08/02/11 - 12:45pm
The gym at Sport & Medical Sciences Academy was stuffed Monday night for the second game of a Greater Hartford Pro-Am doubleheader. And soon after tipoff, the league's marquee player showed with blinding speed and dazzling playmaking why he's worth seeing in person.
Kemba Walker went this way and that to shake up the gym. He spun through the lane and pulled up for a 15-foot jump shot. He darted toward the basket for a layup while absorbing a hard foul.
He worked the baseline and was met in midair by a defender, but adjusted and reversed for another layup.
Fans that packed two bleachers and snaked along the baseline got exactly what one would hope for. And then they got more — a terrific basketball game.
Led by Walker, the Doc Hurley All-Stars, last year's champion, raced to a 14-point first-half lead. But Harte Nissan, the 2009 champion and the league's only remaining undefeated team, had more players, showed more commitment to defense, found more energy and, ultimately, scored more points.
Ryan Gomes, the Waterbury native who plays for the Clippers, had 30 points and Harte came back for a 139-132 victory in a star-packed game. Harte improved to 8-0 and is closing in on the top seed for the playoffs, which begin Monday.
Hurley (4-4), whose roster is always in flux, had most of the headline players and — some would say — ringers.
So did Ricky Harris, formerly of UMass. Roscoe Smith of UConn added 18 points.
For Harte, Keith Cothran had 25 and Aaron Jackson 14. Harte ran a full-court press, created turnovers and grabbed many offensive rebounds. They rotated 11 players, putting a lot of pressure on Hurley's impressive collection of perimeter players, which also included former Husky Doug Wiggins.
"That's a staple of Wayne Simone," said Gomes, referring to the coach of Harte and Connecticut Select AAU program for which Gomes played as a kid. "Speed up the game. They had great guards, but we thought we could keep pressing and keep forcing them to make plays, and it worked."
No one handles pressure like Walker, who has probably asserted himself as the best player in Pro-Am history. But one man can only do so much. Scores skyrocketed because offenses use only seconds of the shot clock, but Harte showed grit and actually cared about defense.
For a while, it looked like Walker's latest one-man show might be enough.
Harte had defeated Little Caesars Slamm on Sunday despite needing a bunch of fill-ins. Only four regulars were in uniform. On Monday, they got full attendance and outlasted Walker and his helpers.
"It took us a while to get our chemistry, but we have more guys than [Hurley]."
Jackson's key third-quarter scoring surge actually started with him getting shown up.
But Jackson responded, first getting free from Walker for a huge dunk that sent the fans into an uproar – and some onto the court momentarily in celebration. Next, Jackson made a three-pointer with Walker guarding him. The quarter closed with everyone clearing out for a Walker-Jackson showdown, and Walker's shot after dribbling right went off the side of the backboard. It was 96-96.
Harte would not be stopped in the fourth. Seemingly tired, Hurley settled for jump shots and was beaten up on the glass. Cothran's layup and free throw made it 117-107. And T.J. Mathis made a layup for 119-107 lead.
"We just didn't make enough plays or make enough shots," Walker said.
The teams expect to cross paths in the playoffs.
"It was a great night for the league," Simone said. "We'll probably play them again and if we do, who knows who will win? But it will be another great show."