There are several AAU basketball teams in Texas that receive periodic national recognition by recruiting analysts. Teams such as the Houston Defenders, Texas Assault, Texas PRO and Houston Hoops get the ink and definitely deserve all the press.
There's a team representing the greater San Antonio area that feels it's every bit as good as the aforementioned -- and it proved it on Tuesday. The Texas D-1 Ambassadors-San Antonio have put together an impressive summer run and have beaten some of the best teams in and out of the state.
Tuesday evening, their beliefs became reality against one traditional Texas power in the finals of the Las Vegas Live Tournament. In an all-Texas clash, the Ambassadors defeated the Hoops, 65-53, to claim the 17U Platinum Bracket championship.
As much as the Ambassadors have won this year (the team is 50-9 this summer entering this weekend's tournament play in California), few victories earned the respect that the win against the Hoops earned. Some even classified the win as a minor upset.
"We obviously have a lot of respect for that group," Ambassadors coach Paul Josephs said, "but our kids came ready to play. They were excited about the opportunity. Our kids feel after everyone we've played, we can compete with anybody."
D-1 Ambassadors founder Max Ivany added: "It's always satisfying to win a major championship. Going into the tournament, Mr. Joseph felt good about the team, and so did I. We felt that had a real honest shot of winning the event. Of course, you need a little luck, and we got that, too."
The Ambassadors have played several of the best teams tough all year, including the Texas Assault, which won the adidas Super 64, also played in Vegas. The Ambassadors won eight consecutive games, the last against highly ranked Division I guards in L.J. Rose and Duke-bound Rasheed Sulaimon. J-Mychal Reese, another star guard for the Hoops, was out with an injury.
The Ambassadors were led by 6-foot-9 Connor Lammert who had several offers entering the tournament and picked up two more from Texas and Stanford during the tournament. He helped the team to an undefeated run through pool and then to bracket-play wins against California-based Greenline Basketball, Nevada-based Marcus Banks Hard 2 Guard, FOH Seattle and the Louisiana Future before meeting the Hoops in the championship game.
While Lammert had a solid tournament, it was the play of his teammates that helped pick up major victories. The backcourt duo of Matt Gramling and Adam Perez ran the offense, while fellow guards Nikko Maxwell and Carter Josephs kept the pace at an even keel. Uche Ofoegbu and Aaron Ramirez were do-it-all swingmen, and Jeff Rodewald and Shelby Lane teamed with Lammert to be the team's interior muscle.
"One of the reasons why I think we're a very good team is because everybody puts team over self," Paul Josephs said. "If Connor tries to do it himself, he may be somewhat successful, but if we let the game dictate who scores, you're going to win your fair share. It was truly a team effort out there."
There is no rest for the new Las Vegas Live champions, as the Ambassadors will compete in the GBOA Challenge of Champions Thursday in Long Beach, Calif.
2013 D-1 Ambassadors team wins Silver Bracket
The San Antonio group wasn't the only Ambassadors team that took home hardware from Vegas.
The Texas D-1 Ambassadors 2013-Bostic defeated the Oklahoma Attack to win the tournament's 17U Silver Bracket. After a 1-2 record in pool play, the guard-oriented Ambassadors, coached by Reginald Bostic, defeated the Oklahoma Shock-Lloyd, Team Missouri and the San Antonio Hurricanes to advance to the bracket finals.
With the assistance and perseverance of players like Justin Moss, Napoleon Onyeje and Rasmus Bach, the Ambassadors took home a 17U title -- despite being a 16U team. Adding to the program's success is the Texas D-1 Ambassadors 2013-Morse, a team that won its pool before bowing out to eventual tournament quarterfinalist DJH5-Houston.
"Honestly, I'd be lying to say it's not gratifying," Ivany said of watching two of his teams win titles. "You get happy because you know the kids are wonderful kids. The San Antonio kids tend not to get the respect as the other teams. As for our 16-and-under teams [D-1 Bostic and D-1 Morse], we expected them both to compete hard and maybe steal a win or two against the 17s. We figured next year would be their year, but they really did some growing on the spot. It was really fun to watch."