The CBL Under 12 2016/2017 season has produced some of the most exciting basketball action seen on the U12 circuit across London in recent memory. The league has featured some truly outstanding teams this year, laden with talent that will undoubtedly shape the game across the regional and national levels over the next decade. With so many players and quality coaches involved, it was fitting the final came down to the two best teams in the league, when all was said and done.
Westside – the best in the West, versus Baltic Stars – the Lithuanian powerhouse from the East.
Coming into the game, not even the flip of a coin could separate these two teams as both featured league-leading talents such as Robbie Black, Louis Savastano and Hunter Kelleher (for Westside) going up against Dominykas Revinas, Lukas Klydzia and Klaudijus Gaidziunas (for Baltic Stars). Pre-game, it was simply too close to call either way, which added to the tension and rising anticipation around the U12 game of the year.
Once underway it was the reigning U12 champions, Westside, who came out aggressively, behind the superlative play of Savastano. Driving into the lane and finishing twisting layups at the basket, coupled with a step-back jump shot, ‘Sweet Lou’ came to play and showed no hesitation in putting Baltic Stars on formal warning that Westside had no intention of giving up their crown, jumping out to an early 6 point lead.
The usually ultra-efficient offense of the Baltic Stars (seriously, if you haven’t seen these guys play at the U12 level…you’re missing out) seemed to sputter for the first time all season as the young stars adjusted to the big game. However, Revinas single-handedly kept the Stars in contention scoring an incomprehensible 10 straight points, including a deep 3-pointer to keep his team within striking distance at the end of the first. ‘Doma’ not only scored on a variety of individual moves and improbable shots, but his passion and will to win began to steady the Baltic ship and fuel his teammates confidence when they appeared at their most vulnerable. Doma went on to score 16 of his teams 23 first half-points, putting on a performance that won’t soon be forgotten. Very impressive.
For Westside, Johann Puerta and Kelleher joined Savastano in continuing to cause problems for the Baltic defense. Puerta was particularly effective on the glass, cleaning up all errant shots and putting them back in for the West Londoners. Showing good hand-eye coordination and soft hands around the basket, Puerto quickly racked up 7 points personally in the first half, and would have led his team into the break with a 3 point lead, if it were not for a buzzer-beating 3 pointer form way beyond the arc from Gaidziunas which levelled the scores. Fitting.
As the third quarter went back and forth, there was still no daylight for either team as more players stepped into the fray. Robbie Black chipped in with 2, only to have Klydzia to respond with a breathtaking coast-to-coast lay up of his own. This game was tight.
With neither team able to break free throughout the quarter, finally Baltic’s Nedas Cholevinskas took the game by the scruff of the neck hitting a deep 3-pointer, followed by another jumper and running lay-up to push his team up by 6 going into the 4th. Cholevinskas exploits were the first momentum swing in the game that gave any indication which team would prevail and took some of the air out of the Westside attack.
In the final period, Hunter and Savastano shared the Westside scoring load in trying to pull the reigning champions back into the lead but the momentum was now with Baltic Stars and a series of buckets by Dom, Klydzia and Astijus Kuscas proved to be just enough to send the Stars through as the well-deserved Under 12 CBL Champs.
The MVP could very easily have been awarded to Dominykas Revinas who played an outstanding game in finishing with 18 points. However the timely play and ‘back breaking’ buckets from Cholevinskas proved to be the ultimate difference in the game, giving Nedas the surprise Most Valuable Player award.
CBL Commissioner Nhamo Shire: “What an incredible game! End to end action from start to finish and big plays being made by these kids that we don’t get to see in players twice their age! I can’t express how evenly matched these two teams were, it’s just a shame only one team could win on the day, but it was well-earned. Baltic Stars are building something special over there and play with passion, intensity and technical ability that’s refreshing to see at the grassroots level. A great win for them and I’m already looking forward to seeing both teams back at it next season!”.