DI boys final
Ramstein holds off Wiesbaden to win third straight
By GREGORY BROOME | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 25, 2017
WIESBADEN, Germany – The three-peat is complete.
The Ramstein Royals won their third consecutive DODEA-Europe Division I boys basketball championship Saturday, outlasting the hometown Wiesbaden Warriors 48-46 in a title game that lived up to its participants’ billing as the two powerhouses of big-school European basketball.
A potential Warrior game-winning, buzzer-beating three-pointer bounced around the rim and fell away, taking the Warriors’ hopes of the school’s first boys hoops title since 1999 with it.
That, literally, is the way the ball bounces sometimes.
“I’m telling the guys, ‘This is life.’” Wiesbaden coach David Brown said. “There are ups and downs. You try to stay as balanced as you can and deal with it.”
While cruel fortune played a part in the outcome, Ramstein played a much greater one in wrenching the win away from the Warriors. The Royals dug out of a six-point halftime deficit and made the kind of key plays down the stretch that culminate in victory.
“We knew they were going to make runs throughout the game,” Ramstein coach Andrew O’Connor said. “We couldn’t let ourselves get down, we just had to keep fighting to that final buzzer.”
The Warriors started off strong as John McKoy scored five early points, including a layup off an assist by Isaah Negron and a corner three-pointer, in a 7-2 start. But the Royals weren’t about to be run out of the building. A three-pointer by guard Kendell Allen stemmed the tide, setting the teams up to exchange baskets for the rest of the first half until Wiesbaden nudged back ahead for a 25-19 halftime lead.
Ramstein remedied that with five quick points out of the locker room to pull back within a point, then took an advantage on a fast-break score by Naser Eaves at the midway point of the third quarter.
That taste of the lead left the Royals craving more, and a putback by Eaves gave the Royals a six-point lead entering the fourth quarter, an exact reversal of the deficit they were looking at just eight minutes earlier.
But this game was destined for a photo finish, and the Warriors pulled back ahead with three minutes to play on four straight free throws by Caleb Brown.
The decisive Ramstein baskets came over the final two-plus minutes. Sincere Dudley dropped in a transition score and Jerod Little collected a loose ball and converted a layup, the latter creating a four-point Royal lead with just more than a minute to play. Wiesbaden’s Negron made a pair of free throws to give the Warriors a one-possession margin. That possession produced an open look from behind the arc, but not a game-winner.
Little, a freshman point guard, excelled among all this swirling pressure by listening to the “words of wisdom” offered by his more experienced teammates. His reward was the kind of high school glory that he already predicted will be difficult to top over the next three years.
“It was crazy,” said Little, who scored 17 points in the win. “I’ve never felt anything like this.”
Both teams persevered through adversity this winter to earn their shot at the title.
The Royals beat the Warriors 46-44 in December, but the Warriors had been the class of Division I ever since. Wiesbaden rattled off 11 straight divisional wins after the holiday break, including a 53-33 defeat of Ramstein, to claim the top seed in the tournament bracket.
Wiesbaden navigated pool play without issue but was very nearly denied a spot in the final on Friday night. The Naples Wildcats took the Warriors to double overtime before a Tyrese Harris layup secured a 63-62 semifinal victory and a title shot.
The Royals took losses to Vilseck, SHAPE and the Warriors in the regular season but assumed their final form in this tournament. Second-seeded Ramstein advanced to the title game with a 41-30 defeat of Kaiserslautern on Friday, ousting its local rival for the third straight season after beating the Raiders in the last two European championship games.
That twisting path ultimately led the Royals back to the familiar environs of the title game, where as they so often do, they seized their opportunity.
“It was something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” said Eaves, the tournament’s most valuable player.
That will likely hold true for all involved, whichever way the ball bounced for them Saturday.