Whether competing early in the morning or battling through tight spots late in games, the NEPA Elite 14U boys kept coming up with the answers they needed to be successful.
The 14U boys won all four of the games they played Saturday and Sunday in the Hoop Group’s Summer Jam Fest at Spooky Nook Sports in Manheim Township.
The perfect weekend started earlier than planned when a late opportunity arose to add an extra game Saturday morning.
NEPA Elite fought off a comeback later in the day, then produced a comeback of its own Sunday to complete the 4-0 record for the week and improve to 6-1 overall.
The team, made up entirely of players entering their freshman year at Lackawanna League schools, went unbeaten despite playing up against older players in the 15U Division.
“The biggest strength with us is our 3-point shooting ability and our transition offense,” coach Corey Joyce said. “These kids have been playing together for three years. The transition offense and the way they see each other on the offensive end and trust each other on the defensive end, I sometimes just kind of get out of their way.
“They’re so in tune with each other.”
Success is nothing new for the group, which was the last of eight teams to debut from the new AAU club out of Riverfront Sports in Scranton.
Joyce coached 7 of the 10 players the previous 2 years when they competed in younger age groups as the Backcourt Bulldogs.
Half of the roster is headed to Scranton Prep. Zander Condeelis and Andrew Summa previously played at Our Lady of Peace while Roman Valvano, Chase Scanlan and Kellen Casey played at St. Paul’s.
Mason Fedor, Eugene Curtin and Will Marion are from Abington Heights while Gabriel Tanner is from Mid Valley and Nicholas Williams is from Dallas.
Summa, Valvano and Scanlan joined the group that had already been playing together.
A recap of the team’s Summer Jam Fest games:
NEPA Elite 41, Lehigh Valley Force 34
Joyce learned from NEPA Elite founder Kevin Clark Friday afternoon that an additional game was available to the team if it wanted to add a contest at 9:40 in the morning to the two it was already going to play Saturday morning.
With help from parents, the team was able to accept the extra game and make it work.
Some families had already planned their travel to Lancaster County for Friday night. The rest got up and on the road extra early Saturday morning and the team showed it was ready to play with a winning effort.
Joyce said it was just another example of why he is thankful for the help the team receives from the players’ parents.
“I don’t think they know how much I appreciate them and the sacrifices they’re making every weekend,” he said.
NEPA Elite put together a strong first half, then overcome a sluggish stretch. Lehigh Valley got as close as four in the second half, but NEPA Elite locked up the victory.
NEPA Elite 63, Team STAT 52
Although it was the team’s highest-scoring effort of the weekend, Joyce credited defense with making the difference.
“Later in the second half, we switched (from man) to a 1-2-2 that we’ve been practicing the last couple weeks,” he said. “They were really disciplined and that’s how we were able to pull that one out.”
Tanner led the offense with 22 points, including 12 in the first half when NEPA Elite built a 32-18 lead.
Team STAT rallied to tie the game before Tanner put the team back in front and NEPA Elite pulled away.
Williams added 12 points. Marion hit a 3-pointer in each half while finishing with 11.
Casey scored six of his seven points in the second half.
NEPA Elite 45, York Ballers 40
With two starters hobbling while the team played the second game of a back-to-back and the third of the day, it was not easy getting past York.
Valvano, Casey, Condeelis and Tanner shared the scoring load almost equally in the victory.
“We were kind of beat up a little bit, but the thing about these kids is they don’t give up,” Joyce said. “They just kind of come at you relentlessly with everything they have.
“Our kids just do not quit. It’s something that you can’t teach and they all have it.”
NEPA Elite 58, Pro Youth 53
Pro Youth took a 29-18 halftime lead before Marion and Tanner sparked a comeback in which the team shot 70 percent from the floor.
Marion went 3-for-3 from 3-point range in the first five minutes of the second half.
Tanner wound up making all five of his second-half shots, including a 3-pointer, and Fedor made two 3-pointers.
During the second half, NEPA Elite was 14-for-20 from the floor, 6-for-9 (66.7 percent) on 3-pointers and 6-for-7 (85.7 percent) from the line.
Tanner scored all 11 of his second-half points, including two of the three baskets that broke ties, during a five-minute stretch in which NEPA Elite outscored Pro Youth, 17-6, to move ahead for good.
“The thing about him is he sees the game as he plays,” Joyce said. “I’m always open to suggestions. If the kids see something, I’ll always listen to them and let them try it out.
“He saw something in the defense and I let him do it. The next couple possessions, he knew what he was doing and it scored at will.”
Casey and Scanlan each hit two free throws in the final 31 seconds, making sure that a late Pro Youth 3-pointer did not do any damage.
Casey contributed six points, three defensive rebounds and two assists to the second-half charge.