- National Teams
Midway through the summer, Nhamo Shire, the founder of Reach & Teach/Midnight Madness hit me up and said he was working on something big; he didn’t reveal too much but just said to block out 13th-21st September in my diary.
Luckily, I did, as it turned out to be a week away in St Kitts & Nevis – the destination of choice for the Midnight Madness Travel team for 2014.
For those that don’t know, Midnight Madness is the biggest open participation summer basketball program in Europe, providing basketball qualifying events up and down the country, with the top players making Finals Night – where they have a chance to play to make the travel team and compete abroad (more info at Midnight Madness’ official website).
This year, Nhamo had agreed a deal with St Kitts & Nevis Minister of Sport, Glen Phillip, Wendle Pembleton, of the Reach One Teach One Foundation, and the Marriott Hotel, that would see the winners of this year’s Midnight Madness be flown out to the island to compete in the Independence Basketball Classic, a four team tournament, to take place during the week the islands celebrate their independence of British rule – this year will mark the 31st year.
Aside from the basketball, the team would be staying in the Marriott, eating amazing food, along with getting tours of the island, and of course getting getting relaxing time on the beach and by the pool.
In the past, the Travel Team has gone to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Washington, Paris and Milan, but never have they reached somewhere as exotic as the caribbean.
The Midnight Madness Travel Team has a wide ranging age this year, featuring a couple of younger guys, along as some more seasoned veterans.
Head Coach: Junior Williams
Assistant Coach: Julius Joseph
Head of Delegation: Nhamo Shire
Press & Media: Steve Whyte
Entertainment & Media: Julian Amoah
What follows is my diary of the trip, updated daily, with exactly what went down!
Saturday 13th December
Having landed from my trip to Madrid for the launch of NBA 2K15 and Sneakerball at 8:30am at Heathrow, I had a quick 8-9 hour pitstop in England to dump my stuff at home in East London, pick up some other bits and get back to Heathrow for my flight a 5pm.
Midnight Madness had flown out on the Friday via Antigua, and the only way for me to get out in time for the game Sunday night was a 26 hour trip going via NYC for an 8 hour layover, onto Miami and from there to St Kitts & Nevis.
Already lagging from the last few days of little sleep (plus vertigo that I got after an ill advised rock jump in Sardinia the weekend before), I dragged myself to the airport with a good couple of hours til my flight departure.
After checking in, the attendant advised me the gate wouldn’t be open for a while so to go and chill out; I took it a little too literally and ended up almost missing my flight, leaving me running down the corridors of Heathrow to jump on the plane with about 2 minutes to spare and keeping the entire flight waiting. Oops.
The flight was pretty empty, so had some space to spread out and get some work done (this edit of the Sneakerball dunk contest was done 40,000 feet up!) on the way to JFK.
On arrival in New York, I wasn’t about to spend 8 hours at JFK/Newark, so got on the subway to check out downtown Manhattan and visit Times Square which was kinda cool.
Leaving at midnight, I got the bus to Newark Liberty International, arrived for 1am ish, paid for Boingo (what a service!) and got on some wifi to bang out some work until 4am when the gates opened for my 6am flight to Miami.
Sunday 14th September
I used the flight to catch up on some sleep. Landing in Miami, I had two hours, so literally went gate to gate, to wait for my flight to St kitts and Nevis, and again used it to catch up on sleep, waking up just in time for the approach.
Approaching the island, the views were crazy, and it began to dawn on me the magnitude of how epic this week was about to be.
Walking out of the airplane onto the tarmac, I was just hit by a wall of 32 degree heat – amazing!
As I came up to the fast growing passport check line, I was greeted by Wendell, who took me right to the front of queue and out the airport in about 2 minutes – result!
We got in the car and drove through rolling hills, palm trees, and beautiful buildings while talking about basketball in St Kitts & Nevis.
Like England, soccer rules out here, and basketball, along with volleyball is the second most popular sport. The population is just 30,000 and as it stands, the country lacks the infrastructure to really develop the sport as they want to; which is where Nhamo Shire and Reach and Teach come in.
There are 8 secondary schools on the island, and none of them currently have any basketball provision, something they are hoping to change soon, using a similar model to Reach & Teach’s London School of Basketball.
There is no professional league, but an amateur league, ran by SKABA (St Kitts Amateur Basketball Association), which is played outside – the joys of beautiful weather!
We pulled up to the Marriott Hotel (official website here for more info), which looks more like a palace than a hotel, and I was greeted by Nhamo as we mutually grinned at each other – “This is a GOOD look!” I said…”I KNOW!” he responded, both almost in disbelief that basketball has brought us to one of the most idyllic places on earth.
Nhamo gave me a quick tour of the hotel, complete with a huge ship in the lobby pool (I’m not kidding), as well a ton of swimming pools dotted around the resort, various restaurants, gyms, palm trees, and the beach which the hotel backs directly onto. Wow.
I checked into my room; dumped my stuff, stuck on the FIBA World Cup final (which, disappointingly was over before the half!), grabbed a shower after a long, sweaty trip, and tried to take a quick power nap.
We met for some food a little later, while looking over the Caribbean (are you jealous yet?!), before reconvening at 6:45pm in the lobby to head to the court, known as ‘Basketball City’ for Game 1 of the four team tournament that would take place over the course of the week.
A bus came to pick us up for the short 10 minute journey to Basketball City, which was complete with seating for around 1000 – put together with planks of wood laid on a brick support construction.
It’s amazing that a tiny island in the middle of the caribbean can still manage spectator seating on their outdoor courts – something like it in London would be crazy.
Video of the court (I smashed my head on the door frame walking in at 19 seconds lol:
When Midnight Madness airballed their first shot, I hoped it was not a sign of things to come; luckily it wasn’t. Starting with experience, as Coach Junior Williams went with David Olorogun, Disraeli Lufadeju, Sam Toluwase, Raheem May-Thompson and Lamar Roberts, Midnight Madness pressured Nevis Select full court, forcing turnovers to jump out to a quick 11-3 lead.
The pressure continued, going up 19-5, and despite a mini comeback from Nevis Select, Midnight Madness led by 25-13 after 1 quarter, led by Arif Sempala, one of the youngest players on the team, who had 6 points, all on jump shots, off the bench.
Despite the comfortable lead, it wasn’t all easy going. Midnight Madness were called for multiple travels, and carrying violations – something that continued throughout the game.
The refereeing was slightly suspect, Midnight Madness were in team fouls every quarter, while Nevis Select never came close. Neither side, or the crowd, seemed enamoured with the officiating.
Joel Henry started the second quarter on a 4-0 run to extend the lead, and a quick burst with 4 minutes left in the half punctuated by back to back dunks from Raheem May-Thompson and Joel Henry extended Madness’ lead to 38-20.
Lamar and Max dominated the glass throughout, taking advantage of their size against the smaller Nevis Select squad.
From there, Nevis Select never got back into the game, as Coach Williams rotated his players heavily, up 59-41 after three and finishing up with a 74-58 win to go to 1-0 in the tournament.
Lamar Roberts led Midnight Madness with 14 points and 16 rebounds, Maxwell Morrison added 14 points of his own with 8 rebounds, while Joel Henry had 5 assists and 5 steals to go with his 10 points. Raheem May-Thompson had 12, while captain Sam Toluwase had 11 in limited minutes. Sempala added 8 points.
Jet lag was hitting me hard towards the end of the game as I struggled to prevent myself falling asleep while filming, so it was straight back to the hotel to hit the sack!
Monday 15th September
Still recovering from my body clock being all over the place and the journey the day before, I ended up lying in a little (if you consider 8:30am a lie in) while the team went and practised at 8:30am – it gets so hot out here, early morning practice is the only way to avoid the sweltering heat of the middle of the day (and why the games are late at night).
While the team practised, Nhamo, Sam Toluwase, Jai Amore & Steve Whyte headed to do some press – getting a radio interview as well as a TV segment.
In the interview, Nhamo was assured that the evening’s game wasn’t going to be a cake walk like the night before – the trash talking had began!
Based on that conversation, everyone’s expectations went up, but the game proved to be a no-contest.
Facing off against Bedrock St Kitts, who featured the St Kitts & Nevis Minister of Sport, Glen Phillip (!), Midnight Madness jumped out to a 10-0 lead, and despite Bedrock responding with an 8-0 run of their own, from there on out it was over.
Madness went on 17-2 to finish the first quarter, led by Maxwell, led 58-27 at half time (Maxwell 13, Raheem 11 at the half), 83-36 after 3 and cruised to a final score of 107-59.
Bedrock had pretty much given up by the fourth quarter, which turned into a bit of a dunk fest, with MM throwing down at least 5 in the quarter (plus couple of big misses). Madness had 30 steals (!).
Maxwell had 21 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocked shots, Raheem had 17 points, 8 rebounds, 6 steals, Lamar beasted the glass again, hauling in 13 rebounds to go with his 10 points. Sam Toluwase had 14 points while Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye dished out 6 assists.
Tuesday 16th December
Tuesday was an off day for the team, where we had an island tour set up. Setting off from the hotel at 9am, we literally got taken around the entire island, circling the whole thing, seeing the sights, being told about the history and taking in the breathtaking views.
Included was a visit to Brimstone Hill Fortress; a UNESCO World Heritage Site of historical, cultural and architectural significance which was pretty incredible, as well as seeing the old plantations that used to cover the island when it was first colonised, and volcanoes, towns and more.
What a place!
On returning to the hotel it was chill time, grabbing some lunch before we split ourselves between the sea and the pool – getting to do a little snorkelling (saw some stingrays!), and the guys playing some volleyball in the pool.
In the evening, I went to the gym before we all re-joined for a team dinner – a sprawling buffer with all sorts of St Kittian delicacies.
I wanted to get an early night, having to do some work, but also in preparation for an early wake up the next day to catch the sunrise.
Wednesday 17th December
My body clock is still way off, so waking up at 4:20 was not a problem at all, much to my surprise. Julian aka Jai failed to meet me at the allotted 4:30am slot outside my block so I headed down to the beach alone to set up to capture a timelapse of the sunrise.
I pulled up a sun lounger, set up my GoPro with only the moonlight providing any sort of light, and lied back to take it all in. The result was pretty breathtaking:
I packed up at 7am and joined the team who had their first early morning practice of the trip.
We headed down to Basketball City, where the sun was already beating down, and met Sam, David and Dizzy who had all come to shoot early. From there, I set up my laptop to do some work, as the team ran over preparations for the evening’s game against St Kitts.
Having won their first two games by very comfortable margins, you couldn’t help but feel Midnight Madness were overly confident going into the match-up against St Kitts.
From the opening tip, it was obvious St Kitts weren’t going to be a walkover. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead, and then 5-2, and quickly up 15-7.
MM were shell shocked. Their press, that had been working so well so far in the tournament, proved to be a non-factor against St Kitts, whose speedy point guard had little problem breaking it himself or making the right pass out of it.
Not only that, but it appeared as though MM were playing 5 vs 8. The refereeing was some of the most one-sided officiating I’ve ever seen.
As St Kitts continued to hit shots, MM were called for travels, carrying, offensive fouls, 3 seconds, and pretty much anything that went in St Kitts’ favour. What made it even worse, was they failed to keep their composure, mentally crumbling under the pressure. Arguing with the refs and each other rather than focusing on playing the game at hand.
Despite the officiating, the game was still there to be had, if the squad focused on playing the game.
On the final inbounds play of the quarter, the pass was stolen by St Kitts’ point guard who went the length of the court for a wide open layup before the buzzer which was entirely uncontested by MM, who could only watch from the other end of the court. After 1, St Kitts were up 27-9.
From there, things went from bad to worse. Lamar fouled out, having picked up 5 fouls in the best part of about 5 minutes of game time, a technical was called on the bench, and the turnovers continued.
At halftime, St Kitts led 36-18. MM had 13 turnovers at the half and just 1 offensive rebound.
The third quarter was better. MM went on a little run, punctuated by a Sam Toluwase and-1 layup and big bicep flex (crowd went wild) that reduced what had been a 20+ lead to 11 but MM just couldn’t get over the hump (or the officiating).
Jay Jarrett was called for an unsportsmanlike foul, the phantom calls and no calls continued, as MM crumbled. Mini-scuffles broke out, and MM were in disbelief.
The final score was 74-60 to St Kitts. Bad day at the office.
Thursday 18th September
It was another 4:30am start to do another sunrise timelapse, this time with Jai, who managed to get up (well, he never went to sleep!).
We went out to the beach and were caught in the middle of a storm, having to take shelter under an umbrella while waiting for it to clear – which it did. We shot a couple of music videos for Jai (who’s also a MOBO award winning artist), before having a morning swim then heading for breakfast.
The day was a chill day until the evening’s game – the guys were given practice off, so people chilled in the pool/the beach and just enjoyed the island.
After lunch I recorded a podcast interview with Nhamo (coming soon) while sitting poolside, and then we prepared for the game.
The game was against the Challengers – the island’s champions – who weren’t a part of the tournament, but after seeing Midnight Madness in the first two games wanted to play in an exhibition at their home court.
We loaded up the cars and drove across the island to their place – another outdoor court, made of concrete, right on the coast (if the ball went out of bounds far enough it would end up in the sea!).
Like some sort of scene out of a movie, the cars drove onto the court, made the layup lines scatter, and the MM team unloaded. There were music speakers set up on the side of the court, belting out reggae and afrobeats, as the teams began to warm up (while, at times, being interrupted by other cars driving over the court lol).
The Challengers were made up of a number of players from the Saint Kitts team from the night before, and looked to be a stronger side. Because it was an exhibition, coaches Junior Williams and Julius Joseph also suited up.
Sam Toluwase hit a three on the game’s first possession – a needed confidence booster to get MM squad off to a good start.
Challengers immediately responded with an and-1, as the teams traded punches for the opening quarter – Max leading Midnight Madness, as they trailed 15-13 after one.
Julius showed his shooting touch in the second, hitting back to back threes to put Madness up 22-17 just two minutes into the second period. Shortly after, however, it started raining and everyone had to retreat to a courtside building for shelter.
It was only a short shower with play resumed shortly after but MM had lost all momentum. The squad was called for multiple travels and ball carrying (a recurring theme through every game), and went into the half down 29-24.
In the third period, it all began to fall apart. With Midnight Madness settling for bad shots, failing to get to the basket, the Challengers took advantage in transition, getting a number of wide open layups on the break – in the blink of an eye, Challengers went up 45-34 heading into the final quarter.
With a rousing speech from Julius and Jr during the break, the fourth quarter proved to be Midnight Madness’ time. Arif hit a three, Max got a layup inside and it was a 6 point game with 8 minutes left. Challengers responded with a little run of their own.
Max finished a huge two feet two hander inside on the Challenger defender (he had been big all game) that got the bench on their feet and set off a 6-0 burst from MM, to bring it to 55-50 with 2:52 left and then…the rain started. And didn’t storm.
Torrential downpour covered the court and showed no signs of relenting. Just like that, the game had to be called off.
The buses came to take us back to the hotel for dinner, then a much needed early night for me.
To be updated daily throughout the rest of the trip. Keep checking back – & let me know if there is anything in particular you want to know in the comments below!
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