Saturday, July 26, 2008 | 11:05 p.m.
Coach Ro Russell was in no hurry to downplay the significance of his Grassroots Canada Elite squad's championship-clinching win Saturday night at Rancho High in the adidas Super 64 tournament.
"This is the biggest win for Canadian basketball in amateur history - A major tournament, with all the top-ranked teams," Russell said. "It's huge for our program, for our country. People were saying Canada is still behind and we're not as developed as the Americans. With the U.S. pounding us last night in the exhibition game, we're starting from young, to get our guys experience of Americanized basketball, so when these guys get to that level, we're not going to let that happen."
The Toronto-based prep squad - comprised of Canadian players, most of whom compete for high schools in the United States - finished its unexpected run through the elite field at Rancho High with a thrilling 88-79, double-overtime win over the Compton Magic.
"We were working hard, hard work pays off," said Grassroots guard Junior Cadougan. "We were waiting for this moment, to win a big-time United States tournament, to make people know Canada really does have some ballplayers."
Making the team's run through the bracket even more improbable was that organizing time to practice was pretty much impossible before showing up in Las Vegas, due to how spread out the entire team is throughout the year.
Grassroots dropped its opening game of pool play, and after that, never looked back. And after knocking off Seattle Rotary Friday night in the round of eight - advancing them to their first semifinal appearance in an American tournament this summer - seeing SportsCenter highlights of Team USA's 120-65 drubbing of Canada at Thomas & Mack added the final splash of motivation.
Cadougan - a senior-to-be who plays high school ball just outside of Houston and is already committed to Marquette - helped Grassroots keep the pace throughout much of the night with his aggressive point play, but Compton was the toughest team yet for them to crack.
"So far in the tournament, every team we've played, by halftime we've had them cracked," Russell said.
Compton's late regulation push was capped by a three-pointer from Roberto Nelson atop the key. But thanks to clutch free-throw shooting from junior-to-be (and Texas commit) Tristan Thompson and the hard slashing style of Jason Calliste, the Magic couldn't ultimately hold on. It became even tougher once big men Joe Burton and Darnell Shumpert fouled out.
Thompson finished with 19 points and earned tournament MVP honors, while Cadougan scored 22. Nelson dropped a team-high 26 points for Compton, Burton had 23 and UNLV commit Justin Hawkins added 10.
But Calliste - who scored a game-high 29 points, including a no-look and-one bucket in the second OT to seal things - may prove to be the prime example of what this win could do for the lesser-known Canadian players.
Calliste - a 6-foot-2 shooting guard who plays during the season at Mt. Zion Academy in North Carolina - had drawn interest so far in the recruiting game from Syracuse, Pitt, Duquesne, George Mason and Colorado. But now, things could turn up a notch.
"You can see, players like Jason Calliste, that people didn't know about, he's on the map now," Cadougan said. "He didn't have any (scholarship) offers before this tournament. That'll change big-time."
California Supreme puts away Gallon, Houston Hoops for Main Event crown
The offense was working so well for California Supreme Saturday morning at Silver Valley High that the team's coach didn't even realize how on fire his son was.
Behind 21 points from Gary Franklin Jr., a junior-to-be who already has scholarship offers from Arizona and Baylor on the table, the SoCal squad knocked off the field's top dog - Houston Hoops - for the title at the Nike Main Event, 79-70.
"I don't know, it seemed like I was looking other places, and the ball seemed to find him," said the elder Franklin. "He started to get his legs in the second half and he turned it around."
And on two of them, Franklin Jr. made magic happen from his spot in the corner.
"Once I started feeling it, I didn't hesitate," he said. "Honestly I wasn't looking at the score, either. I was just getting pretty warm. I honestly wanted to shoot more. I felt like I was in the zone."
And once he heated up, the defense began thinking perimeter, which allowed California wing Jamal Franklin to slash inside and compile the brunt of his 18 points.
That was also a product of California wearing down Houston Hoops standout Keith Gallon - the 6-foot-9, 295-pound forward ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 26 prospect in the '09 class - with an up-and-down, fast-paced tempo which it never gave up on. Gallon finished with 24 hard-earned, well-labored points.
"It's nothing we were really telling them," coach Franklin said of his team attacking the paint. "What we were telling our guys was we really wanted to get up and down the floor, because we figured we had three guys - Chris Cunningham, Jeremy Tyler and Kevin Johnson - that we could kind of wear (Gallon) down with, getting up and down."
It also served as revenge for California Supreme, who was ousted by Houston Hoops earlier this month at the Nike Peach Jam.
"We knew it was going to be a tough game," Jamal Franklin said. "We just had to prove who was the best Nike team right now."