Local basketball team heads to Nashville today for the nationals

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 30, 2002

In 1998, the AAU Suffolk Blazers had one game to go to reach the national tournament. They lost by 30 points.

In 1999, the Blazers got to within a game of the nationals again. They lost by three points.

In 2000, the local team missed the nationals when an opposing player sank a shot from halfcourt at the buzzer.

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&uot;There were two guys on him,&uot; recalls Blazers coach Chris Joyner. &uot;It wasn’t really even a shot; he just fell backwards and threw it up. That was terrible, but it wasn’t our time.&uot;

Last year, though, the Blazers’ moment finally came; they beat a team from Rich-mond to make it into national AAU competition. By finishing tenth in America, the team automatically qualified for the tournament in 2002. Today, they’ll head to Nashville to take on the country.

&uot;I think we’ll do very well,&uot; says Joyner, watching his team hit the boards of the Booker T. Washington (BTW) Recreation Center. &uot;Our big players have improved tremendously, and we have some great shooters. That’s what basketball is all about; you can have fancy dribbling and passing, but if you can’t put the ball up, you’re not going to win.&uot;

Since March, the Blazers have been practicing twice a week; in June, they won Michael White’s Summer basketball tournament at BTW.

The Blazers have been a team for six years. Latron Demiel has been around since the inception. &uot;It’s been a great experience,&uot; says Demiel, a member of last season’s Southeastern District-winning Nansemond River High Sch-ool team. &uot;When we didn’t make it to the nationals, it was heartbreaking, but we hadn’t done all we could do. This year, we’re going to try to win the nationals.&uot;

He’s not the only Blazer ready to burn up the courts; Henry &uot;B.J.&uot; Stevenson, the team’s starting center/power forward, is aiming high as well. &uot;I expect to come home with a medal!&uot; exclaims Stevenson (the top three teams get medals). &uot;We’re going to do well, because we’re bringing a lot of experience from the past few years.&uot;

Stevenson, in his fifth year with the squad, will be attending Virginia Union with a half academic/half athletic scholarship this fall. &uot;I’ve learned a lot of hard work and discipline with the AAU,&uot; says the four-year veteran of the Norcom High School varsity team. &uot;It gives you a chance to keep your game going during the off-season, and you get to play against teams and kids from other schools and cities.&uot;

The AAU’s gifts have been noticed by the players’ parents as well. &uot;I’ve seen a real change in his game,&uot; Hedy Stevenson says of her son. &uot;When he made the Norcom varsity team as a freshman, he had a lot of adversity to deal with, because there were people that didn’t think that a freshman could make it on the varsity. But playing on this team helped him believe that he could go out and do it, something I don’t think he got at Norcom.

&uot;As a parent, you’re nervous and excited while watching your child play, but you’re proud too. You’re proud of all these young players. There’s a lot of other places they could be, but instead, they’re here, doing something positive.&uot;