The Midnight Madness U18 Finals brought together the best young ballers in the country for one final battle to determine who was to make it through to the winners circle. With 2 titles up for grabs, (MM Prep Division Winner and MM Overall Champion), the competition was fierce as players from across the country made their claim for the MM Crown.
The top 20 players from the MM Boot Camp were divided into 2 balanced teams, provided with coaches and then faced off against each other over 4 quarters of action on the legendary ‘Black Out’ Midnight Madness court. The excitement and tension were both raised to another level this year by staging the finals at the Copper Box Arena, on the Olympic Park, the perfect venue to showcase the future of British basketball. In discussing the legacy of the London 2012 Olympic Games, the players on show in the MM Finals are perhaps the first generation of players who get to benefit from using the impressive facilities the London Olympics have provided – and the young MM ballers certainly rose to the occasion.
The rules for MM Finals are structured to give all players an equal chance to play and make their case on court for a place on the MM Travel Team. All players get at least 15 minutes of guaranteed court time each, over 3 quarters, to show and prove why they deserve to be on court in the 4th and final quarter. Players who jumped out early to establish themselves as front-runners in the competition were Jules Dang-Akodo, (6’1″ point guard), Arif Sempala (6’2″ wing), Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye (6’3″ guard) and Ola Ayodele (6’3″ wing).
Dang-Akodo continued to show why he is generally rated as the top point guard in the country within the division, controlling tempo, setting up teammates for easy scores and scoring with ease. Dang-Akodo has a huge wingspan which allows him to play much taller than his listed height and continued to give him advantages over the competition on both ends of the floor. A savvy decision maker, and patient passer (he finished the game top in assists with 5) he stays a step ahead of each play, reads defenses well and has developed into the most well-rounded point guard within the U18 division in the country.
Sempala is a long-limbed, slender framed bundle of potential. At this point, there isn’t any one single skill that he dominates with, however, as with multi-faceted premier wings of the day, he does a lot of things well. He rebounds, defends, scores and stays constantly active on both ends of the floor – which is why he has become a stat-filler this summer. Make not mistake about it, he is still growing and will fill out in the years to come as he will need to get stronger for his hustle and energy to translate into success at the next level – however at this point he excelled this summer on work ethic, hunger and determination and ultimately would not be denied a place in the finals. Carrying that through to the final game, Sempala looked genuinely surprised to find himself atop of the BWB leaderboard as the overall highest scorer in the game with 14 points. Hustle, hard work and potential are always rewarded on the hardwood.
Lautier-Ogunleye is arguably the most mature and ‘next level’ ready (aside from Dang-Akodo) amongst the MM finalists – and proved it early on in the first quarter. Offensively he is polished and will get out in transition either leading it himself from the point or filling lanes as a wing, with the ability to finish at the basket. One of the stronger guards on display, ‘L-O, good to go’, was a handful to guard all summer for defenders across the country. He has ‘big shot’ DNA and showed it on multiple occasions over the summer and was one of the few players not to be intimidated by the big stage at the Olympic Park. He can run an offense, score the ball and is a willing defender. He was the player closest to being able to match up with Dang-Akodo play for play in the qualifying rounds. Teaming up with Dang-Akodo in the finals gave the White Team a strong advantage in the backcourt as he switched over to the 2 as needed without missing a step. As he continues to mature, the future prospects for this talented combo-guard look promising.
Ayodele could, when its all said and done, blossom into the most productive player of the whole group – providing he understands what it will take to fulfil his potential. Blessed with the prototypical elite ballers physique, with long arms, wide shoulders and good agility, as he grows into his body and gets stronger – all of his competition could be in trouble. Ola showed signs in the finals of what he may well become on a consistent basis, swatting shots, getting into passing lanes and showing his athleticism in throwing down the best dunk of the game. If in the right situation, Ayodele could blossom into a NCAA division 1 player in America within the next 2 years, if he so chooses.
Other players of note who stood out on the day include: Jay Jarrett (6’7″) a long, wiry combo-forward who showed range from beyond the arc and high-energy on the glass. Dwayne Orija (6’5″) a ‘do it all’ wing from London who can dribble, drive and shoot from range. Riccardo Guddemi (6’5″) is an athletic combo-forward who will fill out eventually as a legitimate wing and Reece Turner (6’3″) has the potential to be a legitimate shooting guard with deep range.
When all was said and done the White team ran out 5 point winners by a score of 58-53, with the top 3 players on the night (as scored on Ball Without Bias) being: Jules Dang-Akodo (Guard), Arif Sempala (Wing) and Jay Jarrett (Big). These 3 now have first right of refusal on joining the MM Travel team in the Island Classic down in St. Kitts & Nevis later this month.
Overall U18 Ball Without Bias Leaderboard:[tabs type=”horizontal”] [tabs_head] [tab_title] BWB [/tab_title] [tab_title] Points [/tab_title] [tab_title] Rebounds [/tab_title][tab_title] Blocks [/tab_title][tab_title] Steals [/tab_title][/tabs_head] [tab] BWB Score
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