Tina Turner said it best in her 1991 song, “Simply the Best” when her
vocal pipes poured out the words “you’re simply the best, better than
all the rest.” It would be hard to describe All-Ohio Red’s 17-and-under contingent any better. Saturday, AOR became the first AAU team in history to win three straight national championships and wrapped its three-year run with a 201-9 record. Wow…
Tina Turner said it best in her 1991 song, “Simply the Best” when her vocal pipes poured out the words “you’re simply the best, better than all the rest.”
It would be hard to describe All-Ohio Red’s 17-and-under contingent any better.
AOR knocked off a very good Boo Williams (BWSL) squad on Saturday afternoon to capture its third straight national title. The 76-66 triumph put All-Ohio in the record books as the only team to accomplish such a feat.
It wasn’t easy defeating a team with a North Carolina (Kendall Marshall), Wake Forest, and Duke (Andre Dawkins) recruit, but they succumbed like all the rest.
The orchestrator of this tight-knit bunch has been basketball guru Quentin Rogers. The personable and knowledgeable Rogers put this team together three years ago with one goal in mind.
“I told the kids in the first meeting we had three years ago that this team could be the greatest AAU team ever,” Rogers noted.
“We attainted our goal and did what we set out to do three years ago,” the Red boss said.
And the legacy that follows?
“This team has been together for three years being the greatest AAU team I’ve ever seen or been apart of in that amount of time,” Rogers proclaimed. “Others teams have enjoyed one or two good or even great years, but no one has ever done it with such dominance over a three-year period.”
“This year was a little more challenging than the first two as we had a bigger target on our back and most tournaments we participated with five or six guys. We won without everyone on this team at one time or another and a lot of teams would have folded but these guys never made excuses.”
Just how dominant was All-Ohio Red?
“We played everybody that was supposed to be the best, and they all fell,” Rogers joked. We dominated like nothing I’ve seen before as 15’s and 16’s winning most games like ninety to thirty. It got a little tougher and we had some ups and downs this year, but in the end we finished what we started.”
All-Ohio Red finished its three-year run with an astounding 201-9 record. More impressive, they won 29 of 32 tournaments entered. Those tournaments were with all the so-called big boys.
“We played in Spiece, Boo Williams, Peach Jam, and all the toughest competition the country had to offer,” Rogers relayed. “The Peach Jam this year that we won was by far the hardest tourney we ever played in and the most talent I have seen in one gym. There were at least 20 professionals in that gym.”
The amazing thing is of the nine losses, no one ever handled the “Big Red Machine.”
“Most of our losses we gave away, especially this year,” Rogers explained. “No one ever handled us, and I think the most we ever lost by was six or eight points.”
Rogers believes the key to this team’s success was the result of a couple factors.
“One, they all listen,” the AOR head man noted. “Two, if you look at the team most of the dads coached high school, AAU, or have been involved with basketball in one way or another. They are all high IQ players, which is huge.”
Being arguably the most heralded AAU team of all-time, most people know the main players but assembling a team that fit together like a jig-saw puzzle is by no means easy. To get kids to play together, who are 1st Team All-Ohioans on their respective high school teams and are use to being the guy, is incredible.
“Some of the kids played together from third and fourth grade, some grew up together, and some we put together at the very last minute,” Rogers extended. “Courtney Avery, Kevin Gray, and Juwan Staten have been with us from way back. Aaron Craft split ways with his old AAU team, and I knew I loved his game so we had to get him. Staten’s dad put me on to Adreian Payne, and we got that one done. Then, J.D. Weatherspoon came over.”
However, the final piece of the puzzle was not placed on the table until the final day.
“Jared Sullinger was the final piece,” Rogers said with relief. “Jared came over the night of our first practice. When I finally found out for sure that he was going to play with us, I knew we were going to dominate. Team CBIZ and the Queen City Prophets were also very good at that time, but I knew Jared was going to be the difference. I even called Jerry Watson and told him this could be the greatest AAU team ever.”
Rogers’ vision became reality on Saturday afternoon. The team built with high major players and big offensive games, however, prided itself on the defensive end of the floor. An attribute that helped his team be called national champs one more time.
“This was a team from our very first practice that was built on defense,” the savvy Rogers stated. “Everything we did was defense oriented. We pride ourselves on defense, and that separated us from a lot of AAU teams. We were keeping teams in the thirties and forties the first two years and our margin of victory was just huge. This year has been a little different as kids get better and teams load up for one last run.”
Rogers is right, things were a little different this year. AOR, after coming off a brutally tough Peach Jam, loaded up for Orlando (FL) to play in the Super Showcase. The showcase was the week before the national tournament, and AOR was a heavy favorite. However, the favorite was a little flat.
“We didn’t win the showcase, but even after the two losses I was confident we were going to get it done in the nationals, Rogers explained. “I thought we played down to our competition in the showcase, and most of the others teams were a lot more motivated than our guys. We were just playing in spurts and thought we could turn it on when we wanted and it get it done. They found out that wasn’t the case.”
This type of play called for a little tough love from Rogers.
“I just wanted to do a little kick starting,” Rogers joked. “The day after we lost in the showcase, I met with each player individually to discuss their role for this team. Then we had a team meeting outside and worked on stuff in the hot sun. Then it started pouring down rain, and we just kept going. I just wanted to remind the kids about our first meeting three years ago when we talked about being the greatest AAU team ever. I told the guys at nationals we want to attack right from the start.”
Even after, things started a little slow during nationals week. Though, that quickly changed.
“When we ripped apart Old Gold (101-48), I knew we were hungry and going to get this thing done,” Rogers said with confidence. “That was when I felt really confident we were going to finish what we started.”
Rogers couldn’t have been more right about one thing, Jared Sullinger was the final piece. In fact, no one in the country has been more of dominant force. Every scouting agency and expert in the country has “Sully” in the top five, but most always find something he lacks. However, the “big smooth” always proves the doubters wrong. No one player is more polished for his age than Sullinger.
The big fellow from Columbus Northland has faced all of the top dogs America has to offer whether it was Josh Smith or Jeremy Tyler, and the result was always the same. Sully’s team came out on top and more often than not he put up astronomical numbers. Saturday’s championship game was no different.
Sullinger, who is committed to Ohio State, was named MVP of the national tournament and went out in style with 30 points and 15 rebounds in the victory over Boo Williams.
“The thing about Jared is his ability to dominate games in so many ways,” Rogers said. “A lot of teams do a great job of denying him the ball, but his ability to get position when the ball is in the air is second to none. He doesn’t get frustrated anymore when he can’t get the ball, rather he just positions himself to get the ball off the glass and put it back in the hoop. He just dominates.”
Sullinger’s inside mate Adreian Payne of Dayton Jefferson came alive in the team’s last three games. Payne, who is coveted by almost all major programs, has potential lottery status if he just realizes it.
“The last three games of bracket play he was legit,” Rogers noted. “He was taking defenders off the dribble, hitting the outside shot, dunking off put backs, rebounding, and blocking shots.”
Payne will be as good as he wants to be.
“If you only saw him one time and it was at our tournament in Milwaukee, they would be changing the NBA eligibility rule for this kid,” said the AOR chief. “He dominated every single game in that tournament. He wasn’t blocking shots rather snatching them out of the air. He just needs to mentally start getting ready for each game, but he has come a long way.”
Though, it wasn’t just the All-Ohio frontline that was getting it done. Oak Hill Academy’s Juwan Staten, Liberty-Benton’s Aaron Craft, and Reynoldsburg’s Kevin Gray were lights out.
“Staten’s bracket play was about as perfect as a point guard can play,” Rogers said. “He started to get his point guard feel, and was putting the ball where it needed to be. Juwan has blazing end-to-end speed which created a lot of easy buckets for us. His play was one of the main reasons we took it home.”
Staten is committed to Dayton.
“Craft was hitting the mid range jumper, and just brings a great will to win. He is a great defender and I am confident in putting him on anyone in the country. He has a very high basketball IQ.”
Craft will join Sullinger in Columbus next fall.
One of the most unsung heroes of the unit is Kevin Gray.
“Kevin has been on fire, and there hasn’t been a tournament this year that he didn’t shoot it well,” Rogers said. “He brings toughness to the table and defended everybody from a six-foot guard to a six-foot-seven forward. The backcourt did an excellent job and he was a big part of that.”
The bench was certainly nothing to sneeze at with the likes of J.D. Weatherspoon, Anton Hutchins, and Courtney Avery doing their part.
“Weatherspoon brought great energy off the bench and bounced around with some big dunks while knocking down some big threes,” stated Rogers. “Hutchins was tough on defense and rebounded the ball very well. Courtney was solid on defense and knocked down some long range shots.”
Avery will attend Michigan to play football, while Weatherspoon is a high major prospect and Hutchins is also getting looks.
Let us not forget that All-Ohio Red lost one of the best players in the country in April due to a broken leg. Cincinnati Princeton’s Jordan Sibert, an Ohio State commitment, suffered the injury at the Boo Williams Invitational. However, he was with the squad most of the time either on the bench or keeping score book.
“The game on television against the CP3 All-Stars he really wanted to play,” said the personable All-Ohio mentor. “It was really hard on him, but he is getting better and that is what matters.”
Rogers summed up his feelings in a few words.
“I am going to miss these guys a lot, and I felt privileged to coach each and every one of them. They were simply the best.”