Whitney Young has extra motivation as it faces Bishop O’Connell in Beach Ball final

ablondin@thesunnews.comDecember 30, 2012 

— Bishop O’Connell (Va.) is looking to win its first Beach Ball Classic title in the program’s seventh appearance since 1999 in the 32-year holiday tournament.

Whitney Young (Ill.) reached the semifinals last year in its first appearance, and has taken it a step further this year by reaching Monday night’s 7:30 p.m. championship game at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.

A Beach Ball championship would be a nice addition to the trophy case at either school.

Whitney Young, however, has some extra motivation to capture the title this particular year, and it would keep the trophy from ever reaching the school’s Chicago campus.

The Dolphins’ players are wearing black bars on the shoulder of their uniforms in memory of Teri Davis, who died in March at the age of 45.

Each team in the Beach Ball is assigned a local ambassador or ambassadors to lend support and accompany them around town, and last year Whitney Young’s ambassadors were Davis and her husband, Jeff.

Their son, Gage, a senior at St. James High, has taken her place and joined his father as a Whitney Young ambassador this year.

“[Teri] was a humongous fan of the team, and they’re playing for her,” Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter said. “… We want to win the games, of course. But we really want to do it for her and her family because she cared a lot about our guys and we want to reciprocate that by showing her we care and give her family the trophy.”

Jeff and Teri Davis have been ambassadors for a decade, and they took to Whitney Young like no other team.

“We just fell in love with them,” Jeff Davis said. “Teri was everything to that team while they were here.”

The Davis’ didn’t know what the black bar represented before the Dolphins’ opening game of the tournament Thursday. Jeff and Gage were sitting on the end of the Dolphins bench when they noticed them. “I said, ‘What is this?’ ” Jeff Davis recalled. “[A coach] said, ‘We started this at the beginning of the tournament. It’s for your wife.’ I said, ‘No way,’ and tears started shedding for me, because I still miss her completely.”

Whitney Young may continue wearing the black bar for the remainder of the season.

“It’s just awesome and it’s a good tribute,” Jeff Davis said. “This team is like a family to me, and my wife just loved them to death.”

As she was beginning to become ill early in 2012, Teri Davis wrote notes for each player on the Whitney Young team and put them in envelopes. Jeff Davis intends to give them to the players prior to the championship game.

“To win the tournament, this would be a good closure for my son and myself,” Jeff Davis said.

Bishop O’Connell (11-0) has reached the finals for the second time. The Knights reached the title game in 2002 and fell 65-57 to McQuaid Jesuit of Rochester, N.Y.

Knights coach Joe Wootten was on the staff of the 1998 DeMatha Catholic (Md.) team that won the Beach Ball and was coached by his legendary father, Morgan. But he’s looking for his first Beach Ball title as a head coach.

“With the amount of teams that are here, just to get [to the championship game] is an honor,” Wootten said. “In fact, to get to the semis is an honor. It makes you a better team.”

To reach the championship game, Bishop O’Connell defeated St. James 70-43, Rufus King (Wis.) 41-36, and Hudson Catholic (N.J.) 60-39.

Whitney Young (9-1) defeated Myrtle Beach 80-44, Bishop Gorman (Nev.) 76-67, and Scott County (Ky.) 67-43.

Both teams have guards who jumpstart their offenses and a pair of productive forwards and centers.

Whitney Young’s stars are all juniors. Guard L.J. Peak, a 6-4 transfer from Gaffney who won Sunday’s tournament dunk contest, is averaging 20 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.3 steals and 2.3 assists per game in his team’s three Beach Ball contests. Paul White, an athletic 6-9 forward, is averaging 20.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 4.3 steals per game, and 6-11 center Jahlil Okafor is averaging 17.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.3 blocks.

“Obviously they’re very talented and I think they play well together,” Wootten said of the Dolphins. “They have great size. They’re an excellent high school basketball team.”

Bishop O’Connell is being led in the tournament by 6-2 junior guard Romelo Trimble, who is averaging 15.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals per game. Sophomore Leroy Butts and senior Junior Etou are both 6-7 and the team’s primary inside scorers. Butts is averaging 12.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game at the Beach Ball, while Etou is averaging 11.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2 blocks a contest.

Wootten lingered to watch Whitney Young play the second semifinal Saturday night, and Slaughter said his team saw Bishop O’Connell for the first time in the opening semifinal. “We know they’re big, physical and athletic and that’s going to be a challenge for us,” Slaughter said.

Wootten doesn’t envision either team altering its game plan a great deal based on the opponent.

“I think when you get to a championship game you have to try to do what you do, and I’m sure they’re going to try to do what they do, and that’s what makes it a great game,” Wootten said.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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