In their first year together, the Smyrna AAU basketball team “Diamond State Stars” not only played in the AAU National Tournament but finished 26th out of roughly 138 teams.

In their first year together, the Smyrna AAU basketball team “Diamond State Stars” not only played in the AAU National Tournament but finished 26th out of roughly 138 teams.

Participating in the Division II portion of the tournament, the 14-and-under eighth grade team played basketball players from across the country from South Jersey to Myrtle Beach to Florida.

The team, which consists of mainly Smyrna basketball players with a few Dover and Middletown players sprinkled in, didn’t go quite as far as expected in the tournament but the boys played hard and got to see the diverse talent on the other teams.

The tournament was in Orlando, Fla. and started on July 20. The “Diamond State Stars” qualified for the tournament by winning a Super Regional Tournament.

Coach Charlie Taylor, who’s the Smyrna Middle School coach, said the team did fairly well for their first time in the tournament.

“It’s not what I expected for the group but it wasn’t bad at all,” Taylor said. “They played hard. We probably should’ve and definitely could have won the games we lost.”

Getting to the championship bracket

The National Tournament started with pool play in which the top two teams from each pool moved on to the Championship Bracket; the third and fourth place teams moved on to a Classic Bracket.

Going 1-1 in their first two games, Taylor said the Stars were upset after losing the second game of the tournament and were put into a must-win situation.

“I told all of them, ‘We’re not done yet, we still got a third game. If we win, we go to the Championship Bracket just like we planned,’” Taylor said.

Player Javier Worthy said the team went into the third game knowing they had to win so they didn’t go home. Picking their spirits up, the Stars came back and beat the Delray Blazers 67-57 to advance to the Championship Bracket.

Staying in the competition

Out the gate in the Championship Bracket, the Stars beat a youth basketball team from Myrtle Beach 63-57, but fell to the South Jersey Hornets 73-67 in the next round.

The tournament for the Smyrna team wasn’t quite over though, as the loss landed them in a consolation round for 10th or 13th place. The Stars lost to the Tampa Heat 50-45, putting them in 26th place.

Once all was said and done, the boys were disappointed but Taylor was OK until he came home and watched video of the games: “I came back and watched the video and I just saw that we as a group did not play to our level as a whole.”

The game must go on

With the new school year right around the corner, basketball is still on the brains of the young team and Taylor. He’s still debating putting them in a fall basketball league to prepare them for the winter basketball season. His core players will move on to Smyrna High School.

Going into the tournament, team members like Donte Ritchie didn’t know what to expect but he liked the challenge.

Charlie Taylor Jr. was nervous in the beginning because he was unsure of how he’d play but he liked seeing the diversity in the pool of talent.

Worthy also enjoyed the experience and would participate on the team again.

All three believe they’ll play better next year; Taylor plans on starting a 15-and-under ninth grade team.

As for the strength of this year’s team, Taylor believes it’s just a sign of things to come with Smyrna basketball.

“If the young men commit to their grades in the classroom and remain eligible to play as student athletes, we have an opportunity, we have a window where we [Smyrna High basketball] could actually make some noise with the teams up north who always win the state tournament,” Taylor said. “I can’t wait to watch these guys develop over the next couple of years as a group. It’s going to be fun to watch.”

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