For most kids, summer is a time to relax at home and to get a break from school once the school year is finished. Instead of just taking it easy, the Milledgeville Stars 15 and under basketball team decided to win a Youth Basketball of America (YBOA) national championship along with a pair of state titles.
According to coach Ulysses Foston Jr., the team comprised of players from the central Georgia area, played in five or six AAU and YBOA tournaments since coming together in January.
"We participated in those and did very well, but at that point we hadn’t reached a championship yet," said Foston. "We had a very good record, and we did very well. We used that for training and tried to see where we were, how good we were, and what we needed to work on in order to be prepared for the state championships in AAU and YBOA."
When the time came for the state AAU championship tournament held in Milledgeville in May, Foston said his team reached a level he had not seen previously, playing nearly flawless in the final game to win the title.
The coach said the YBOA state championship in Gainesville brought his boys against some very tough teams. The Stars marched to the championship to face the Crawford County Supersonics for a chance at a second state title.
"That game really shed a lot of light on our team’s character, our will to win, and our ability to overcome different obstacles because we were down 10 with two minutes to go in the game," said Foston.
The Stars held opponents scoreless in the final two minutes and battled their way back into the game. Malik Foston, a GMC Prep student and coach Foston’s son, scored the go-ahead basket with five seconds remaining to make the Stars undisputed 15 and under state champions.
Both the YBOA and AAU national championships were to be held around the same time, so Foston and his team chose the YBOA tournament in Orlando, Fla., since they had competed in more of YBOA tournaments.
The nine-team tournament featured teams from all around the southeast. Pool play for seeding purposes was scheduled for the first half of the week, and the Stars went a perfect 4-0 to grab a high seed for tournament play. The local team rolled over its first opponent only to meet some familiar faces in the second round. The Central Georgia Impact, another youth team based out of Milledgeville, gave the Stars a tough game in round two but could not stop them on their march to the championship.
The Milledgeville Stars were primed for a national championship matchup against another undefeated tournament foe in Team K.O. from Florida.
"At that point, there was no turning back," Foston said. "The kids were adamant about bringing the gold home."
The Stars played well in their championship game, according to their coach, and beat the Florida team 72-55 to bring the title to Milledgeville.
The champions brought home some individual hardware as well. Stevin Greene, a Morgan County High School student, was named tournament MVP. Malik Foston and Jay Reynolds were chosen to the all-tournament team. Hancock Central student Kaben Hunt received the tournament’s best sportsmanship award.
Foston said the team hopes to stay together to compete in the future and wanted to give a big "thank you" to the team’s parents and his wife Keisha for all of their help.
He added, "I want to thank God for putting me in this position, giving me this opportunity, and allowing me to do what I do and help the children."