07/17/13 — Blazers' team effort pleases Norris

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Blazers' team effort pleases Norris

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on July 17, 2013 1:47 PM

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- Two runner-up finishes.

One final four appearance.

Wayne County Blazers 14-Under head basketball coach Danny Norris couldn't be more pleased with his team's performance on the court this season.

Especially this past week. After dropping two of their final three games in pool play without their starting point guard, the Blazers emerged national runners-up in the American Division of the 2013 United States Basketball Association tournament. Wayne County endured a 90-80 loss to Fairfax (Va.) Stars in the championship game.

The Blazers compiled a 5-3 record during the six-day tournament, which included 50 teams from the United States, Dubai and Australia.

"Overall, I can't complain about the effort these guys put forth," Norris said. "All eleven contributed with the little things that don't even get in any stat category. I saw these kids become men last week."

Floor general PJ Hill pumped in nine of his 11 points during first-half action of an opening-round, 63-45 romp over the Virginia Venom. But Hill suffered a second-half injury that warranted a trip to the hospital. Hill missed the next three games.

The Blazers trailed the Kernersville Mavs by one point at halftime in their second pool game. Damian Darden buried 15 second-half points and the Blazers sizzled the nets for 52 points in an 85-53 blowout.

GC Hoyas, the eventual pool winner, and Pike Elite dealt Wayne County back-to-back defeats. The losses dropped the Blazers to a No. 3 seed and into the single-elimination American bracket.

Norris wasn't concerned.

"PJ is our leader on the floor," Norris said. "After he went out with an injury, I noticed how they all stepped up mentally and especially defensively ... individual efforts. All the little things such as Damian, Elijah (Bryant) and Justin (Lofton-Russell) rebounding better than they did the whole season."

DJ Waters woke up offensively, too.

The Dillard Middle School standout buried four of his game-high seven 3-pointers in the opening half of a 74-61 victory over Carolina All-Stars as bracket play began. Bryant provided 15 points, while Lofton-Russell and Hill chipped in 13 and 11 points, respectively.

Waters knocked down 17 points in a second-round, 53-43 conquest of Raleigh Caps. He tallied 14 second-half points during a 61-53 win over the Richmond (Va.) Jammers in semifinal-round action. Bryant sizzled the nets for 15 first-half points and finished with 17.

"After three different games in the tournament, the officials came up to Elijah and told him that he played a good game," a grinning Norris said. "He was a beast inside. There was nobody who could stop him. He was the best big man, by far, in the tournament."

Waters delivered a 23-point effort in the title game against Fairfax. Bryant and Isaiah Hatchett supplied 14 points apiece, while Hill chipped in 12.

However, the Stars were too strong offensively. Fairfax drained six first-half 3-pointers and 10 total for the game. The Stars led 46-39 at halftime and maintained their lead throughout the second half.

"It's not that we didn't play a bad game, they were shooting the lights out," Norris said. "DJ stepped up on the offensive end in bracket play. I am just proud of the whole team's effort."

The Blazers reached the championship game of the USSSA state tournament in Greensboro, and lost to eventual USBA National Division champion NC Panthers in the final four of the southeast regional in Charleston, S.C.