Coach Shane Smith said he feels like a proud papa.
His seventh-grade South Georgia Kings basketball team has brought home the national championship by going undefeated at the 2012 Youth Basketball of America National Tournament held July 8-14 in Kissimmee, Fla.
The Kings went 8-0 at the tournament and 3-0 in pool play.
In pool play, the Kings beat Southern Elite from Florida, 67-63. Richard LeCounte scored 23 points to lead the team. Davion Mitchell scored 18 and Devonte Hill scored 10 points.
“From what I understood, they were the Florida state champions,” Smith said. “In the second game of pool play, we played against a team we had previously played in the state tournament, the Georgia Stunners from Atlanta. And we were able to beat them, 54-46, which was pretty good.”
LeCounte paved the way again, scoring 18 points, Mitchell scored 13 and Tracy White chipped in seven.
In game three, the Kings beat Spartanburg’s Carolina Select Team, 65-50. LeCounte scored 19, Mitchell chipped in 13 and Christian Brook added nine toward the win.
“They were a big team, and we played well against them,” Smith said.
The Kings advanced to the championship bracket and drew several tough opponents.
“When we looked at it, all the tough teams ended up being on our side of the bracket, so we really had to play hard to win this tournament,” Smith said.
The Kings faced the Middle Georgia Rattlers, another team the SGK squad has faced before.
“But we actually got the jump on them pretty good,” Smith said. “I think our kids were excited to be in this position and we beat them, 72-43.”
LeCounte scored 27 points. Mitchell chipped in 17.
In the Sweet 16, the Kings went up against the Birmingham Gators.
“That team was pretty good and took us into overtime,” Smith said. “They were very well coached, but we won 80-77.”
Mitchell led the Kings with 38 points.
“He really put us on his shoulders in that game,” Smith said. “It was a real tough game, a real nail-biter.”
LeCounte contributed 16 points and White added eight.
In the Elite Eight, the Kings played against another familiar opponent: Crawford County.
“This team had previously beaten us twice this year,” Smith said. “Throughout the entire tournament our kids were looking forward to playing this team. They wanted payback. At the state tournament, we were up by 10 points with five minutes left in the game, and then we fell apart and they beat us. We beat them, 72-56, and it was a good payback.”
LeCounte scored 31, Mitchell chipped in 17, Hill, Tyreone Freeman and Domonique Johnson each scored six points.
In the final four, the Kings faced Team Heat from Fayetteville, N.C.
“They were a real big team. They like to run and play the same style we play and they press a lot, like we do,” Smith said. “We knew going into this game we were going to have to minimize our mistakes, avoid turnovers and play basketball. “
The Kings claimed a 68-65 win, with LeCounte leading the way with 38 points. Mitchell chipped in 12, Johnson added nine and White scored seven.
In the championship game, the Kings defeated a Puerto Rican team, 56-52.
“They were very fundamentally sound and disciplined,” Smith said. “And out of the eight games we played, this was the one game we didn’t play our best, but we were able to pull it off.”
LeCounte scored 26 points, Mitchell scored 11, Hill chipped in eight and Johnson added five.
“This is huge for Liberty County, and I knew it was huge going into the game,” Smith said. “I think the boys did too and were a little nervous. But I’ve been telling them that we have some of the best kids in the country playing right here.”
Mitchell was tournament MVP. LeCounte made the tournament all-first team as well as Rican Donaldson and Hill earned the all-hustle award.
The seventh grade squad has a two-year record of 69-11 after going 35-4 this year.
“This is major,” South Georgia King founder Jessie Fleming said. “Something to add to the legacy of what we are trying to do for basketball programs here in Hinesville. Shane and all the guys have done an amazing job. These kids have been playing together for the past two years, and we expect this group to keep adding on to their accomplishments in the next few years to come.”
“I’m very proud of these kids. They really worked hard to get to this point,” Smith said. “You can’t take away a national championship, and not everybody is going to win a national championship. It’s hard to get to that point.”
Video of the championship game can be found at http://www.ihigh.com/yboa/broadcast.