By Justin Hoppe
The NBA season may be drawing ever closer towards its epic finale but for all the players, coaches, parents and fans of the Age 10 & Under (10U) Tampa Bay Warriors Youth Basketball of America (YBOA) team, crunch time has only just begun.
For the next three months the highly competitive team of ten youngsters from all over Tampa, which features New Tampa resident Varun “V” Ajjarapu, will be investing a great deal of their newly acquired glorious summer freedom on the court. The summer tournament season marks the culmination of a year’s worth of never-ending suicide sprints, spending more time working on their respective jumpers than with their friends or family, and hitting just a couple free throws shy of losing both arms at the shoulder on an almost daily basis.
But, for many, if not all, of those involved with the Warriors, the experience will ultimately come down to the thrill of victory and the regret of defeat. The latter is by no means on the agenda of the Warriors fourth grade (10U) tournament squad, which secured the YBOA Boys State Championship in their age group in Ft. Myers on June 3.
Warriors head coach Kevin Knox’s boys began their overwhelming up-tempo assault from the opening horn, trouncing the opposition in group play to secure the top seed in the tournament bracket. From there, the Warriors continued to make quick work of every opponent, establishing an almost-ridiculous 143-point differential through merely four games, including an astounding 15-0 semi-final shutout of rival Coral Springs Explosion, to make it to the championship final. No, that was NOT a misprint and I kid you not folks — it was a semi-final basketball shutout!
Championship games are almost always certain to be hard-fought but the Warriors’ aggressive defense and overall tenacious style of play on the back of Ajjarapu’s MVP performance proved too great for the title-contending Palm Beach Triple Threat.
Ajjarapu had already averaged an impressive 14 points per game going into the match-up but came up with a huge 17-point contribution in the finale, which was just three points short of outscoring his adversaries alone. Begging one to wonder whether Miami Heat forward and inconsistent closer LeBron James, Varun’s favorite player, could stand to learn a few things about being “clutch” from the straight-A student and Tropicana Speech Champion.
Last season, this same group of talented young boys won three major 9U championships and was recognized as the second best squad within their age group in the entire nation. Despite the level of offensive superiority exhibited by the squad, the hallmark of the team lies with the defense. Coach Knox’s style proves he doesn’t subscribe to the simplicity of reactionary play that many others within this age group so often do. Instead, his tendency is to change defensive schemes suddenly in order to control the tempo from start to finish, forcing the opposition to react rather than allowing them to assert themselves.
I believe coach summed up it best following the team’s 2011 AAU Disney Memorial Day Classic Championship victory nearly a year ago when he said, “It (basketball) isn’t checkers, it’s more like chess.”
You can come support the Tampa Bay Warriors as they set their sights on yet another championship trophy at the Summertime Jamfest on Friday, June 15, at the University of Tampa’s Bob Martinez Center.
For more information about the Tampa Bay Warriors, visit Summerfieldbasketball.org/tampabaywarriors10u or contact head coach Kevin Knox at 767-1716.