrats to Los Angeles on winning their 8th NACBAIT title!

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