Gibbons: Upward Stars down Rams in 17U matchup


SUWANEE – Whenever the Florida Rams enter a tournament throughout the summer they are the marquee name. They have all the multi-star players, who pepper the national rankings and the sneaker sponsorship, which garners some envy. Teams are always looking for ways to penetrate the mystique of the Rams that is until Saturday.

Florida entered the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions as the heavy favorite. However, the Upward Stars had other  plans after delivering a 67-62 overtime win in the Elite Eight of the bracket format at Suwanee Sports Academy. The Stars victory left the standing room only crowd in shock. They will play Garner Road, who beat the Atlanta Xpress 74-70, in Sunday's Final Four.

Many considered this victory the biggest upset of the early summer. The reason for many people thinking this is because of the lack of name recognition on the Stars team. They do not have a player ranked in the top 100 nationally. While the Rams have players ranked in the top 30 in their positions. So, when the two teams met, everyone just knew the Florida squad would advance. This was not the case.

Syd Mohamed had some other ideas. The 6-foot-11 center from Northwood Temple Academy delivered his best performance of the tournament recording a double double with 14 points and 11 rebounds while rejecting four block shots. His effort helped neutralize the length the Rams have in the frontcourt.

When he was not getting put backs or rebounds, Justin McKie was providing some of the offensive punch needed against the talented Rams. This 6-foot-4 guard, son of former South Carolina standout B.J. McKie and Charleston Southern assistant, managed to get to the basket with ease while helping contain Florida’s athletic perimeter players. He finished with a team-high 17 points. Justin Dotson, a 6-foot-3 guard, chipped in with 11 points.

After the game, Upward fans and players were all hugs as they know they stepped into the spotlight with the victory. Players even hugged Mohamed for the big performance. Schools like Florida State, Ole Miss, and VCU have expressed interest. Things may have picked up after this.

“He picked the right time to play well,” Upward (S.C.) coach Kenny Burns.

Demarcus Croaker finished with a team-high 15 points to lead the Rams. Kasey Hill scored 13 points but was 1-for-9 from the free throw line. Chris Walker chipped in with 11 points.

In the other quarterfinal matchup, Anton Gill led Garner Road with 17 points. Atlanta’s Quinton Stephens scored 18 points, while teammate Tony Bagtas chipped in with 16 points.

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