By: Law Murray
You all know about La Familia.
Through the first three weeks of the 2014 Drew League season, no team has packed King/Drew Magnet High like The Game’s group of chosen ones. To their utmost credit, they deserve it. La Familia has played some of the most exciting, thrilling, hotly contested games so far this season.
There was the Week 1 72-71 victory over Tradition capped by Frank Session’s go-ahead step back jumper with under ten seconds remaining.
The following week saw Session collect a second straight Player of the Week award as he led his team to another close victory, 79-77 over Hard Times.
In Week 3, LA LOOP was on the receiving end of Kwame Alexander’s thunder, as La Familia turned a 78-72 victory into what could have been their own space on the highlight mixtape.
“Every week, we have a target on our back,” La Familia Coach Ice said. “You see the crowd when it gets here. We play an exciting brand of basketball, and teams want to beat us.”
You should know about the Stingrays. Maybe you can be forgiven if you don’t. The transplanted newcomers led by Coach Mae warm up as if they are trying to impress the slam dunk contest judges, but they are all trying to figure each other out, having never played together before May. Their aggressive philosophy resulted in strong games against the more heralded Problems and Cheaters, but they were also put away by both teams.
But the Stingrays got Robbie Robinson off the plane for Week 3, and he put up a hefty double-double (30 points, 14 rebounds) to earn Player of the Week honors and to lead Stingrays to their first win, 86-76 over #Juglife.
Going into Sunday’s game against La Familia, the Stingrays coaching staff noticed that La Familia was 3-0, but that their wins came by a combined nine points. Despite the highlights and heroics, they weren’t exactly invincible. The Stingrays had a plan to beat La Familia. They wanted to frustrate them with their energy. But Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” The only way to shock the crowd would be to fully execute that plan.
After four rounds/quarters, the Stingrays showed up, traded blows, and knocked La Familia from the ranks of the undefeated with a convincing 95-85 win.
As predicted, the gym filled up for the late afternoon contest. La Familia pleased the crowd before the opening tip, debuting a gold alternate jersey that would at least make some want to ask about a price tag. One of the players in the new jerseys was Lil TerRio (Oooh Kill ‘Em). Nice moment for the kid, and it’s not like the Stingrays should need extra motivation.
But the Stingrays started the game throwing haymakers. Robinson and guard Jeff Remington attacked the basket, seldom waiting for La Familia to set up on defense. La Familia didn’t worry too much early, as Game and Session were up for matching baskets. La Familia took a 28-27 lead after the first quarter, which is something you see at the end of an NBA quarter.
The second quarter is when it became clear the Stingrays were serious about winning the game. Coach Mae’s brimstone on the sideline is matched with an “all hands on deck” approach to her lineups, as she shuffled eleven players in and out of the game during the first half. It’s easy to question rotations like that, but trusting the process can go a long way. Despite The Game hitting 4-of-10 threes on his way to 16 points in the first half, Stingrays took a 48-42 lead into the half, getting outstanding play from guys like Joel Brokenbrough, who was efficient around the basket offensively while helping limit the highflying Alexander to only one first-half shot attempt.
The Stingrays built the lead up in the third quarter, continuing to find players to put the ball in the basket against La Familia’s inconsistent defense. Whether it was starting guard Steve Custis or reserve Shannon Sharpe, La Familia started coming apart defensively. La Familia can overwhelm most teams with their athleticism and length. In this game, the athleticism, length, and, perhaps most importantly, depth of the Stingrays put pressure on La Familia they weren’t used to seeing.
By the end of the game, the Stingrays’ plan to frustrate La Familia was on full display for all in the building to see. Session, one of the more dynamic players in the league this season, had to work hard for his game-high 26 points. He and Jeff “Unabomber” Ledbetter combined to shoot 2-of-15 from downtown for the game. And The Game missed all eight of his three-point attempts in the second half, finishing with 19 points on 25 shots. In all, La Familia missed 29-of-35 threes for the game, and 15-of-16 threes in the second half.
“Game killed us in the first half,” Stingrays assistant coach Kevin Matthews said. “But we wanted to see how he held up against our defense in the second half. His legs had to work.”
While the Stingrays failed to hit a three, missing all eight of their attempts, they countered that by playing at a ridiculous pace, getting 80 shots up inside the arc and making 44 of them (55 percent). Robinson (25 points on 12/27 shooting) and Remington (12 points on 6/14 shooting) weren’t very efficient, but their volume and shot-making ability were offset by the efficiency of players such as Brokenbrough (17 points on 8/11 shooting) and reserve big man Ephraim Ekwanem (10 points on 5/7 shooting off the bench).
Observers felt that the Stingrays were in better shape than La Familia, and that there was no fear in how they played, particularly Ekwanem. There was certainly no fear from Coach Mae, as she kept up her energy from warmups on through the last minutes of the game, engaging the crowd as well as getting into it with La Familia players.
“We knocked off one of the best teams in the Drew League,” said Remington after the game. “We’re ready for July 1st when all the real teams will get here. Right now, we’re just warming up.”
Coach Mae basically echoed that sentiment towards the end of the game. Despite a safe lead and a feeling of a breakthrough, Coach Mae kept shouting to her players, “This game’s not over!” This is a big accomplishment for the Stingrays, but they’re 2-2. La Familia is 3-1. Both teams have a lot more work to do, and a lot more time to get it done.
Law Murray is in his fourth year in Los Angeles via Philadelphia. He has been at grad school at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism since 2012, and graduated from California University of PA in 2009 with a degree in communication studies. Law has also served two years in City Year and covered the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Russia. He specializes in breaking down teams and players on a variety of media platforms.