Smyrna AAU basketball team the Diamond State Stars continue to find success in their second year as a program as the team is returning to the AAU boys basketball Division II National Championship this week.
The team finished 26th in last year's 14-and-under 8th grade Division II National Championship. This year, they'll compete in the 16-and-under 10th grade championship. The National Championship starts in Orlando, Fla. Wednesday, July 10 and runs through Tuesday, July 16.
The players on the team, with the exception of one, played for Smyrna High School this year.
Last year's coach Charlie Taylor, who is acting as a coordinator this year, said the team moved up two grades because sophomores were interested in playing on the team.
"Then after we thought about it, we decided it'd be great for these guys to actually see that higher competition," Taylor said. "Most of the guys will be moving up to varsity so we decided to play them older."
Stepping in for Taylor as the head coach is Deondre Taylor. His brother Darrean is an assistant coach.
To get to the Division II National Championship, the Diamond State Stars won the Super Regional Tournament in Lakewood, N.J. The team also participated in a mid-Atlantic District Tournament; they placed fifth out of 45 teams. Taylor said the team participated in eight tournaments this year, winning three and placing second at three.
"It's been a different season for them because they're playing older teams but what I found is that they actually have competed," Taylor said. "We got all the way to that championship game six out of eight times and we've come up short. They've grown each time from it."
Deondre said his first year coaching has been a challenge and at times he may push the players too hard, but he's pleased with how the Stars have played thus far. What stands out, Deondre said, are their passing ability and their selflessness.
"They share the ball, it doesn't matter who scores. They don't care who scores, they're all enjoying it," Deondre said. "I firmly believe that's our best attribute."
The team captains this year are Charlie Taylor and Latrelle Lee. Both players said the team needs to play defense to do well in the upcoming tournament. Lee believes the team will make it into the championship bracket.
To win in the tournament, Deondre said the team needs to "defend, rebound and run," which is their team motto. The team has done those three things in 90 percent of their wins.
"I believe if we go down there and work hard and go with the determination to win, we can come back better than 26th [place]," Deondre said.
The team will be a few players down due to summer school, but Deondre doesn't feel this will hurt the team because injuries have forced them to play with several different lineups already.
With the team going into their second National Championship tournament, Taylor said he feels the team is better prepared. There will be roughly 90 teams participating in the National Championship.
"Even though we're playing up, I feel like they're much more prepared to compete at that type of level," Taylor said. "I'm looking for big things from this year. I think we're going to go down there and surprise some teams."
Email Jennifer Dailey at firstname.lastname@example.org.