The Harnett Strong Ballers third-, fourth- and fifth-grade basketball teams competed in the National Travel Basketball Association (NTBA) championship tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C., from July 16-21.
These three travel basketball teams are made up of all Harnett County kids, most of them from Dunn, Erwin, Angier and Fuquay-Varina.
The third-, fourth- and fifth-grade teams made it to the national tournament through a qualifying tournament in Jacksonville in April.
The third-grade Harnett Strong Ballers won the state tournament. The fourth- and fifth-graders earned enough points at the state tournament to qualify for the national event in Myrtle Beach.
The third-graders won six of the eight tournaments they played in this year, and finished in second place twice.
On Tuesday, July 17, they won their first game, 28-26, over Team United. Kobe Plata led the team in scoring with 10 points. Kyrese Williams had eight, followed by Josh Alvarado with six points.
On the following day, the boys beat Team Heat Elite, out of Shelby, 34-27. Josh led the team in scoring, with 11 points, followed by Kobe with seven points, Yadiel Arredondo with six. Kyrese Williams had eight assists. “This was an all around team game win,” head coach Nate Plata said.
On the same Wednesday, they beat the Charlotte Aces, 29-17. They passed by the Western Virginia Impact, via forfeiture, 25-0, and on Friday, they had a bye.
Saturday was the national semi-final game against the Atlanta Warhawks. “They were beating us by seven at halftime,” Plata said. “We fought all the way back and took the lead — by eight — with six minutes to go.”
He said the Warhawks came back to tie it up, but had to foul the Harnett Strong Ballers’ players to end the game. Kyrese hit one free throw, then Kobe made two more free throws, to seal the win.
Kobe scored 14 points, Josh had 10 points, Yadiel scored six, Kyrese and Malachi scored four points apiece. “That was a really good game,” Plata said. “It was a good team win to got to national title game.”
In the national championship game on Sunday, Team United defeated the Harnett Strong Ballers, 46-16. Harnett had beaten them on Tuesday, but struggled after United got out to a fast start.
“They are 9 years old,” Plata said of his team. “They felt like they beat them already, but United came out and kind of hit us in the mouth. We weren’t expecting it. We made some mental errors and we missed 10 free throws.
“This was a really big stage for them,” he said. “They were the only team making it to the national championship. I’m really proud of them.”
The fifth-grade Harnett Strong Ballers lost their first game, 41-34, to the Metro Celtics, of Boston. They won their second game over the Game Changers, 44-23 and lost the third game to the Ambitious Ballers, 48-27. The fifth-grade team was playing in the silver consolation bracket when they lost to the Beach City Ballers, 51-39.
The sixth-graders lost their first game, 44-20, to the CBC Soldiers. They won their second game, 55-26, over Manzer, then lost the last pool game to Northern Kentucky’s Tar Heels, 36-31. Also in the silver consolation bracket, the sixth grade Harnett Strong Ballers won, 49-41, against Twin Hoops Elite. They beat the Carolina Kings in the second game, 46-26, then lost in the silver bracket semi-final to the Wall Street Ballers, 45-30.
About the Harnett
Sixth-grade coach Paul Cullen said the Harnett Strong Ballers program is in its fourth year. “Our sixth-grade team started as one team when they were third-graders,” he said. “They have been playing together for four years.”
He said all three teams practice at Erwin Elementary School and Cape Fear Christian Academy. “Both schools have been great with keeping our costs down by donating gym time,” he said. “We try to keep it in Harnett County, so the kids of Harnett County have the chance to play basketball on a year-round basis.”
Cullen said the teams have a lot of local support every year, though area fundraisers. “The community has been great with helping out, making sure the kids have everything they need,” he said.
He thanked and recognized fourth-grade coach Dwayne Ellis, assistant basketball coach at Cape Fear Christian Academy, saying, “Without him, none of this would be possible.”
He also thanked assistant coaches Brian Brooks and Dee Brown.