By ROBERT LINNEHAN | The Voorhees Sun
It was a fitting end to a season that saw a group of talented young basketball players from all over South Jersey travel to the corners of the world for the game they loved. From Puerto Rico to their final tournament in Las Vegas, Team Speed capped off its season with a national championship just in time for the new school year.
The team of 12 talented, athletic middle school students from Haddonfield, Voorhees and Cherry Hill returned to the state last week after winning the “Swoosh World Championships at Las Vegas” tournament. The select team of seventh and eighth graders capped off its strong season with something no team from New Jersey has ever done before, Head Coach Robert DePersia said.
Team Speed defeated a select team from California in the finals of the tournament 53–42, avenging an earlier round pool loss to the same team, the only defeat the team suffered the entire weekend. It was the first time any team from New Jersey had won the tournament, he said.
The tournament featured top teams from around the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Team Speed used its seamless man-on-man defense and up-tempo offensive style to wear down their opponents and come out of the tournament as national champions.
It was a testament to the kids and their unity, DePersia said, because many other teams in the tournament tried to intimidate and bully the squad.
“Everyone tries to intimidate us. They feel we can’t deal with the city, the pressure, the lifestyle. It’s more intimidation than basketball, much more physical, nonstop talking, everything they can do to get you out of your game. But we’ve been playing everywhere, from Brooklyn to all other cities, it has no impact on us,” DePersia said. “Our kids stepped up to all of these challenges. They love when the game becomes like that, they step up to the challenge. We were very physical and it worked for us.”
The squad has two more appearances at tournaments before it calls it quits for the season and the kids have to go back to school, DePersia said. But Team Speed has already confirmed two tournaments in the Caribbean and Hawaii for next year, he said, and is also looking at two other international tournaments in Japan and South Africa.
Wherever they play, DePersia said the young athletes will be ready and willing to play any team that gets in their way.
“What can I say about this team? To sum them up, at the tournament we broke them up in the hotels to their different rooms. Every time we went to check on them the entire team was always in one room together, that’s how close they were. They’re great kids,” he said.