Barking Abbey Surprises Everybody at the NIJT -

Barking Abbey Surprises Everybody at the NIJT

Barking Abbey at the NIJT

Coach Damien Kennedy and the Barking Abbey team

As you may, or may have not noticed, the site was a little quiet from Thursday to Saturday last week…the reason being I was down at the Nike International Junior Euroleague Tournament in Dagenham working stupid hours over the three days to get it all on film and hopefully bring you some decent highlights in the coming weeks.

Now lets be real, everyone (myself included) was expecting the English side to get whooped by at least 20 every game and if we were able to keep any of the games to 10-15 point losses I think that would have been considered a mild success. Baring in mind we had an incredibly young team, with 4 players on the roster who qualify to play under 16, and another 3 who were only 17, it made the prospect even more daunting. Regardless of the outcome, this was a great opportunity for the young ballers from Barking Abbey to go against and measure themselves against top European competition.

If you didn’t get a chance to get down there, let’s just say you missed out. Not just because this was the highest level junior club competition this country has ever seen with a number of top European programs and prospects attending, but the British team Barking Abbey made everyone take notice that the UK has ballers too.

*Recaps are adapted from the with my own thoughts

Game 1: Barking Abbey vs KK Zadar

I think there were a lot of nerves from the British side going into their first game, but with a chance to prove themselves on the line the Barking Abbey side came out firing. I had to take a second glance at the scoreboard after 2 minutes when it was displaying 8-0 to BA, and from that point on my own confidence and belief  in the team started to grow with their own. It makes such a difference when players can actually see what they are capable of and play with confidence and I think that was the overriding factor in this game. KK Zadar, along with pretty much every other team in the tournament, were expecting Barking Abbey to be the doormat that they all walked over to get their one easy win. How wrong could they have been. Once Barking Abbey had proven they could lead in a game they were counted on being nothing but the losers, not only were Zadar in shock, but Barking Abbey were at the other end of the spectrum, riding the wave of this new found confidence.

The score at the break was 37-30 in favour of BA and the second half was more of the same. Josh Johnson scored 7 points in the first 4 minutes of the half (after scoring 9 in total in the first half) and was getting to the rim at easy along with Teddy Okereafor. Okereafor hit a jumper to give BA a 13 point lead at 51-38 whilst Zadar’s heads went down and they seemingly all but gave up. The gap reached 61-44 at the end of the third quarter. Zadar never managed to get the lead down to single-digits in the closing quarter, while Okereafor and Johnson collected more points stretching the lead to 20 in the final minutes.

Final score? 86-64 Barking Abbey. 1-0. Who would have thought it? Cue the celebrations!

In what became a recurring theme, BA were lead by Josh Johnson and Teddy Okereafor. Josh Johnson finished with a huge efficiency ranking of 41, finishing with 27 points (6/7 2 pt field goals, 2/3 threes and 9/9 free throws!), 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 1 steal, all the while only turning the ball over once. Teddy added 18 of his own, with 4 rebounds, 1 steal and a couple of spectacular spin moves in the lane. You can see the full box score here.

Game 2: Barking Abbey vs Maccabi Tel Aviv

With the tournament now already considered a success with a win under their belts, the risk was that Barking Abbey were going to come out over confident against one of the favourites going into the tournament, Maccabi. And that’s what happened, being given a shock to be down 9-1 with just 3 minutes played. Coach Damien Kennedy (one of my boys from Brunel University woop!) called a timeout to rally the troops and it resulted in an instant field goal.

Barking Abbey regained some composure between the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second to be down 24-19 after 12 minutes of play. Despite game remaining close throughout the second quarter, it was clear Maccabi were in control. It was Barking Abbey who would have the last word though as Teddy Okereafor hit a three just before the half time buzzer to pull BA within 4, at 40-36.

In the third quarter, Maccabi came out with a purpose and much greater focus, instantly heaping on the pressure and going on an 18-5 run that put Barking down 17 points just 5 minutes in. From there on out Macccabi didn’t let up and cruised the rest of the way, benches were emptied and the victory was sealed at 80-58.

Josh Johnson again led Barking Abbey, finishing with 15 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal but struggled shooting the ball going 3/7 on 2pt field goals, 2/5 threes and 3/6 at the line. He was backed up again by Teddy Okereafor who had a nice all around game (except for shooting the ball), finshing with 9 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists and 5 steals. Full box score

Game 3: Barking Abbey vs Khimki

Both teams were geared up going into this one with the knowledge that whoever won would be in the semi finals the next day. Khimki came out agressive getting a 10-0 lead under 2 minutes in, and kept piling on the pressure, stretching the lead to a maximum of 18 points at 38-20 with a couple of minutes left to play in the half.

If I’m honest, I thought it was over. Barking Abbey weren’t showing any fight and looked like they had given up on themselves..that was all about to change though as coach Damien Kennedy used half time to talk it over. What was said? I don’t know. But whatever it was, it worked as Barking came out with a new lease of life in the second half. They produced a furious rally and everything started to go their way typified by one single play. Cutting the lead to just 5, and the shot clock winding down, the ball was swung around to Jesse Chuku who, while being off balance chucked up a one footed prayer that somehow rattled in. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, with BA reeling off 6 straight points to take a 61-56 lead with under 1 minute remaining.

I was actually going nuts and am pretty sure I have ruined any footage I have by shaking the camera and shouting too much haha. From there on out Khimki had to foul and Simeon Espirit and Teddy Okereafor kept their cool at the line to seal the win at 66-62.

Barking Abbey, the UK team in the semis!? Huge.

Josh Johnson again came up big for Barking Abbey with 21 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals and was backed up by a solid 13 points and 7 rebounds from Raphell Thomas-Edwards. Full box score.

Game 4: Barking Abbey vs Union Olimpijia

In the space of three days, Barking Abbey had gone from a team that was considered to finish no higher  than last place, to a team that was now not being counted out by anyone. Union Olimpija would be no simple task though, as a team that had gone undefeated throughout their qualifying games and had a deep team led by Jan Span who had already been playing in the Men’s Euroleague and Gezim Morina who was the eventual MVP of the tournament. On paper Union Olimpja had this in the bag, everyone knew though, that in reality it could go either way.

Barking Abbey showed they meant business when they took an instant 7-2 lead, but Olimpija kept their composure to finish the end of the first quarter up 21-18. With a few minutes remaining the first half BA looked in control leading 44-36, but Kastrati and Prepelic combined to make three consecutive shots from the perimeter to end the half with Olimpija up 45-44. Down by only one at the half, I remember thinking “shiiit we could actually do this!”.

It was the third quarter where Olimpja came out with some fire, going on a 15-2 run that handed them control of the game. Barking Abbey managed to hang with them though, only being down 5, 63-58 at the end of the third.

After a lot of basket trading, Olimpija were on top 67-62 inside the last 6 minutes of the game. Olimpija hit a three to stretch the lead to 10 points with less than 5 minutes to play, Barking Abbey however, weren’t ready to give up just yet. Simeon Esprit scored from the perimeter to ignite a 6-0 run by Barking Abbey before Thomas-Edwards missed a chance to cut the lead to two, only to see Olimpjia hit a tough floater at the other end. Okereafor cut it back to 4 with a tough jumper, leaving the teams to enter the closing minutes separated with a score of 74-70. With the ticket to the final on the line Johnson tried to cut it to a single point, but a huge block by Morina followed by an unsportsmanlike foul on Johnson for grabbing an Olimpija shirt with 24 seconds on the game clock, gave Olimpija all it needed to capture the win, sealing the game from the line to win 76-70 and ending Barking Abbey’s improbably underdog run.

It was an all around team effort from Barking, who for the first time were not dependent on Josh Johnson and Teddy Okereafor. Raphell Thomas-Edwards played brilliantly for Barking, playing with a new found confidence, he finished with 18 points and 9 rebounds. He was backed up by Okereafor’s 14 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals, Simeon Espirit’s 14, Josh Johnson’s 11, 9, 4 and 2 and Jesse Chuku’s 11.

Final Standings
1. Union Olimpija Ljubljana (5-0)
2. USK Future Stars Prague (3-2)
3. = Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv (3-1) & Barking Abbey Academy (2-2).
5. Banca Sella Biella (2-2)
6. BC Khimki Region (1-3)
7. La Caja De Cararias Gran Canaria (1-3)
8. KK Zadar (0-4)

Overrall Record: 2-2

Finishing Position: Tied 3rd (out of 8).

What a tournament! To go from a team that was considered the last place finishers before even playing a game, to a team that finished in third position, and very almost knocked out the eventual champions, is a testament to how much the team learned and grew throughout the tournament and a credit to the staff at Barking Abbey academy. To do all that whilst fielding a very young team, I must say that things are looking good for next year ;).

The tournament was a coming out party for both Josh Johnson and Teddy Okereafor, making a lot of people wonder why neither of them have Junior international honours to their name. Get them in that side!

Some Other Random Notes…

-The All-Tournament team was made up of the aforementioned MVP Morina joined by his Ljubljana team-mate Jan Span, Barking Abbey’s Josh Johnson, Maccabi’s Tomer Bar-Even and Ondrej Balvin of Prague.
-Christian Diaz Rodriguez of the Gran Canarias side was the most entertaining to watch of the tournament, with some great handle, dishes and shots. Expect a mini highlight reel of him.
-Ondrej Balvin of USK Future Stars is 7’2 at only 15 years old!? WTF! For his size he is extremely mobile and has some nice post moves. Barring injury, should get a fat contract somewhere in the future.
-Those questioning the standard of the tournament, know this-there was a New York Knicks scout in attendance!
-6’7 SF William Magarity (’93) of Banca Sella Biella who impressed with 25 and 13 in his first game, is said to have every European club side in Europe after him
-You can read all the stories and see all the stats at Euroleague London
-Dave Ryan did a great interview with coach Damien Kennedy after the tournament which makes interesting reading.
-The Euroleague gives out a wildcard spot for the Final Fours in Paris, so fingers crossed BA get it
-There was a surprising lack of dunks, and not one person got properly dunked on
-I was thoroughly disappointed by the lack of attendance, especially seeing as it was half term
-Not yet sure exactly what I’m going to do with  the footage, but it’s likely to be a Top 10 plays and then a few individual reels
-The Russian coach was nuts


Just want to say a HUGE thanks to all those involved with the running and organising of the tournament, especially those at Barking Abbey for making me feel so welcome; Mark Clark, Claire Clark, Damien Kennedy, Lloyd Gardner and Rikki Broadmore. Looking forward to next year already!


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