By Joseph Staszewski
DDN/Sean Bell was guaranteed to win the Nike Tournament of Champions title Sunday night — the Queens-based program’s teams from West 4th Street and Watson both earned spots in the final. The real question was which sideline Coach Raheem “Rah” Wiggins would be on for the contest.
He chose the Watson club.
“They are newer, younger players,” an animated Wiggins said. “I figured I’d coach them. The [veteran] red team thinks they are the coach; I’m not the coach no more. I want to show them without me, it’s a whole different team,”
Wiggins chose correctly, helping lead Watson Sean Bell to a 92-74 win over West 4th Sean Bell at Rivington Court on the Lower East Side. It was the program’s first basketball crown since 2009 and the first for Watson in their inaugural season in the Tournament of Champions. The two squads posed for a picture together after the game with Wiggins hoisting the trophy.
“Sean Bell is a program,” Wiggins said.
The title wouldn’t have been possible without the play of game MVP Brian “The Hitman” Laing, the former St. Raymond and Seton Hall star. He scored 12 of his game-high 20 points in the second quarter to give this team a 52-41 lead at the half.
Laing connected on jumpers from all over the court and threw down a handful of thunderous dunks throughout the contest. Watson Sean Bell had to win the league title Friday night, beat the BSC All-Stars in a play-in game Saturday night and top Bingo’s All-Stars in the semifinals Sunday afternoon.
“These are the best players in the city,” Laing said. “It’s bragging rights for the city.”
He has been a regular on the streetball circuit, but never considered among the elite players. One fan came up to him afterward and told him he was its most underrated player. Winning a Tournament of Champions title and a most valuable player award might change that.
“It really matters here on the street for people to respect you as a player,” said Laing, who will play overseas in Israel this year.
Former St. John’s guard Malik Boothe scored 13 points and Chris Weyhe and Ant Cox each added 10 for Watson Sean Bell. Al Sheppard tallied all 16 of his points in the second half for West 4th Sean Bell, which got as close as 68-67 in the third quarter. B.J. “The Best” McFarland had 12 points and Kavon “Happy Feet” Lytch chipped in 10.
“To come out and beat those guys, we definitely have bragging rights,” said Vernon “All Seasons” Teel.
Those also belong to Watson, the Bronx-based tournament and its founder, Lee Green. In its 13th season, Watson finally earned a Nike sponsorship and put its best foot forward. For Green, it shows just how far his tournament has come and how it could do in the future. He credited the hard work of his team and Nike for the opportunity.
“[This] will open the door for us to get more sponsors and let everybody know that we are not just a hood tournament, that we are a tournament to be reckoned with,” he said. “We are upper echelon with the Dyckmans, Hoops in the Suns and the Pro Citys. We belong.”