A repeat national championship is only two wins away for the Esso Blazers.
Standing in their way are the Dominos Warriors, the same team they swept in the finals last year. Both squads now face off in the 2013 Division One finals of the Cayman Islands Basketball Association National Men’s League. Game one is slated for Sunday, 2 June, at Camana Bay’s Arts and Recreation Centre.
Esso veteran Jasen Campbell, 27, was part of the 2012 championship team and states the approach is to forget last year.
“We have to play harder than last year, last year already passed,” Campbell said. “We’ve grown as a team, Warriors have grown as a team and added additional people. It won’t be as easy as last year. We can’t take the team or the series lightly. We have to go hard every quarter, every second.
“I’m very confident we can bring home the championship again. I’m hoping for my third straight title and my second personal three-peat because I’ve won at least three straight championships with George Town Sports Club before. So there’s at least five titles to my name.”
Campbell, who started playing in the men’s league at age 15 with the old Juniors team, has a unique perspective on this year’s competition. On one hand, he played for Dominos in 2011 when the Warriors won their championship. On the other hand, he starred for George Town for years, the same team his Blazers brushed aside in the first round of the 2013 playoffs.
Esso swept George Town by scores of 104-59 and 120-87. Deandre Simpson scored 28 points and 15 rebounds for the Blazers in game one. He had plenty of help as Shaad O’Garro, Perry Levy, Nicholas Beverly and Carlo Archibold all reached double digits in scoring.
In game two, Esso had seven players reach double digits in Levy, Simpson, Josh Cotterell, Kevin Maxwell and Campbell. Archibold had a team-high 19 points and 21 rebounds and O’Garro had a rare triple-double with 12 points, 13 rebounds and 10 steals. George Town countered with Eckerd McField’s 31 points and Chris Lucas’ 26 points in game one and Daniel Mowatt’s 20 points in game two.
Campbell states his past success with the other teams is ancient history.
“The series showed us, as a team, how well we’re playing together and what we need to work on as a team. We had some mishaps in the series but they showed where we’re at. On a whole, the series put us in good position to be in the finals. If we had played the Silver Bullets or Dominos, it would have been a harder battle. We’re back competing in the finals again and that’s the main thing.
“This is my second season with Esso, before that I was with Dominos two seasons. I have no ill feelings towards any team or player. The past is the past. I faced George Town, an old team of mine I won so many championships with, but I moved on.”
Rashaad Powery-Saunds, 20, is a Blazers big man in his second season. The role player had a relatively quiet series with eight points and four rebounds in game one. The West Bay native states George Town strengthened his team.
“It went pretty good, an excellent performance where there was no “I” in team,” Powery-Saunds said. “We have to take everything serious now and keep the pressure on. We have to have unity and keep our composure, regardless of what calls are made.”
Dominos also had a solid run to the finals by dismissing the Bullets with a first round sweep, winning by scores of 82-77 and 94-64. Collin Anglin averaged 18 points and 8.5 rebounds in the series for the Warriors. Borislav ‘Boka’ Djordjic averaged 23 points and 18 rebounds, Vanrick Felix averaged 17.5 points and six rebounds and Jerome Narcisse averaged 23 points and five rebounds.
For the Bullets, Brandon Glasgow averaged 17 points and 5.5 rebounds and Kwei General averaged 12.5 points and seven rebounds. Stephen Shaw had 14 points in game one and Adam Milburn scored 21 points off six treys and Curtis Wilson posted 13 points and 13 rebounds in game two.
Djordjic, who is from Serbia, states it was an easier series than expected.
“It went pretty well, good thing it went easier than I expected,” Djordjic said. “It was a good run, prior the finals, especially for the younger guys who joined the team recently, hence the team chemistry has gotten much better.
“I was expecting us to meet the Blazers in the finals with the experience, quality and performance we had this season. I believe both teams deserved to meet in the finals. I feel happy about playing that team. It is going to be a lot of fun, but above all, there will be high competitiveness and good sportsmanship.”
The finals is a best-of-three series with game two next Sunday, 9 June, and game three, if necessary, on 16 June.
Felix, 28, states it will be a challenge slowing down Esso.
“It was a good competition, you can’t take Bullets for granted,” Felix said. “They play very good defence with their zone and full court press. It went OK for us, considering we were short of players. The Blazers are some of the best players on Island, with some of their players going away to school. We have to play D on those guys.”