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July 28, 2014

Bookers Win Va. Wesleyan Team Camp

Over the years, Booker T. Washington basketball and Championships have been synonymous with one another. Since 1980, the Norfolk school has played in the State Championship six times, winning three of them. All three of those victories have come with current Head Coach Darren Sanderlin either on the sidelines coaching or on the court playing.

Booker T. knows its has a long road ahead to be in position to capture a state title come March of 2015, but they have made strides this off-season with the improvement they've shown, highlighted by rallying to defeat city rival Lake Taylor, 35-30 in overtime to win the Blue Marlin Team Camp Championship held at Virginia Wesleyan College.

Unlike their 1-3 mark at the ODU Team Camp a month earlier when each loss came by six points or less, the Bookers pulled out the close games this time around.

"We went through some chemistry issues [at] Old Dominion Team Camp and had to grow up, mature a little bit. This Virginia Wesleyan Team Camp was so competitive. I take my hat off to Lake Taylor. Both teams fought," stated Sanderlin afterwards.

"We're still young and have to do some things to get better. But the mentality right now is real good. It's always good to win."

After dropping its opener in the event to Cox 31-28, the Bookers rattled off eight straight wins over three days. Six of their victories were by five points or fewer.

In each of their tourney wins on Sunday, Booker T. erased a deficit. And they did it without rising sophomore guard Jermiah Jenkins, their leading returning scorer from a season ago that sat out while recovering from injury.

"They're tougher than what they think. Sometimes when you're immature, mistakes happen and it kind of saps you. I saw them fight through mistakes all weekend," Sanderlin said.

"We could've folded, but we pulled our boots up. This is almost the earliest I've seen in most any of my teams in being able to have that resiliency. It's very encouraging for the younger guys."

Lake Taylor, which went 7-3 on the weekend, beat the likes of Vincentian from Pennsylvania, Kellam (winners of the Boo Williams Team Camp), King's Fork and Hampton to get to the Championship game. They appeared to be headed towards hoisting the trophy when they built a 27-19 lead in the Championship game with eight minutes to go.

Six-foot-2 shooting guard Tommy Banks (Class of 2017) scored 11 points and converted three shots from behind the arc for Lake Taylor. Travius Smith, a 6-foot-3 rising junior wing, chipped in eight points and six rebounds. Six-foot-1 rising junior Josh Jennings also knocked down a pair of three-pointers to steady the Titans' lead.

The Bookers didn't have as much success from behind the three-point line with only one make, though it was a timely one from 5-foot-9 senior Jadon Jenkins (Jermiah's brother) with 21 seconds left in regulation to put his team in front. Each team had its struggle at the free-throw line as Booker T. went 16-of-31 and Lake Taylor was 9-for-24. However, the Bookers finished with a decisive advantage on the backboards.

Booker T. out-rebounded Lake Taylor 31-16 as the front-line consisting of 6-foot-6 senior Ezekiel Ingram, 6-foot-4 sophomore Brandon Gaddy and 6-foot-2, 305-pound sophomore Breyon Gaddy imposed its will. Those three alone combined for 21 rebounds, giving Sanderlin reason to believe the trio has the potential rank among some of the finer front-courts the program has produced in recent years.

"It can be right up there with [Quinton] Upshur, [Enoch] Hood and [Quashawn] Valentine," he noted.

Upshur is at Northern Arizona after beginning his collegiate career at VMI, while Hood started out at James Madison and is now at North Carolina Central."

Despite not attempting a single shot in the Championship game, Ingram yanked down three key defensive rebounds in overtime to prevent Lake Taylor from getting any second chance opportunities.

Brandon Gaddy scored 11 points in the win. Lamont Palmer, a 6-foot-tall rising junior, added eight points with a couple of free-throw makes in OT to increase the lead.

Both Cox and Denbigh had perfect 5-0 records until they were knocked off by lower seeds in the tourney. King's Fork ousted Cox to make the quarterfinals, whereas Landstown slipped by Denbigh in overtime to reach the semifinals.

Last season, Booker T. Washington finished 15-10 overall and fell to Glen Allen in the Group 4A-South Region Tournament semifinals, keeping them one win away from securing their fourth State Tournament berth in nine years. While the Bookers have stiff competition within their own conference, including reigning State Champion Norcom, winning this event should only bode well for their confidence moving forward.

"Enjoy it, but understand how we won it, with the hard work, dedication and the chemistry. The chemistry is the biggest thing. We can't lose that and we have to make sure we keep all those things intact," Sanderlin said.

"We just put in a lot of work and stress getting better every day. We can't relax or rest on our success because this is just the summer. It's a whole different ballgame regular season."

*** Stay tuned to VirginiaPreps.com for More Coverage from the Virginia Wesleyan Team Camp, including What We Learned, Top Performers and Photos! ***

Matthew Hatfield serves as State Basketball Analyst for VirginiaPreps.com, part of the Rivals.com Network. Check out Hatfield's Twitter page for more sports related updates, and you can also read his work in the Suffolk News Herald. To contact Matthew, please e-mail [email protected], and don't forget to listen to him every Saturday at 10AM on ESPN Radio 94.1, plus watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.

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