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Monday, July 23, 2012

Oakland Soldiers Win Nike EYBL Championship

Posted By on Mon, Jul 23, 2012 at 3:02 PM

  • Andrew J. Nilsen

The Oakland Soldiers, subjects of last month's feature story "Swoosh Dreams," won the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League title on Sunday, beating Toronto's CIA-Bounce in the Peach Jam tournament final.

It was a circuitous route to the top. Led by Archbishop Mitty's Aaron Gordon, who some people think is the best high school player in the country, and Salesian's Jabari Bird, one of the best shooting guards in the state, the Soldiers entered the summer league season as the no. 1 ranked 17-and-under team in the nation (according to Five Star Basketball, the youth basketball organization). Then, two weeks in the EYBL season, Gordon broke his foot. Soon after, Bird hurt his knee. The team lost some games and dropped in the rankings, replaced at the top by CIA Bounce. At Peach Jam, though, the Soldiers were back to full strength.

And there's been plenty of press clippings about it-- from ESPN to NBC News to the Chron. It's significant media coverage for a travel team game. But Nike's EYBL, which features Nike's 40 sponsored AAU teams, showcases an overwhelming proportion of the country's blue chip high school basketball players, including four of ESPN's five highest-rated incoming seniors.

On their eight-game path to the title, for instance, the Soldiers had to get by Minneapolis Howard Pulley's Tyus Jones, the top underclassman point guard, and Bounce's Andrew Wiggins, an incoming junior who has also been called the best player in the country.

In the Peach Jam finals, headliners Gordon and Wiggins dueled down the stretch, the teams trading leads in the final minutes. The Soldiers were down by one when Bird drew a foul with 1.9 left in the game. He hit both free throws.

Last year, the team reached the semifinals. In 2010, the EYBL's first year, they reached the quarter finals. Fittingly, the Soldiers captured their first EYBL title just weeks after their most famous alumnus, LeBron James, won his first NBA championship.

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Albert Samaha


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