Three Shawnee natives win United States Jr. NBA World Championships, advance to world title games
Three Shawnee natives helped their respective teams to a United States Jr. NBA World Championship on Saturday, and they’re hoping to bring home more hardware when they play again this afternoon at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.
Damar’e Smith and Adrian Dimond are members of Allen Skeens’ Lenexa-based Drive5 Power Elite team that coasted to a 68-53 win over Atlanta-based TSF Mack in the U.S. boys title game. Gabi Henderson-Artis guided Sam Johnson’s KC Prodigy squad to a 45-41 victory against Germantown Lady Panthers (Maryland) in the U.S. girls title game.
With their respective victories, Drive5 Power Elite and KC Prodigy will represent the Kansas City area and United States in the world championship games. Drive5 Power Elite will play Africa & Middle East at 2:30 p.m. KC Prodigy will then take on Europe at 3:45 p.m. Both games will be televised on FOX.
Both Kansas City teams mounted furious fourth-quarter rallies in the semifinals in order to advance to the U.S. finals later in the day on Saturday.
KC Prodigy trailed by 10 points in the fourth before upending the SC76ers (South Carolina), 71-68. Grandview native Cierra Smith knocked down a 3-pointer with 40 seconds to break a 64-all tie. Henderson-Artis added seven points and four rebounds in the semifinal victory.
Henderson-Artis came through in crunch time in the U.S. girls finals. KC Prodigy trailed, 41-36, with just under two minutes to go before closing the game on a 9-0 run. Henderson-Artis drilled one of her three 3-pointers with 48 seconds left to put KC Prodigy up for good. The Bishop Miege freshman-to-be scored nine of her 11 points in the second half.
“Let’s just be honest, this group of girls, they came to work hard. It’s not about today. It’s about what we’ve been preparing for all summer,” Johnson said in a postgame interview following the U.S. girls final. “These girls fought battles all summer to be in the situation that they were in today. We’ve been through this all summer, so it was time to bring it and show exactly what we can do.”
After posting a 3-0 record in bracket play and earning a 73-51 win in the quarterfinals, Drive5 Power Elite had to face some adversity in the semifinals. Allen Skeens’ squad trailed by nine going into the fourth quarter after Isaiah Foster of Dallas-based Team FOE made a buzzer beater from half court to end the third. Drive5 Power Elite turned up the pressure defensively in the fourth, though, en route to a 54-51 victory. Smith, who will be a freshman at Shawnee Mission Northwest, did his part with eight points and four rebounds. Lansing native Mark Mitchell Jr. led the way with 16 points and eight boards.
Mitchell Jr., who will take his talents to Miege, paced Drive5 Power Elite again in the U.S. boys final with 23 points and seven rebounds. St. Thomas Aquinas freshman-to-be set the tone defensively with eight steals.
“We’re very excited about the opportunity (to play in the world championship game). I’m very proud of my guys,” Skeens said in a postgame interview following the U.S. boys final. “We fought. This was a goal of ours all season, and this is the last tournament I’ll be coaching this group. We get to go out and play for a world championship. They’re a special group of kids, and I can’t imagine any better atmosphere or environment or platform to have them finish their careers as Drive5 Power Elite players.”
The best game of the tournament so far for Dimond, who will be a freshman at Mill Valley, came in a six-point showing in pool play.
The Drive5 Power Elite roster is comprised of Dimond, Smith, Jackson, Mitchell Jr., Jordan Brown (Lansing), Quinton Conley (Kansas City, Mo.), Grades Dick (Wichita), Mozae Downing-Rivers (Lawrence), Taj Manning (Grandview, Mo.) and Aidan Shaw (Overland Park). The KC Prodigy roster includes Henderson-Artis, Smith, Saniya Simmons (Kansas City, Kan.), Tiyani Rollins (Kansas City, Mo.), Brooklyn Rhodes (St. Louis, Mo.), S’mya Nichols (Overland Park), Tasia Johnson (Greenwood, Mo.) and Sania Copeland (Kansas City, Kan.).