Red Bull Midnight Run made its way back to Chicago this past Saturday â€“ home to the defending champions.
Last year, the ballers of the Windy City were able to come together as a team to win the first ever Red Bull Midnight Run Finals at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. [WATCH RED BULL MIDNIGHT RUN TAKE OVER BROOKLYN] While other teams arguably had more talent, the Chicago team had trust and chemistry. No single player put himself above the team, and in the end that was the difference. This year, that same group was back to defend their title.
When it was time to pick teams, Lavese Jones aka Vese, the point guard from last year’s championship team, came together with four of the other defending champions to start the road back to the title. The playing style in other cities has been more about individual play. In Chicago, it was a team-oriented kind of night and everyone was gunning for the defending champs. They knew that, and they took on the challenge.
Brian Centella, the shooting guard from last year’s championship team, took a different approach. As opposed to joining his old teammates, Brian wanted to challenge them. He brought his own five to the gym and it didn’t take long to recognize that these guys play together often. While other teams were all about ally-oops and going one-on-five, Brian’s team played strong, but fundamental basketball that often gets overlooked in today’s game. Backdoor cuts, motion offense, great spacing – all played out under the leadership of Centella (who is a high school basketball coach in the Chicago area).
As the night went on, the intensity grew. After losing early, the defending champs quickly bounced back, doing whatever it took to prove themselves worthy of being selected for another trip to Brooklyn. For them, it was about protecting home court; they weren’t about to sit back and watch another group of guys take their crown. They began to play with an unmatched intensity, diving for loose balls, committing hard fouls in place of an easy bucket, playing ferocious defense and attacking the rim every chance they got.
While the defending champs were hard at work accepting every team’s best shot, Brian Centellas’ team was playing the role of the underdog. After winning six straight games, opposing teams grew frustrated with Brian’s squad and began arguing over shots, fouls, and matchups. Under his leadership, Brian’s team was operating like a well-oiled machine and it was no doubt Brian was playing better basketball than just about anyone in the gym. He displayed tremendous leadership qualities by putting trust in his guys time and time again, but at the same time still accepting the scoring load and getting a bucket whenever they needed one. In other words, Brian Centella was the MVP of the night.
The final game of the night worked out nicely pitting Centella’s group of unsung heroes against his old running mates from last year’s championship team. Brian had played with and against these guys, he was familiar with their game, but his teammates weren’t. In what felt like a back-and-forth heavyweight battle, the defending champs outdueled Brian’s squad in a 7-6 win, finally ending the Cinderella run.
None the less, Brian Centella, Lavese Jones, Billy Rush, and the rest of the ballers from last year’s championship squad separated themselves from the majority of the new players. There were a few new guys that stood out like Elijah Jones, a big man who grabbed our attention with his ferocious blocks, rebounds and dunks. The one thing the Chicago team was missing last year was a legitimate big man and Jones was determined to prove he could fill that role.
Several other guys put out impressive performances, but this night was about watching the defending champs respond when their backs were against the wall. They’d be damned to let anyone come in their gym and extinguish a chance at a repeat. With the returning core from last year, along with a few new faces, the Chicago team is shaping up to be the competition favorite. They have an advantage over every other city, they’ve already built the chemistry and the relationships. Now that they have the necessary talent, what city can compete with them? All roads must go through Chicago in this year’s encore season of the Red Bull Midnight Run.