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Gainesville Wildcats continue to impress

POSTED: July 31, 2012 10:06 p.m.

Gainesville Wildcats Coach Lee Chapman watches his players practice ball handling drills at the East Hall Middle School gymnasium earlier this summer.

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The Gainesville Wildcats don’t play like typical AAU basketball teams.

A lot of travel teams are comprised of All-Stars that get by on sheer talent and athleticism. The Wildcats, however, succeed with something else.

“Individual effort and team play,” Wildcats coach Lee Chapman said. “That’s what separates us from some other teams.”

Those two facets to the team’s game paid off in a big way in a recent tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C. The Wildcats won the NCAA-Certified Big Shots tournament on July 13, playing the championship game in front of a large group of college coaches and scouts. They defeated a team from Virginia in the final, winning 69-62 in double-overtime.

The team, which this season has been playing tournaments since April, finished off its schedule this past weekend at the Big Shots East Coast Duel at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va. The Wildcats lost in the semifinals, 52-51, after playing six games and navigating through a field of 32 teams.

Overall this season, they played a total of 42 games in various tournaments, winning three different championships.

Both tournaments were further validation for those two keys that Chapman stresses to his team.

“It’s what makes my team a little bit different,” Chapman said. “We play teams with great individual talent, but we’re able to beat them because we play well as a team. There’s a lot of Division-I talent in these tournaments. One game, there were 21 dunks recorded. Those are great athletes, but it’s not our kind of basketball.

“We do have good athletes, too,” Chapman said. “But I just have a lot of hard-working people.”

Brian Edwards, who is entering his senior season at East Hall, said there were a number of games where his team fell behind by double digits, only to claw back into the game.

“That was one of our first real big tournaments that we were able to win,” he said. “We played some great teams, and we fell behind by like 12 or 15 points a couple of times, but we were able to work our way back into the game.”

Chapman illustrated his point about his team by ticking off the point totals for each of his players in the final game at Myrtle Beach.

Brian Edwards, 15 points; Hayden Chapman, 13; Coby Durden, 10; Tyler Dominy, 10; Ebo Smith, 8; Chase England, 8.

“Everyone contributes,” he said.

It wasn’t just Chapman that notices the hard work, either. Coaches from college programs, scouts, fans and even referees often commented on the work his team put in, Chapman said.

And that gives his players opportunities to be noticed by people at the next level.

“The better you play, the more teams you play, the more coaches get to come and see you play,” he said. “There were probably 40 or 50 coaches watching that last game (at Myrtle Beach).”

Edwards noted the impact the summer season has on their respective high school teams. The players stay in game shape, and when high school practice rolls around, they’re all ready to go.

“It gets you ready for high school ball,” he said. “Gets you ready for the pressure moments. You want to win them all, but the most important thing is improving and being practice ready when the high school season starts.”

It was the last summer of AAU ball for Edwards, as well as a number of other rising seniors on the team.

He said it was bittersweet that they played their last game, after playing for so many years together, but there are still good things to come.

“We’ve obviously still got our friendships, and it’ll be a fun high school season,” he said. “We’re all looking forward to playing each other.”


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