Huey Crawford intends to keep John Gray High School relevant on Cayman’s basketball scene.
Crawford coached the John Gray Knights in the recent Dominos Under-19 Basketball League, put on by the Cayman Islands Basketball Association. The Knights produced an unexpectedly successful campaign for a school not known for achievements on the court. John Gray enjoyed a 5-3 regular season record that resulted in the No. 2 seed, a playoff upset over the previous champions Soldiers and a berth in the league finals.
Crawford says the pieces are there to make John Gray contenders going forward.
“I do realize we have come a long way in a short time,” Crawford said. “The nucleus of the group went from last place the year before to finals the next season, in dramatic fashion. That is a testament to the hard work, dedication, and perseverance of the young men involved.
“I am expecting big things from these guys next season, if they dedicate themselves to a common goal. The sky is the limit. If they stick together and continue to work hard, the Knights have a bright future!”
Their season came to an end last weekend at Camana Bay’s Arts and Recreation Center, with a 72-60 defeat at the hands of the Bodden Town Wolves. Bodden Town dominated the boys division, going undefeated through their 10-game slate across the regular season and playoffs. A combination of two clubs, Bodden Town figures to challenge for more hardware next season alongside the Knights. The Wolves spoke with admiration about the job Crawford did to change John Gray’s basketball culture.
“John Gray had a great season, and coach Crawford did a magnificent job of coaching a fine group of young men,” said Bodden Town assistant coach James Collins. “I’m sure they will compete and be in the finals.”
“John Gray played well, they have talent and I know next year they will be one of the elite teams in the league,” said top player Albis Amaya, who will compete at the high school level in the United States next year. “Their coach did an awesome job on improving his players and coaching them to the finals.”
The finals showcased a number of talented prodigies. Amaya, 16, paced the winners with 22 points and 27 rebounds; Justin Collins scored 21 points with four 3-pointers, 10 rebounds and eight steals, and Rhomar Williams contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds. Trevin Williamson led the Knights with a game-high 26 points and seven steals, James Ebanks chipped in 22 points with three 3-pointers and five rebounds, and Bryce Thompson netted 10 points.
Crawford felt his squad learned a valuable lesson.
“Obviously, as a group, we were disappointed with the final outcome. As far as the game itself, I think from a basketball standpoint the best team won. We were not able to box out and rebound effectively, cut down on turnovers and finish our attempts to score. The lack of rebounding, however, was the biggest difference in the game. I think Albis was the difference maker for them, in particular from a rebounding standpoint – we had no answer for him.
“As a coach, however, you must try to accentuate the positives and look at the silver lining. I think it was a great learning experience. For all the players, there are so many valuable lessons to be learned that can only be beneficial in the long run. Hopefully, we can use it as a catalyst to build on future success. I think all of our kids that are serious about the sport of basketball need to be put in those type of situations (with noise, a crowd and pressure) to mature as players.”
Aside from the Knights, it should be noted that another John Gray team made the playoffs. The 1-7 Warriors were fourth out of five sides but were crushed by Bodden Town in the opening round, 115-23.
Outside of the Under-19 league, John Gray has shown improvement in other youth competitions and challenged foreign teams in exhibition games abroad. Crawford says those efforts will continue for the foreseeable future.
“I thought the season, as a whole, was a step in the right direction. A lot of the players made great strides in their player development and skill sets. The players that stood out were James, Trevin, Bryce and Jahmar Dawkins. Trevin was the top newcomer to the group, but all the players made great strides throughout. It is my hope we will go into next season with a chip on our shoulders, with the mind-set we have unfinished business. A good foundation has been created to foster future success. It is my sincere hope that the Knights players dedicate themselves to improving their skill sets in the offseason.
“I hope in the future, more schools can participate and field teams so the sport continues to grow. As a club, we now turn our focus to younger player development in the Under-14 and Under-16 groups, the future Knights. The Under-19 boys still have their Jamaica trip coming up in February – we are excited about the opportunity to go to Jamrock and compete against other schools.”