In the end, the young people of Next Up danced, while the old guard of BIG argued.
Camari Wilkerson unleashed a strong surge in the streak as Next Up steadily pulled away to beat BIG, 56-42 in the Annapolis Summer League Championship game on Tuesday night at Truxtun Park.
With his team leading by nine points with just over a minute remaining, BIG goalkeeper Daon Riley vented his frustrations on an official and was hit with two technical fouls. Leader Avion Robinson jumped up, said something and was immediately ejected
Wilkerson sank six consecutive free throws allowed for all three techniques, and the head referee ended the game with 45 seconds left to prevent further hostilities.
Wilkerson finished with 30 points to lead Next Up (13-1), which made history as the only freshman franchise to be crowned Annapolis Summer League champions. Forward Kris Peet (North County High) scored six points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked three shots.
“I know this league from having played there in the past and I knew my team could come here and win it,” Next Up player-coach Chris Simmons said. “It’s a tight-knit group that plays together all the time. We have great chemistry, great athleticism and great depth.
Robinson and forward Antonio Wright scored 11 points apiece to lead BIG (11-3), who couldn’t defend their title. Coach Tyrone “Stixx” Jones led his club to eight championships, but none came in consecutive seasons.
“For some reason, we just can’t go back,” Jones said. “Congratulations to Next Up. They were the best team tonight. We will come back better than ever next season.
It was a battle between teams made up almost entirely of players from northern Anne Arundel County.
Jones was an All-County forward at Meade and built the franchise with other alumni such as Wright and Eric Brown. Another core member was 7-foot center Travis Hyman, who played at Old Mill and Bowie State before enjoying a lengthy pro career.
Riley and Robinson are also Old Mill products, while Bruce Spruell is another Meade graduate. BIG was without its leading regular season scorer as Mahzi Thames (Meade) started school at Virginia Union. Elijah Davis, a Severn resident and a spark plug on the bench, was in a soft cast after breaking his foot in the semi-finals.
Despite being outnumbered, BIG was the aggressor throughout the first half and had Next Up hot on their heels. Wright took the ball hard into the basket on the open court, while Brown came off the bench and scored six straight points on impressive post-up moves as the defending champions took a 31-27 lead at the half time.
Next Up increased defensive intensity and made it harder for BIG to score inside. Peet and 6-foot-5 forward Tre Dunn are both exceptional jumpers who contest every shot and get their hands on many.
BIG strayed from the game plan and started settling for perimeter jumpers too often in the second half. Dylin Borden (Indian Creek, Millersville) found Chris Simmons for an easy layup to cap a run that gave Next Up the lead for good, 37-36. Hyman was hit by a technical shot and Wilkerson made both foul shots.
After another defensive save, Wilkerson banked on a tough runner to increase the lead to 41-36. The lightning-fast southpaw, who has a huge range of movement on the open court, performed a series of acrobatic shots on determined drives during the deciding stretch.
“My teammates told me to attack the rim, so that’s what I did,” said Wilkerson, a former Capital Gazette male athlete of the year at Old Mill.
While Wilkerson carried the offense in the Championship, Next Up boasted a balanced offense throughout the season.
“They’re a very talented team with a lot of plays. Kris and Tre can jump out of the gym, while Dylin is a great shooter,” said Wilkerson, who was named Summer League Most Valuable Player. Annapolis: “What everyone does really well is play defense.”
Dunn was a somewhat surprising pick as the Championship Game MVP, despite leading the interior defense that turned the tide in favor of Next Up. The Meade graduate who played last season at Marymount, grabbed eight rebounds and had two blocks as Next Up avenged its lone loss.
“We strategized how we wanted to play against this team and were able to put everything together when it mattered most,” Dunn said. “No one believed we could defeat the champions. We had to prove the doubters wrong.