Monday, July 16, 2007

SPORTS >>Wings win title game with local hoop stars

IN SHORT: DeShone McClure of Jacksonville High School, and North Pulaski players Aaron Cooper and DaQuan Bryant were all a vital part of the national championship winning Arkansas Wings basketball team.

Leader sports staff

Three local athletes were part of the Arkansas Wings 16-under AAU team, which won the Division 2 national championship last night at Pulaski Academy High School.

Jacksonville High’s DeShone McClure, and North Pulaski’s Aaron Cooper and DaQuan Bryant played pivotal roles on the national championship winning team.

The Wings beat Virginia C-Pep 63-42 Friday to secure the title. North Pulaski coach Raymond Cooper helped manage the team, and said all three local athletes played big roles in the team’s national tournament success.

“They’ve all had their moments in the tournament when they’ve led the team in scoring,” Raymond Cooper said. “DaQuan has had some double double games. McClure has come off the bench for us and played some great defense. Aaron is our point guard, and he’s been solid the whole tournament. This whole team has played pretty well and everybody’s gotten a lot of playing time. Everybody on the team has started at least one game.”

The Wings advanced to bracket play by breezing through their pool, winning all three pool games by more than 20 points.

The team started the tournament by routing the New Jersey Panthers 67-42 on Monday. Two wins on Tuesday advanced the team to bracket play as one of the favorites. The Georgia Grasshoppers were no match, and the Wings got their biggest margin of victory in game two of pool play 71-43. The Louisiana Things got tougher in bracket play as the Memphis Wildcats made a late surge, only to fall 63-56. Next up was Team Louisiana, which beat the Arkansas Timber Wolves 63-58 in round one. The Wings disposed of their second Louisiana team by a score of 50-37 to earn a spot in the semifinals against their third Louisiana team, Dream Team Louisiana.

In their toughest game of the tournament, the Wings battled back and forth with DTL throughout the contest, and ultimately came away with a 59-54 victory to earn the right to play for the championship against the Virginia team.

Virginia C-Pep gave the Wings problems in the first quarter, but inspired play from McClure in the second quarter gave his team a boost, and a double-digit lead in the process.

While Cooper was the only starter of the three Jacksonville players, McClure subbed for him at the 3:19 mark of the first half and wasted little time making his presence known.

C-Pep led much of the first quarter, but Arkansas took a 10-9 lead at the end of the first quarter. By the end of the second quarter, however, McClure had helped lift the Wings to a 31-20 halftime lead, and the advantage would only increase in the final two periods. McClure started out the second quarter with a steal that he converted into a lay-in, making up two of his 11 first-half points.

Arkansas led 46-30 at the end of the third quarter after a brief C-Pep rally in which the Virginia team scored two three pointers in the final minute and erased a 22-point Wings’ lead, but McClure and company gathered it back in the final eight minutes of play.

McClure went on to score 18 points in the game, including a pair of three-point baskets and steals that he converted into transition lay-ups.

The only other player to score as many points as McClure in the title game was post player Daniel Broughton who also finished with 18 points on the afternoon.

“I didn’t know I was going to have the game I had,” McClure said afterward. “I knew I was capable of it. I had an advantage on my coverage with my first step, and used it to my advantage to take it to the hole.” While Cooper may not have had the numbers that McClure did, he was happy to help out his friend and soon to be cross-town rival.

“I did all right,” Cooper said. “I had a little bit of an off game, but DeShone was having a great game, so I just gave him the ball.”

Cooper played most of the first quarter as the Wings starting point guard, and came away with some key assists in the opening frame to help Arkansas jump out to a narrow 6-5 lead by the 4:25 mark. He would play most of the second half, but could never find the perfect opportunity to score.

Rather than force the issue, Cooper played maturely and team focused, with a number of assists added to his totals in the last two quarters.

Bryant finished with two points, but it was his contributions on the defensive side of things that would make the difference in his performance. Bryant and teammate Broughton gave little inside to C-Pep, forcing them outside with a lineup that relied on inside play.

“We’ve been practicing and (we’ve) had our mind set on winning,” Bryant said. “We just wanted to keep taking it to the next step and do everything it takes to win. We did it, and it feels great to be a champion.”