They had to win three games in one day to secure a basketball championship.
The Manatee Kings did that.
The games were played with only a 45-minute break in between, but that wasn’t a problem for the seventh-grade United States Specialty Sports Association basketball team.
“They have a determination to win,” Manatee Kings coach Ty Bryant said. “They are a group of kids that enjoys competing.”
So it’s no surprise the Kings won those three games, plus two earlier games, to capture the Florida Rams Shootout Basketball Tournament title last week.
The Kings went undefeated, averaged 70 points a game and outscored their opponents by 22 points a game during the tourney.
Bryant said the team was formed about three years ago. He saw it as a way to spend time with his two sons, and his sons had friends who also wanted to play. The seventh-graders played in local leagues for a while but switched to USSSA for a stiffer challenge.
The test hasn’t been as hard as they thought. The Kings had a 22-6 record and bested their competition by 21 points per game this season.
The championship game of the Rams Classic was particularly tough, though.
The team had to fight through cramps and exhaustion to defeat the pesky Central Florida Bandits 90-85. Ty’s son, D.J., the point guard and smallest player on the team, sank two free throws with 20 seconds remaining to give the Kings a three-point lead, and seconds later, the Kings walked off the court as champions.
“We ran up and down the court playing constant games. It was tough,” fifth-grader D.J. Bryant said. “We do a lot of running in practice, and it was well worth it. We always whine about running a lot in practice, but it pays off.”
It was the team’s third tournament victory of the season.
“I like the competition in the tournament,” said Austin Walker, who averaged 18 points a game in the tournament. “By playing somebody good, it makes you work harder.”
Kids are resilient and don’t realize how tired they should be at times, which explains why Hunter Dumas, a guard, drained 11 3-pointers combined in the day’s first two games.
“Coach (Bryant) told me that I could shoot more,” said Dumas, who averaged 12 points a game. “So I shot the ball or threw it into our big men down low to get some baskets.”
Now, the Kings will head to the USSSA state tournament next weekend in Lakeland.
Being tired certainly won’t be a problem.
“You want to go into the state tournament on a positive note,” Coach Bryant said. “We wanted to finish the (Rams Classic) hard and send a message to the rest of the state of Florida that we are going to state and represent Manatee County really well.”
Ryan T. Boyd, sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7017.