Different Blazers, but more hardwood success

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 14, 2006

Head coach Curtis Rouse, Sr. had a pretty lofty goal for his first-year AAU basketball team when they started in January.

&uot;We wanted to get to the national championship tournament and at least place.&uot;

Rouse’s team, the 11-and-under Suffolk Blazers, was formed last October and began AAU competition in January.

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About six months later, the Blazers were in Lexington, Ky. at that national championship tournament, earning a 10th place national finish with a 6-2 record against the best AAU teams in the country.

&uot;We’re really proud of all the kids, it was awesome for a first-year team,&uot; said Rouse.

Those kids had played together in the Suffolk Parks and Recreation leagues for two years before Rouse thought about going into AAU competition.

&uot;It was to give the kids an outlet for their spirit and the passion they already have for the game,&uot; said Rouse.

&uot;We wanted them to continue to learn to play basketball and play with the fundamentals,&uot; said Rouse, &uot;we want to take that with them in future and have them develop their skills into the high school level.&uot;

Credit from Rouse also goes to his two assistant coaches, Larry Riddick and Daryl Rountree.

The hectic world of AAU basketball meant a 41-game schedule for the Blazers from January to July, not to mention the practices, planning, meetings and deadlines that make those games possible.

&uot;The last couple years, I normally coached by myself,&uot; said Rouse.

&uot;But this year, AAU takes a lot of time and energy and I needed some help.

These two guys really were a blessing to the team and to me.

&uot;We made sure the kids’ grades were right and that there were no problems in school.

&uot;We also introduced having team prayer, that was one of the things we emphasized as much as we could,&uot; said Rouse.

In Lexington the Blazers lost their first game, but then rolled off three straight wins in the rest of pool play, getting the chance to play for a national ranking.

&uot;The first game we played was our worst,&uot; said Rouse, &uot;we were a little nervous, but after that we just played and they played very well.&uot;

The trip to Lexington as a team was hopefully as much a lasting memory as the basketball though.

The team played hard and worked together all season long, said Rouse, and the trip to end the season was a great reward.

&uot;The kids really got to enjoy everything and have fun as a group,&uot; said Rouse.

&uot;When one got in the pool, all of them got in the pool.

When one wanted to watch a movie, they all watched the movie.&uot;

As far as some individual standouts on the team, Rouse mentioned a couple guys, Byron Taylor and Seveante Williams, but he mentioned them not for their stats, but for how they worked hard through the season.

About Taylor, Rouse said, &uot;he’s the type of kid you love coaching because he always wants to listen.&uot;

&uot;On the floor, he never quits and he does everything he can to help his team out.&uot;

On Williams, his point guard, &uot;he’s another player that tries very hard to do what the coaches ask him.&uot;

Rouse’s son, Curtis Jr., is 10 years old, so he was playing one level up.

Dad said the coach’s son worked very hard and improved throughout the season, but he also admitted that his best sport is actually just starting.

&uot;Football is his first love…he’s plays at Bennett’s Creek.

He’s the starting tailback for the Junior Peewee team.&uot;

Along the way to the national championship, the Blazers won a pair of tournaments; the Virginia Panthers Shootout and the Boo Williams Summer League Warm-up Tournament.

The Blazers finished second in the AAU Regional Tournament in Newport News and third in the AAU State Tournament in Stafford.

Since January, the Blazers had a 31-10 record.

The Blazers want to thank their sponsors: Oak Grove Baptist Church, Metropolitan Baptist Church, Birdsong Peanuts, Suffolk Booster Club, Carlos Ward and Suffolk Parks and Recreation.

&uot;I’m looking forward to coaching a few more years with these kids and next year, we’ll see if we can bring home the championship,&uot; said Rouse.