Russell Hoops u19 Men in Dallas 2018!

Posted by on Aug 5, 2018 in Uncategorized | No Comments

Day 1 of the Russell Hoops Dallas Tour ’18 started bright and early at 8 am in Heathrow airport, as the boys and parents said final goodbyes before checking in and heading off for the journey of a lifetime.

The tour party consisted of Robin, Jonathan, Wesley, Stephen, Harry, Blaize, Matthew, Abdul, Alex and Jay, with coaches Tom Ward (SCE Basketball) and Jack Burnell (Russell Hoops). It was a simple and swift move through security before the group boarded the British Airways plane for the first leg of the journey.

Surprisingly the flight didn’t involve as much sleeping as previous years, as the boys laughed, chatted and watched movies together. The 9 hours went swiftly and before we knew it, the wheels had touched down in Texas!

Ben’s wife Aspen and her family met the group at the airport for the 45-minute journey back to Aubrey where the residence is located. The weather was HOT, and after unpacking the boys took to the backyard pool where they threw an (American) football and enjoyed some quality conversation for an hour.

Dinner ensued and then the opening tour speech by Ben, who laid down the rules, aims and objective of the tour. While some of the boys took to the gym for a quick workout, most of the tired boys, who were now feeling the effects of the time difference, lugged themselves up to bed and went asleep.

Day 2 After acclimatising on Day 1, the boys were ready for the 2nd day which would be our first day of the mini-camp before the tournament. Robin and Stephen were up in the early hours to work out in the gym, which Ben has built in his garage, before all the boys joined them for a tasty breakfast of egg, cheese and sausage croissants and cereal served by Coach Jack.

After breakfast the group loaded up the mini-bus and hit the highway to the Dallas Sportsplex, where most of the training and coaching clinics would take place. The first session led by Coach Tom consisted of a lot of skill development and off-ball movement, followed by an extended scrimmage so the players could get to know each other’s games. After some intense and competitive play, the boys stretched out and got back on the mini-bus to return to the residence.

Lunch of rolls and sandwiches was served and the boys spent some quality time in the Texas sunshine by the swimming pool. Some of the boys had a swim, while others opted to sit in the shade and watch an elite high school basketball game on the television. Tour Captain Wesley gathered up the playing kits and gave them to Coach Jack to be washed.

Later in the day it was back on the road for practice no. 2 back at the Dallas Sportsplex, where this time the team were put through some defensive principles, transition work and finished with another scrimmage. Despite it being the second intensive practice of the day the boys worked hard and came away having made improvements from the previous practice.

Movie night was scheduled in upon return, but after a chicken and baked potato dinner the boys looked absolutely exhausted and went straight up to bed to fall asleep by 10.30 pm!

Day 3 was the second of our 3-day mini-camp in which we wanted to push the players in order to prepare them for the GASO tournament starting Thursday. Our morning session featured guest Coach Mike Hill of Above the Rest Basketball, who trains professional, high-level NCAA and international players. The boys were really pushed to their limits with a variety of ball-handling, footwork and shooting drills, and left the workout completely exhausted from 2 hours of intensity.

We had a long break in the afternoon to give them a chance to recover, and it was back to the swimming pool to swim under the beaming Texas sun. Some of the players made use of the outdoor TV, watching (you guessed it) more basketball and drinking cold drinks to stay hydrated.

That evening we headed to Plano High School, a massive campus which stretched for miles and many buildings to navigate to reach the gymnasium that we would be playing in. Our opponents were Peak Performance, a local AAU club that would also be taking part in the GASO tournament. Our boys looked tremendous as they pushed the ball on the fast-break to score freely, and played lock-down defense on the Peak Performance players. Alex hit some big shots, and Matthew rebounded the ball very well for RH as we convincingly won all 5 of the sections we played.

After the scrimmage we headed to CiCi’s pizza for a well-earned buffet meal, where the boys laughed, joked, and of course at their weight in pizza (and maybe some salad?) It was then back to the residence to get a good night’s sleep.

Day 4 was going to be an exciting, albeit incredibly long day for the boys, which started with another clinic led by a local pro coach. Today it was Mike Malat, a former professional player in the NBA D-League and in Europe who brought a unique and fun coaching style to the boys. We were also lucky enough to have local physio Robyn on hand to give the players advice and some hands-on treatment to help their tired bodies.

After an exciting session with Mike, we packed up the van and headed over to Golden Corral to get some lunch before driving to Southern Methodist University, an NCAA D1 college that has one of the most beautiful campuses in the entire nation. We were hosted by Paul who showed us the athletic facilities including a glimpse into the players’ locker room!

After an inspiring visit, we headed back to the Sportsplex to chill out before the evening game versus Southwest All-Stars. The boys watched their veteran coaches battle it out in a 3-point shootout before taking the floor to stretch and prepare for the game.

In an exciting end-to-end contest, both teams led by double digits throughout the game with a barrage of 3’s and drives to the basket. Blaize was on fire for RH, at one point knocking down 3 straight 3-pointers to bring his team back into it. Stephen played some inspiring defense, relentlessly hounding the ball-handler and stepping into the right positions in help-side. Ultimately it was RH that prevailed, as the game went into overtime and Wesley hit a go-ahead 3 to give RH a 79-77 win.

After the game it was dinner at a Chinese buffet where the team was joined by long-time friend of Ben and Tom’s, Menelik Watson, who currently competes for the Denver Broncos in the NFL. Then it was back to the residence for a slightly later bed-time than usual, as the boys had a rest day to recover for the GASO tournament.

Day 5 was a much-needed rest day for the boys, and after a long lay-in we took them to Starwoods Cafe for a huge American breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausages and pancakes. After being completely stuffed, we headed over to the Allen outlets where the boys leapt out the mini-bus to begin a shopping spree.

After a few hours of both buying and window-shopping across Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, Polo and the several other stores, the boys hopped back into the bus to return to the residence for a late lunch. The boys spent the remainder of the day napping and lounging by the pool to regain their energy and strength for the ensuing tournament from Day 6 onwards.

In the evening Coach Tom, Ben and Jack held individual meetings for the players where we discussed aims, objectives and aspirations of the players and set the tone for the upcoming games. Day 6 was going to be a huge one and we needed everyone mentally and physically ready for the action.

On Day 6 we would take on our first game in the Great American Shootout, one of the biggest basketball tournaments in the entire country featuring over 400 teams and 4000 players. The GASO has been running for many years and has grown to be a haven for college basketball coaches to scout prospective players for their programs. In attendance on a yearly basis are coaches from Kentucky, Texas, Washington, Missouri and many more high-major D1 programs, as well as D2, NAIA and JuCo coaches.

In the morning we took the boys to the local court, shielded from the sun by a large gazebo, to get some shots up and put in a couple of last-minute out of bounds plays. The boys were energized and attentive, communicating well throughout the drills and focusing on the minor details that would lead to their success later that evening. Harry was incredibly hard-working and consistent as always and did a great job setting the tone for how to approach every aspect of game preparation.

After fuelling up with some lunch and packing some snacks for pre-game, we hopped in the van to begin the hour-long journey to Duncanville where most of the tournament games would take place. Duncanville is a basketball-mad city, with an enormous high school and an incredible court that fits over 5,000 fans. The high school court is superior to any basketball facility in the UK and has several practice courts where games were taking place. Duncanville is also home to the Fieldhouse, a 2 gym, 6 court facility with a viewing gallery for all the NCAA coaches in attendance.

We arrived at the Fieldhouse and checked out some of the other teams, watching some of Texas’ top players go at it on the show-court. It was then our time to shine and we stepped on the floor to play Shooting Stars, an elite team from Texas. The RH boys built an early lead with some tremendous defense and quick scores in transition. Every time Jay checked into the game he brought wonderful defensive energy and savvy plays offensively, providing a huge spark to the team. Despite a late run from Shooting Stars, some veteran play and red-hot shooting from Jon maintained and grew the RH lead, running out eventual winners 69-50.

After the game the team headed to Genghis Grill where the boys ate unlimited grilled food and shared laughter and smiles to celebrate their first win of the GASO 2018. It was then back on the bus to the Russell residence where they went straight to bed to catch some important sleep for the next day’s games.

Day 7 The 2nd day of the GASO was going to be crucial – going 2/2 and topping the group would mean a chance to compete in one of the higher-level brackets against a lower seed. One or two losses meant taking on a much higher seed in the playoffs and thus lessening the chance of more games. Dallas Mustangs and Factory of Arizona stood in the way of RH, and it was the Mustangs up first.

Dallas Mustangs had the previous night given Factory a 30-point beat-down and were currently joint leaders of the group with RH. They had several quick guards that played aggressive full court defense, harassing opponents into turning the ball over and leading them to score easy fast-break baskets. The game would take place at Duncanville High School and the boys were all hyped up for battle! The game opened in the same way for RH as the previous evening, as superb defensive efforts led to transition scores. However, as the game progressed the Mustangs began to rattle RH with their scrambling press, picking the ball away and claiming points at the other end. They had some terrific ball-handlers who were able to get into the lane and create havoc, and in the half-court ran a zone defense that was tough to crack.

For RH it was Blaize on the offensive end creating shots for himself and teammates as Stephen defensively took on Mustangs’ best scorer and managed to contain him. However ultimately Mustangs aggressive defense and confusing zone defense that prevailed, and they ran away winners 73-55.

After the game we headed to Genghis Grill again to refuel, and while eating the coaches held individual meetings with the players to prep them for that evening. While it had been a challenging loss to the Mustangs, and probably a game RH should have won, it would be hugely important to beat Factory at 9 pm to have a chance of a strong playoff seed.

Upon arriving back at the Fieldhouse, the boys would have a chance to watch Texas’ top AAU team Drive Nation, backed by former NBA player Jermaine O’Neal, which featured some of the top players in the USA. It was an incredibly eye-opening experience for the boys, who were dazzled by the incredible athleticism and ability of the players, many of whom with the potential to suit up in the NBA one day. Hundreds of high-level D1 college coaches lined the stands to watch this team compete, and it appeared they weren’t left disappointed.

Soon enough it was time for the team to face Factory of Arizona, a quick and physical run and gun team that played strong pressure defense and set a ton of off-ball screens on the offensive end. In the first half RH were led by Wesley, who played very aggressively and was a premier scoring option throughout the half. Coming out of half-time it was anyone’s game, as Jay and Harry provided valuable contributions from the guard spots and Abdul protected the paint with several blocks. However it was not to be for RH, as a late Factory run couldn’t be tamed and they stole the win 53-49.

After the game we grabbed a quick bite to eat at Dallas’ famous Whataburger and then headed swiftly back to the residence, as it would be a very quick turnaround with an 11 am tip the next day.

Day 8 RH were drawn to play RL9 in the first round of playoffs, which was now a “win or go home” scenario for all the teams at the GASO. RL9 were from Houston, Texas, and were former NBA player Rashard Lewis’ sponsored team. In warm-ups at Duncanville High School it was quickly evident we were going to be in for a battle, as RL9 players threw down ferocious dunks with some elite level athletic ability.

With several college coaches in attendance we began our match-up with the #1 seed, who displayed their ability to score the ball early as they hit shots from long-range and finished strong inside, as one of their players posterized RH early on with a huge tomahawk dunk. Nevertheless, the boys fought hard, as Robin gave everything he had from the guard position and Matthew played some vital minutes guarding RL9’s big post player.

In the second half RH veteran Jon stepped up and hit some big shots, and Alex came off the bench to provide offensive spark for the RH team. With no shot clock in the AAU game it was challenging for RH to get enough possessions to recover the deficit, and RL9 played some very patient dribble drive basketball which led to open 3’s and dump-offs to their inside players. Despite a valiant effort all the way until the final buzzer, RH dropped the game 88-47 to the team from Houston.

The team headed to Subway after the game for a bite to eat, and then back to the residence for an afternoon of rest and relaxation. Some of the players opted to play a game of Pool American Football, in which Matthew dominated his opponents with his physical abilities!

Day 9 The boys were given no curfew and no wake-up time, so at around 11 am a group of very sleepy looking boys arose from their beds to grab some breakfast. The plan for the day was to visit the huge local mall to spend some of their parent’s money!

The mall featured any shop one could wish for, especially for the players who spent ample time in Champs, Foot Locker, Finish Line and other shoe-based shops. There was also a huge food court which boasted a variety of delicacies, where the boys took time out from their shopping adventures to grab some food.

After 4 hours of shopping (!) the players met back up with Coaches Tom and Jack, and they drove to Hutchins BBQ, one of the most famous barbeque restaurants in the whole of the USA. This incredible restaurant had any type and flavour of meat one could wish for, supported by multiple sides including mac n’ cheese, coleslaw, fries, tater tots, mashed potato, beans and much more. The food was “all you can eat” and the boys looked well and truly defeated by their meals when it came time to head home.

They spent the evening hanging out by the pool playing cards and enjoying each other’s company, with the weather still well over 35 degrees even in the night hours.

Day 10 The main attraction of Day 10 was a visit to Hurricane Harbour Water Park, a ginormous park filled with slides, rides, an artificial wave-pool and a river running around the outside, as well as multiple food and drink outlets. We left at midday, grabbing some much needed sun-cream from Wal Mart on the way, before arriving at the park at about 1 pm.

The boys were left to their own devices, as the braver ones headed to the largest slide in the park which had views of the Dallas Cowboys’ AT & T stadium and the Texas Rangers’ Globe Life Park, while the not so brave hopped into the “lazy river” to do some floating. Coaches Jack and Tom, both adverse to anything too high or scary, avoided the large slides and rides and opted to stick to the river for most of their Hurricane Harbour experience.

At one point some of the boys, namely Wesley, Robin, Stephen and Jon, attempted to ambush Coaches Tom and Jack in the lazy river – despite the 4:2 ratio in the players favour, the coaches came out victorious.

After 4 hours of fun and excitement it was back to the bus, where 11 of the group slept the entire journey back to the residence, worn out by the slides and rides at Hurricane Harbour. The players quickly got showered and dressed and were driven to the famous “Wing Stop” restaurant where they were treated to several flavours of chicken wings and fries.

The boys packed their bags and spent their final evening at the Russell Residence by the pool, where they wrestled each other into the water. After being thrown in the pool by Coach Ben and Coach Tom earlier in the week, Coach Jack was keen to get his revenge but unfortunately wasn’t quite strong enough, and once again got thrown in.

Day 11 The boys started their travel day with a quick trip to Starwoods again for breakfast, where each of them met again with the coaches to discuss what they’d learned from the trip and how they’d be using their experience to help them move forward. Some really rewarding and exciting conversations were had, and the boys appeared inspired and motivated for whatever they would be taking on this upcoming season.

After Starwoods Coach Ben drove the boys to the airport, where they said their final goodbyes to Ben, Aspen and their son Avery, who were heading to Mexico, to Coach Tom who was heading to Denver and to Blaize, who was taking on another tournament in Orlando with his Charnwood College team. Coach Jack took the boys through check-in and security and they waited in the departure lounge for their last hour in Dallas before flying home to the UK.

“This trip was an amazing learning experience for all the boys involved, both on the court and during their time off of it. The way they came together and bonded throughout the tour was tremendous, and I’m incredibly excited to see how the boys use their experience as inspiration to take their game to the next level this season” Coach Tom Ward

“It was a pleasure to host this group of young men and was an amazing finale for some of the boys that have been a part of Russell Hoops since Day 1. I couldn’t have asked for more effort, focus and perseverance from the players.” Coach Ben Russell

“It was great to be a part of this experience and support the boys throughout the tour and the tournament – I didn’t want the tour to end!” Coach Jack Burnell