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Mass Rivals Capture Adidas Uprising Summer Championship

By By Matthew Crowley, Special for USA TODAY High School Sports, 08/24/16, 10:15AM EDT

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Makai Ashton-Langford, Wabissa Bede lead Mass Rivals to adidas Uprising Summer U17 Championship

LAS VEGAS — In the end, it was all over but the shoutouts for Makai Ashton-Langford, Wabissa Bede and Mass Rivals.

On Sunday afternoon, the guards helped their Boston-based team topple Garner Road 93-78 to win the adidas Uprising Summer Championship U17 tournament at Cashman Center. The win completed an undefeated tournament and an undefeated summer AAU circuit. The team had 21 wins in all, a fitting number for Las Vegas.

Bede scored 17 points; Ashton-Langford added 14 points. After the game, they were basking in front of ESPNU’s cameras, shouting messages — to unranked players, to Worcester, to parents and friends. Soon, teammates crept in and chimed in, creating a celebratory din.

The game was like the postgame scrum — fun, fast, and collective.

Bede scored eight of his 12 first-half points in the first eight minutes. Only 10 minutes had elapsed when he shot over a draped-on defender in the lane and completed a three-point play. Mass Rivals were up by 11 and were off and running.

Mass Rivals ran like a stopwatch on automatic, piling up fast breaks. Garner Road trailed by 14 points at halftime and would get only as close as 13 in the final period. Mass Rivals led by as many as 18.

The second half was a blur of Mass baskets. Aaron Wheeler gathered a defensive rebound and flipped the ball to Azar Swain, who drove in to score two of his 16 points. Jarrod Simmons rebounded and fed Wabissa, who fed Tamenang Choh for two of his 12 points. Wabissa rebounded, streaked to the top of the key and fed Simmons, who flushed with a flourish.

“They were on the fast break a lot, but it was smart, it was calculated transition,” Garner Road coach Dwayne West said. “If they didn’t have (the break), they came in, pulled (the ball) out, used the clock, always ended up with good shots, so hats off to them.”

As well as the offense worked, Mass Rivals’ defense was equally solid. The 6-foot-5 Choh and 6-foot-8 Aaron Wheeler thwarted Garner Road inside, especially in the second half, breaking up passes and altering shots.

“The way we play, no one can score at the rim,” Choh said. “We have our guards send the ball into the paint, where we have guys like me and Aaron and Jarrod and (6-foot-5) Greg (Kuakumensah) to contest all the shots and try to block them.”

Ashton-Langford, who ranks 32nd in the ESPN 100 for the class of 2017 and has been recruited by Boston College, Connecticut, DePaul, Louisville and Providence, said he’d been working to pick up his defense and let Bede score. He said Bede, who scored 12 points to lead Mass Rivals in Sunday morning’s semifinal, excelled Sunday as he always has, by getting to the basket and shooting accurately.

Bede shared the credit. He said his team’s three-guard formation and athleticism create mismatches for opponents.

“We just dribble and drive and find the open guy,” he said. “And I love playing with Makai, he’s like my brother out there. He always has my back and I always have his.”

Thomas Allen and Jordan Ratliff had 18 points each in the loss for Garner Road, based in Raleigh, N.C. Ratliff said his team’s defense couldn’t hold when Mass Rivals penetrated.

“We just collapsed when they got in the paint, we’ve got to know where to help out, we’ve got to help,” Ratliff said. “If we’d been sliding and rotating and helping, we’d be all right, but we weren’t getting the gist of that, so that hurt us real bad.”

Mass Rivals coach Vincent Pastore, who’d bellowed full-throated at his team in the opening half could rest his voice in the second. Big leads save breath, he said.

Pastore said his team succeeded with its deep roster. Because he could rotate 12 players through his lineup, he had fresh legs even after the long summer grind. And Bede and Ashton-Langford, the shoutout twins, were at the fulcrum.

“They’re probably the best guards in the country,” Pastore said. “And when you have guards that are that good, it makes the game flow so nice and smooth for everybody.”

Back in the camera-hogging pack, Bede was glad his toil had at last yielded the big trophy.

“All that hard work we did, all that grinding we did, I’m happy for my guys,” he said. “It’s been a great run, I mean going undefeated, that’s just amazing.”