For the Boulevard Boyz basketball team, there were tears at the start of the AAU Division III National Championships and at the end. The emotions involved on those occasions, however, couldn’t have been any more different.
The Boulevard Boyz, composed mostly of players from the Town of Southold, had lost two of their first three games in the tournament for players 14-and-under in Hampton, Virginia. Thus, the tears of sadness.
But then came tears of sheer joy.
The Boulevard Boys went on to win their next four games, including the final, to nail down their first national championship on Monday.
Jaxan Swann (Greenport) poured in 22 points, Ahkee Anderson (Greenport) scored 18 and Xavier Allen (Mattituck) added 16 as the Boulevard Boyz defeated the Virginia Marlins, 68-54. Afterward, fans, parents and players hugged each other, crying.
“All of them felt the joy of being a part of a national champion,” said the team’s coach, Rodney Shelby of Greenport.
A national title may not have been foremost on the minds of the Boulevard Boyz just two weeks prior to the tournament when they had only six players — all guards. “None of them was a big man,” said Shelby.
The Boulevard Boyz ended up heading to Virginia with nine players after Anderson confirmed his participation and Elijah White (Bridgehampton) and Isaiah Johnson (Southold) were picked up.
Still, the Boulevard Boyz were short in stature. White, a guard/forward, played center. At 6-feet tall, he was several inches shorter than the players he went up against.
“Needless to say, we were undersized against every team we played,” said Shelby.
Height is nice, but it is isn’t everything. The Boulevard Boyz relied on their aggressive defense, using a 2-2-1 full-court press, a 2-3 zone and a 1-3-1 half-court zone to deny opponents.
“Teams were looking at us, they were taking us for granted,” Shelby said. “They didn’t know how feisty we were.”
Anderson had an exceptional tournament. Had individual tournament awards been presented, Shelby said, Anderson would have been recognized as one of the top players.
“He was playing phenomenal,” Shelby said. “He showed why he is one of the best kids on the East End. It wasn’t just scoring. His defense was as good as his scoring. I’ve only seen a handful of players who’ve had that.”
Anderson was a regular starter along with Brandon Clark (Greenport), Allen, Swann and White. Coming off the bench were Sylas Shelby (the coach’s nephew), Nick Grathwohl (Southold), Joel Treadwell (Center Moriches) and Johnson.
Rodney Shelby was assisted by his nephew, former Greenport High School star Ryan Creighton. Keysha Terry is the team manager.
The Boulevard Boyz had twice before qualified for the national tournament, only to go 0-8 in those games.
On Monday morning, the Boulevard Boyz beat the Tar Heels, 71-52, in a semifinal before playing the final shortly after.
The first Boulevard Boyz men’s team was created in the mid-1990s. About eight years ago, the AAU Boulevard Boyz was one team with six players on it. Now the program has four teams with 45 players, said Rodney Shelby. He said the team used to be viewed as a laughingstock. “Now people look at us like they don’t want to play us,” he said.
As for the emotional ending on Monday, how did Rodney Shelby handle it?
“My eyes got watery, but I kind of held it back,” he said. “It took everything I had to keep from crying.”
Photo caption: The Boulevard Boyz claimed their first national AAU championship in Hampton, Virginia, this week. (Credit: Courtesy Keysha Terry)