The Albany Hawks’ Derrick Price, right, shoots over the defense of the Albany Elite’s Vonterius Woolbright during the 8th-grade Developmental League championship game Thursday at HPER. The Albany Hawks won the game, 45-40. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — Quindavious Smith clutched a championship trophy in his right hand as a huge smile started to stretch across his face.
Minutes after leading his 8th-grade basketball team, the Albany Hawks, to a title in one of four divisions of the 4th annual Golden Rams Summer Basketball League, Smith was asked what made the six-week program so special.
That’s when his smile got even bigger.
“It gives us a chance to come play basketball and get off the streets,” said Smith, a rising freshman who will play at either Westover or Monroe next year. “It felt great to win a championship with my team.”
Smith was one of more than 200 kids who participated in the league, which held its championship games Thursday in HPER Gym. The Hawks defeated the Albany Elite in the 8th-grade Developmental League, 45-40. Smith led the Hawks with 16 points, while Temarcus Hayes led the Elite with 10 points.
Nu Business Sports beat the Southern Squad Phenoms in the 8th-grade Competitive League championship, 34-26. Travonte Harris led NBS with nine points, while David Quimby scored a team-high six points for the Phenoms.
Team Finesse held on for a 28-24 victory in the 6th-grade Developmental League championship against the Playmakers. Cameron Covin led Finesse with 16 points, and Darius Bryant scored eight points to pace the Playmakers.
In the league’s first of the four title games, the Heat beat the Thunder in the 6th-grade Individual League championship, 28-19.
The league, which was hosted by Albany State men’s basketball coach Chris Cameron, began June 9 and gave youth from around the area a chance to compete in teams during the offseason.
“It’s been rewarding for everyone that has been in the league,” Cameron said. “I am thankful for the sponsors who can make this happen, because if this isn’t going on then there will be other things going on that the kids will be involved in. And no one knows if those other things will be positive or negative. One thing I know about this, is that it’s a positive thing for the kids to do.”
The competitive level was for teams already formed, such as middle school teams or AAU squads, and the developmental level was designed for individuals who were assigned to a team coached by an Albany State player.
The teams practiced twice a week in ASU’s HPER Gym with time set aside for skill development and workouts. Then they played six regular-season games before the tournament.
And the league wasn’t solely beneficial for the youth either. Six ASU basketball players, including former Dougherty star Andrew Covin, helped coach the teams and built bonds with the kids.
“I had one kid on my team (Thursday) who hit a 3-pointer, and he turned around and said, ‘That’s just like you, coach,’ ” said Covin, who will be a senior on this year’s Rams squad. “That got me thinking that these kids really look up to us, and we have to watch how we carry ourselves.”
Fifteen-year-old Brandon Moore, who hit a game-winning shot in the semifinals to vault NBS to the championship game, was one of the players looking up to the college athletes.
“I learned to never give up even if you are down late in the game,” Moore said. “When I am on the court with (the college players), I feel like I can be a better man than what I am now. Playing with them is a great experience, and I have always looked up to older people playing basketball.”
Cameron said the bond made between the college players and the youth was one of the biggest positives to come out of the league.
“The younger kids absolutely loved it, and our guys got a chance to build relationships with the kids,” Cameron said. “Now the kids have an opportunity to come out next year and watch us play because they know them. That connection is there.”