Norwich AAU team visits the Sun, Layshia Clarendon speaks
On July 30 if you walked into Mohegan Sun Arena and turned left you would have run into several youth basketball players and a four-foot-tall trophy.
These young men represented the 14u and 11u teams of Rose City Intensity Basketball, both of which won the 2019 Zero Gravity National Basketball Division 3 Championship. The players came to raise money for the program and watch the game.
“It’s pretty awesome. You know, these kids worked extremely hard this season, they practice three or four times a week,” said Tim Strong the director of Rose City Intensity Basketball when asked what it means for him to bring some of the programs’ to a professional basketball game with a national championship trophy.
Strong’s favorite Sun player is Courtney Williams because, “She plays hard, and she leaves it on the floor, and she’s tough, as tough as it gets.”
Errol Maurice, head coach of the 14u team, is a season ticket holder and regularly brings his son Lebron, from New London, CT, to games.
When asked about what it meant to win a national championship coaching his son he said, “It meant everything we had a great year … I’ve been coaching him since he was about five years old so to win a national championship is an amazing feat, very enjoyable.”
Though he does not enjoy having his dad for a coach, winning a national championship with him was still a memorable experience.
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“It felt good to work hard and play as a team and win the championship,” he said. Lebron went on to add, “Like I accomplished a lot in basketball, like a lot of hard work, it’s a lot of hard work to win a championship.”
While Lebron doesn’t have a favorite player, he decided that the player that scored the most points would be his favorite. Jonquel Jones scored 27 points in the contest.
Errol’s favorite player is Alyssa Thomas.
“She pushes the ball, she plays super-aggressive, she plays with tremendous passion. She brings a lot of positive energy. She’s always snappy giving high-fives … “She does a little bit of everything, all-around great basketball player.”
Yianni Baribeau of Brooklyn, CT said, “It feels good because it makes our team be noticed,” when asked about what it feels like to have his team’s accomplishments displayed at the game.
Teammate Cedrick Similien of Norwich, CT answered similarly saying, “It’s a great way to show people that we’re a good team, we play competitively and we can beat any team.”
Similien said he comes to most games with his mom and that his favorite player is Jasmine Thomas. He said it is because “she plays aggressive. She gets in your head and all that.”
Jaiden Rivera of Norwich, CT, played on the 11u team and when asked about what his favorite part of winning a national championship he said, “That I got to hold the trophy and cut off the net, and share a fun moment with my friends.”
He believes that hard work and paying attention during practice are two important things that go into winning a national championship.
Layshia Clarendon played for a local team for most of her AAU career, before switching to a team that played in bigger tournaments.
The most impactful part of AAU basketball for Clarendon was traveling to different states with her team as early as sixth grade. Fast forward a few years and basketball has taken her all over the world.
Though she went to Los Angeles Sparks games growing up, she does not believe she ever went with her AAU team.
She believes it is important for both girls and boys teams to come to WNBA games.
For girls teams one thing the players’ union discusses is the lack of a pipeline between AAU and the WNBA. In the future she would like to find some way to get more AAU teams to games and get them more exposed.
Clarendon was excited to hear that the teams that came out were boys teams saying she believed it shows that women are role models too.
“We’re doing it at the highest level and to teach men that at a young age to value not just going to an NBA game as the ultimate pinnacle to see Steph Curry. Like you saw one of the best shooters, you know in Strick [Shekinna Stricklen] who won the three-point contest, tonight and Allie Quigley on the other team. Seeing that type of talent and role models and getting them exposed at a younger age just realizing like these women are badass and what we do is important and for them to be excited always gives me hope for the future too.”
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