London United U14s finished 2nd in the EYBL playoff competition held in Cesenatico, Italy and secured their place in the EYBL Super Final tournament in Latvia.
The incredible story of Coach Kelson and his U14 team has been enriched by yet another chapter when they managed to outlast some top European programmes. The first game in the Playoff competition against C.S. U-BT Cluj Napoca was certainly a clear indication of things to come. The Romanian team started with fierce aggression and formidable pace taking a 10 point lead in the first quarter of the game. The young Londoners led by fearless Liam Campbell (25 ppg) quickly regrouped and started to cut the deficit relying on their customary full court trapping defence. In the second half London United managed to take a couple points lead but still had a problems stopping the classy 6’3’’ guard Tudor Somacescu. In the incredibly tight last minutes of the game, United took a 5 point lead and seemed to have momentum on their side but yet again a couple of penetrations from Somacescu (33 ppg, 18 rpg) allowed the Romanians to force overtime. In the extra period a very methodical Romanian team managed to stop United from scoring from inside and secured a 66-60 victory.
After this defeat United had absolutely no margin for error and responded to this challenge in a magnificent way. The game against BK NH Tigers Ostrava of Czech Republic was practically decided after the first half when the fearsome partnership of Liam Campbell and Josh Ecclestone dominated proceedings at the perimeter and Joel Codner and Michael Amako secured both boards. Equally crucial, was the great contribution from relative newcomers on this level, Marcus Heymer-Legg and Sam Essien allowing United to secure a vital 68-51 win.
In the quarterfinal United overcame Ateca Santa Cruz, Spain 55-45. This was to be the first of two games planned for Saturday and with an early 9am start the main objective was to ensure we gave maximum experience to the entire squad to ensure players were ready for two high level competitive games in one day.
On the evening of the same day United were scheduled for their second encounter against the formidable C.S. U-BT Cluj Napoca. After a bruising overtime defeat in the first match up against the Romanian Academy, United started the game in a rather nervous fashion failing to score the first basket till the 7th minute of the game. On a positive note United’s defence worked real miracles and stopped the Romanian team from building a decisive advantage. Joel Codner was doing a very effective defensive job on Somacescu whose scoring production was reduced to a mere 13 points in the entire game. In the second half neither team reached an advantage bigger than 4 points and the game was poised for yet another dramatic finish. With 2 minutes left in regulation time the influential Liam Campbell fouled out and Cluj was leading by 4 points. At that moment Josh Ecclestone took over proceedings firstly connecting a three pointer and then coolly sinking free throws which allowed United to take the lead. In the very next play Somacescu under immense pressure from London’ s defence has turned the ball away which allowed Josh Ecclestone (17 ppg) to score an uncontested layup sealing United’s 49-53 win and place in the EYBL Super Finals.
In the final, with both teams guaranteed a place in the EYBL Super Final and the fast approaching domestic NBL playoff 1st round game, Coach Kelson rested players allowing the bench to gain the valuable experience. However, this experience came at a cost with the very athletic Oxygen Orange 1 Academy, Italy leaving United on the wrong side of a 45-100 result.
Coach Kelson was obviously delighted with securing a place in the EYBL Super Final delivering his verdict: ”These boys are absolutely fantastic to work with. They never give up and are absolutely fearless. Playing in the EYBL has given them an unbelievable experience on and off the court and makes them not only much better players but also much more worldly individuals. Now we have to concentrate on our domestic Play Off and then a trip to Latvia to face the cream of Europe.”
In addition to the overall team success as the first British team to qualify to the U14 EYBL Superfinals, Josh Ecclestone was voted to the EYBL Play off All Star Team.
London United U14’s will now travel to Latvia to take their place in the EYBL Superfinals 17-20th May in Valmiera, Latvia.