Victoria International School Sharjah were crowned inaugural champions of the NSL under-16 basketball league, defeating New Filipino Private School 42-41 in an electrifying final.
Both VISS, which played host, and NFPS had their supporters out in full force and the game matched the atmosphere as the final seconds were needed to decide the result yesterday.
Hashim Hazeem and his size made the difference for VISS in a contest that had a razor thin margin for error, accounting for 21 points, 20 rebounds and six blocks in a dominant effort.
Fittingly, Hazeem had his hands on the ball in the concluding moments to seal the title.
With 3.6 seconds remaining and VISS clinging to a one-point lead, Hazeem committed a violation by stepping on the line during the
inbound pass to give the ball back to NFPS with a chance to win.
On the ensuing NFPS inbounds pass, however, Hazeem more than made up for the mistake by diving to the floor to secure the botched pass, resulting in a jump-ball and possession for VISS with 0.4 seconds left.
Hazeem then snagged the overhead baseball pass as time expired and the squad immediately exploded in celebration.
“I was in shock and I didn’t know I stepped on the line. I thought I had to redeem myself and make up for it,” the towering centre said.
“I stayed in the paint to make sure there were no layups. While they were fighting for the ball, I noticed the ball on the ground and I jumped for it. I didn’t care if I got hurt, I had to go get it.”
Just seconds earlier, NFPS had fought back from a five-point deficit and tied the contest on Eric Pancito’s deep 3-pointer.
Bringing the ball up for VISS, Seraj Farhart drew a foul and nailed his first free throw before Ahmed Abdulle – who finished with 11 points – grabbed the missed second attempt and layed it back in to give his side a three-point lead.
NFPS then scored on a quick runner before VISS suffered the violation on the inbound pass.
VISS jumped out to a 7-1 lead and were either ahead or within close striking distance throughout. The pace and defensive pressure by NFPS made life difficult for VISS, but the effort fell short in the end.
“It was ours to lose, in my opinion. I was confident going into it and the boys had the ability,” VISS coach Russell McKie said.
“We knew NFPS were going to come back strong, we knew they were going to rip and be around us, but we knew we had the height
NFPS were relentless with their full-court pressure and transition game. Jeff Ryan Bustos scored a team-high 17 points, while Pancito added 12, but the offence had trouble penetrating the fortress of Hazeem in the paint in the half-court.
NFPS coach Aris Peralta admitted: “Every time they passed to Hashim, we couldn’t do anything. There’s nothing we can do to stop him. We don’t have somebody to match him.
“We fought. We may be small, but we have big hearts. That’s what we can be proud of.”
Along with the championship, Hazeem earned the honour of NSL Final MVP, as well as under-16’s Best Defensive Player and Most Number of Points Scored.
“I won’t embarrass him but last year he couldn’t catch a basketball without tripping over his own two feet,” McKie said of the big man. “His has been a journey and it’s down to the team that has supported him.”
Inaugural under-16 champions sounds great to McKie, but so does a repeat.
“All but one of my players is eligible to play in under-16 next year, so it’s their championship to lose,” he said.
“They are the champions and they can come in and defend our championship again.”
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