Taft's performance was a collection of should haves. He should have been more dominant on the glass against the smaller Breakdown frontline. He should have been more effective at blocking or altering shots in the lane. He should have been aggressive and gotten Breakdown into foul trouble (Taft only attempted two free throws – making them both). Upside is a popular word when discussing big men. Well, upside is a perfect description for Taft. He runs the floor extremely well. He has soft hands and a quick bounce off the hardwood. Heck, in his best play of the day he even showed an ability to put the ball on the floor. But this is where the ‘should haves' come in. Because he has all this ability, he should have been a real force in the game.
In terms of individual matchups, particularly for interested UNC fans, it's a shame the Juice All Stars were bounced from the tournament early on Saturday. Had they won, they would have faced the Tallahassee Wildcats in the semifinals. Chris Taft versus Chris Richard. Sebastian Telfair versus Darius Washington. As it turned out, however, Team Breakdown's victory led to the best game of the day. The Wildcats and Breakdown staged a classic battle with an exhilarating finish.
Leading by 4 with only a few seconds remaining, the Wildcats seemed to have their ticket to the championship game in hand. Then it all fell apart. Quickly. Duwon Youmans hit a long, long three pointer. Then Breakdown stole the inbound under the basket. Jerron McCiskill's layup was blocked by Chris Richard. But the high flying McCiskill went right back up and dropped it in as time expired.
The thrilling finish overshadowed a strong game by the Wildcat's Renaldo Balkman. The 6'8" forward arguably boosted his stock more than any other player at the tournament. Balkman is a gifted player. Nice jump shot, beautiful finishing moves around the rim, good hops, and a smooth handle. He's the kind of forward who rips down a rebound and immediately pushes it up floor to the lead the break. He had 12 points in the first half (many of them spectacular) and finished with 18 for the game.
On the back of Balkman's stellar play, the Wildcats raced out to an early lead. Then the loquacious Breakdown shooters heated up. WG/WF Joe McCray and WG Duwon Youmans both hit a rhythm, bombing repeatedly from outside to bring back Team Breakdown. Youmans saving his best for last.
After the pulse pounding semifinal between the Wildcats and Team Breakdown, the championship game was a let down. Riverside Church dispatched the Long Island Panthers in the other semifinal game and then went on to pick apart a fatigued and slightly burnt out Breakdown to claim the title. Cool and efficient, the Church put on a clinic of team basketball on both sides of the court cruising to a 78-55 win in a game stopped by the mercy rule. Gary Ervin not only showed great leadership in the drive to the title, he was also the high man with 22.