The magic of VBA

The VBA High School Boys rec. league championship was held on Thursday, February 27 at EHS.

Dozens+of+fans+and+spectators+walk+out+onto+the+court+to+congratulate+the+players+on+a+hard-fought+championship+game.

Jonah Gutterman

Dozens of fans and spectators walk out onto the court to congratulate the players on a hard-fought championship game.

In the same league that you’ll see missed layups, airballed threes, and botched calls, you’ll find trash talking that could put Kevin Garnett to shame, bleachers rumbling with more fans than an Eastern varsity basketball match, and a cult-like following of players and teams. This absolute hysteria can be found in gym two at Voorhees Basketball Association games. 

  The 2019-2020 VBA season started on December 4th with preseason favorite Team Friedman taking on Team Greenberg. Friedman’s star seniors Teddy Osei-Kyei, Michael Mazziotta, and Jake Trewern, set the league precedent of tight matchups with a narrow 51-50 win. As the season went on, there would be more nail-biters, game winners, and even a few ejections when things got too rowdy.

“We started out the season with a close win. It was definitely the most fun year for me in VBA. The games were competitive and always filled with surprises”, Trewern explained when reminiscing about the season. 

  If the regular season’s back and forth games were an indication of anything, it’s that every team had a chance to go all the way. By the time playoffs rolled around, players and coaches alike were foaming at the mouth to get their hands on a coveted championship t-shirt and all the bragging rights that come with winning the chip. 

  Team Finberg’s Bret Bantivoglio described the feeling of being a VBA champion as `indescribable”. He went on to say “Winning a championship brings memories that last a lifetime. It’s a feeling all competitors long for and you are willing to do whatever it takes to get there.”

  The playoffs continued the theme of close matches and upsets. With each high flying thriller, gym two got more packed. Students from around the school were making their way back to witness the late night matchups. So much so, that VBA games were consistently surpassing varsity basketball matches in attendance. 

“So many people pop out because VBA is exciting”, senior and varsity basketball player Eric Dahan mentioned when talking about how VBA is able to bring in such a crowd. “Students get to watch their best friends matchup against each other. You have the excitement of watching your friends compete in an electric environment”. 

  Game by game, teams were knocked out. Sixteen became eight. Eight became four. Finally, the championship game was set between Team Whiteman and Team McCall. 

  Coming into the final clash, the atmosphere was electric. The gym two bleachers were packed with students sitting shoulder to shoulder. Some brought signs to wave, others taped the names of players onto their shirts. Everyone was ready to see Team Whiteman, featuring prolific freshman Eli Block and the dynamic Whiteman brothers, battle it out against Team McCall, led by the big three consisting of the defensive powerhouse Allan Belizaire, putback king Justin Orloff, and a silky-smooth Hunter McCall. 

  Once tip-off commenced, the crowd riled up with energy, energy, and more energy. There was trash talking, chants, and cheers that echoed across the gym. Not even the referees were safe from scrutiny. “Get him glasses” was a go-to chant whenever the refs made an unfavorable call. 

  Team Whiteman got off to a hot start early in the first half, with some dominating drives to the basket and solid defensive work on the other end. They were able to hold the opposition to four points for a significant amount of time. As the first 20 minutes of the match came to a close, Team McCall was able to claw their way back with the help of Danny Francesconi’s hot hand and Hunter McCall’s ability to get to the free throw line. 

  The second half saw more chants and more big plays. Freshman Eli Block was able to keep the momentum going for Whiteman with a good mix of jumpers and drives. “I would say I was feeling a little nervous as a freshman, especially with all the people in the crowd, but I knew my team was strong and I was confident from the beginning” Eli explained when talking about his emotions going into the match. 

  Senior Ted Drinkwater, a member of the boys varsity team, commented on Eli’s performance and potential by explaining, “You can just tell that Eli is going to be super solid. He plays with a lot of swagger and doesn’t back down from anyone. You don’t see that in a lot of freshman. He looked like a real leader out there and he gets everyone involved. A complete team player. It’s fun being around him at basketball practice. I have total faith in him that he is going to continue to build a culture at Eastern that can’t be matched for a long time.”

  Seniors Hunter McCall and Justin Orloff pushed the tempo for their side to help cut the deficit. Their team’s efforts lead to McCall going on some solid runs, but Whiteman’s scoring prowess was too much to combat. 

  As time expired, the crowd poured from the bleachers onto the gym to celebrate Whiteman’s 40-32 victory over McCall. Championship MVP Eli Block led Whiteman with 19 points. Hunter McCall put up 13 in the loss. “Winning the championship felt amazing and it was a great experience getting the recognition from the whole school, I assume that was my only year of VBA and winning the championship felt great.” Block said after being crowned a champion. 

  Satisfaction and excitement filled the faces of Team Whiteman as they received a championship t-shirt. In a fitting way, the hard fought championship ended what was an overall spectacular season for the league and players. For the victors, they can sleep easy knowing that they’ve won it all, but everyone else can only wait until next season to start the magic again.