From the moment they saw the adidas Super 64 tournament, the Texas Assault were on a mission.
After winning the 16U championship last year, the Assault felt as if they took a proverbial slap in the face after not being placed in a super pool for the 17U division. In an effort to make a statement, the Assault ran through its pool and earned its second consecutive Super 64 title, cruising to a 93-78 victory in the championship-bracket finals against Nevada-based Dream Vision Tuesday at Las Vegas' Rancho High School.
"They felt disrespected," Assault coach Vonzell Thomas said of his team. "They won it last year, and when they saw the schedule and saw they weren't in the super pool, they used it as huge motivation. From the time they saw it, there was no turning back."
After a slow start in the first half, the Assault kicked things into high gear in the second. After trailing, 44-38, at the half, the Assault went to lead by as many as 16 at one time. Credit Marcus Smart for his incredible second half after a 2-for-15 performance in the first half of play.
Smart finished with a monster overall game -- 29 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, two blocked shots and two steals -- en route to being named the tournament MVP.
"It's a statement that he should be top five in the country," Thomas said of Smart.
In addition to Smart, the Assault got offensive contributions from Phil Forte and Nick Banyard. Forte, whose consistently rising stock may have hit an all-time high during the tournament, finished with 20 points and four rebounds. He also drained three 3-point buckets. Banyard had 15 points and seven rebounds and, at 6-foot-8, showed his perimeter range by hitting 3 of 6 from beyond the 3-point line.
The Assault trio -- all from Flower Mound Marcus High School -- stole the thunder from Dream Vision's more recognizable trio of Shabazz Muhammad, Winston Shepard and Xavier Johnson. Muhammad, considered by many to be the nation's top-ranked player in the Class of 2012 had 22 points despite battling a bad ankle.
Shepard, who is from the greater Houston area but attends Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nev., had 19 points and six rebounds in the loss. Johnson nearly missed a double-double, finishing with 11 points and nine boards.
The Assault becoming a back-to-back Super 64 champion served two purposes Tuesday. In addition to showing their worth to those who made the brackets, the Assault avenged an earlier loss to Dream Vision during the spring grassroots season in Kansas City.
"When we first played them in Kansas City, we met them at a time when we'd had no practices," said Thomas, who is in his first year coaching the Assault. "We just went out and played. At that time, the chemistry wasn't there with the players and myself. We then played a couple of events, and our goal in July was to come out and win everything we've played in. It started with the Great American Shoot-Out and now Vegas. We did what we set out to do."
Thomas added: "This feels good. Not a lot of teams have won back-to-back years. [Coaches] Rick Roberts and Phil Forte Sr. did a great job of building this program. This is my first one with the guys, so it's special, very special."