BALTIMORE – In the few short years since its inception, the Team Takeover organization has established itself as the premier AAU program in the DMV and among the best in the nation.
Takeover’s still undefeated 17-and-under team has attracted national media attention – its ranked No. 1 nationally by Five Star Basketball and was recently featured on ESPN.com – and that acclaim has put a bullseye on the organizations younger teams as well.
“I feel like teams are out there to get us because of the name that’s on our jerseys – ‘Takeover’ – and they want to give us their best shot,” 16-and-under team guard Stanford Robinson (Paul VI) said. “But I mean, we just do what we’ve got to do and handle our business.”
Indeed, Takeover’s 16's – also known as Caron Butler’s Team Takeover – have emerged as a team to watch this season. They are ranked No. 6 nationally in Five Star’s latest rankings, and took second place at the Nike Baltimore Elite Invitational last weekend, the team’s best finish in five tournaments so far. Takeover rallied back from 13 points down against New Heights (NYC), but came out on the short end of a 64-61 overtime final.
“We’re a very good team,” DeMatha guard Jairus Lyles said. “I think we’re one of the best teams in the country and can’t nobody play with us if we play how we’re supposed to.”
Takeover Vice President/16’s coach Kenneth Johnson said the team will be next be participating in a Memorial Day tournament, though he isn’t sure where they will be yet. He joked that he knows his players will be prepared ahead of time, though.
“No matter how much you try to encourage them not to, the kids are on the Internet,” he said. “They’re finding out whose the quote-unquote ‘Top-ranked players,’ and when we get a chance to out there and play them in the national scene, you see their level of play rise – they have to rise to the level of the competition. We tell them, ‘You’ve got to be ready for that spotlight. If you’re not ready for it, that spotlight’s going to burn you.’ So we get out there, we get to compete, and we just battle.”
Comprising the team’s roster this year are:
Jairus Lyles (DeMatha) 6-1 G
Will Ferguson (Bishop O’Connell) 6-1 G
Josh Hart (Sidwell Friends) 6-3 G
Carlton Carter (Brooke Point) 5-9 G
Mike Cunningham (Paul VI) 5-10 G
Stanford Robinson (Paul VI) 6-3 G
Cameron Gregory (Bishop O’Connell) 6-7 F
Nick Gorski (Cosby) 6-7 F
Ryheem Lockley (Middlesex) 6-4 F
Kelvin Howard (DeMatha) 6-4 F
Lennard Freeman (St. Johns College) 6-7 F
Tim Higgins (Paul VI) 6-9 F/C
“Most of the kids that are in our organization have been with us at 14, 15, 16, you know?” said Laurel High school coach Torrence Oxendine, who is in his third year working with Takeover. “So, it’s pretty much the same group every year. You may get an addition here, a subtraction there, but for the most part, our core always stays the same – all the way from 14 to 17.”
Team Takeover began in 2008, when founder Keith Stevens left Triple Threat to start his own organization. The program wasted little time establishing itself, as it won both the 17U and 16U titles at the Super Showcase in the summer of 2009.
“We prided ourselves for being the underdog for so many years,” Johnson said. “And now I guess we have a little bit more name recognition, but something that’s a goal of ours coming into the season is we make sure we never let anyone come at us harder than we’re going to be going at them. We don’t expect any days off; we talk about that, and I think by this point in the season we recognize that we’re not going to have any days off. That’s the challenge, and it’s kind of what you want as a kid; you want to be able to not only play good competition, but you want to play competition that’s going to push you to your max every time you’re on the court.”
That mindset has helped Takeover develop a reputation among opposing teams as well.
“They’re the only team I know that plays ‘D,’” New Heights guard Terrence Samuel of South Shore High (Brooklyn, N.Y.) said. “Like, teams play ‘D,’ but they play it, like, full-court man-to-man and most teams don’t really play man-to-man when we play.”
On the Baltimore tourney’s final day, Takeover played three games in quick succession, including two less than an hour apart. After pulling away late for a 58-48 semifinal win over the Houston Defenders 15U squad, Takeover got just over 40 minutes to rest before tipping off against New Heights.
They indeed looked tired early on as New Heights raced out the early lead, consistently getting to the hoop for lay-ups to go ahead by 13 points at halftime.
Takeover rallied back in the second half, though.
“I know they’re going to bring defensive pressure,” Samuel said. “They aren’t going to back down from us or be scared.”
Robinson hit two free throws with 17 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game and force overtime, and Lyles made two foul shots with 2:03 left in the extra period to give Takeover a 57-55 lead.
New Heights responded with five straight points, and held on down the stretch. Samuel came up with a big strip of Lyles on a potential go-ahead lay-up in the final 20 seconds to help seal the win.
Hart scored 19 points to lead Takeover. Jordan Washington scored a game-high 30 for New Heights.
Johnson said fatigue may have been a factor in his team’s slow start, but refused to use it as an excuse.
“That’s the nature of AAU,” he said. “I kind of like it, because when you’re tired, it exposes your deficiencies. You can’t just rely on your athleticism, so it forces you to pick up your game. Any time we’ve lost this year, we’ve gotten down early, so that was kind of indicative of how we lose basketball games. It’s a learning process for them, and we’ll hope to get better.”
Contact DMV Elite Editor-in-Chief Marcus Helton at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @MarcusHelton