On Saturday, June 22 in Chicago, Red Bull Midnight Run took over the city (check out a recap of the event here). There was a ton of talent in the gym including several of the players from last year’s championship team that took the title in the competition’s inaugural year. After the action wrapped up, we were able to catch up with Laveese Jones and Brian Centella, two players from the 2012 Red Bull Midnight Run Championship team. We also got a few words with Elijah Jones, a newcomer who put on a show with his dominant post play and highlight-reel dunks. Check out the conversations below.
Laveese Jones and Brian Centella:
Dime: Tell me about your experience with Red Bull Midnight Run last year, how special was it for you guys to be the Champions?
Laveese Jones: It meant a lot. Basketball is a competitive sport, we come from a competitive city where every guy is trying to become the next guy out of Chicago. So it felt great to go out there, represent our city and show the world the type of talent we have to offer.
Brian Centella: Honestly, it was one of the coolest basketball events I’ve ever been a part of. Going out to New York, Barclays Center, with my guys, it was a lot of fun. So now to repeat is what it’s all about. This was the first step. Hopefully I played well enough to be part of it again. I’m looking forward to it.
Dime: I know you guys are really close with your teammates from last year, but did you see any guys in the gym today capable of taking some of the spots on this year’s Chicago team?
L.J: Most definitely. I saw some great frontcourt players. Some guys who had some real talent, some real athleticism. Some young guys who really came in here hungry and they showed it game after game. I was impressed by a lot of the talent I’ve seen today.
B.C: Yeah definitely. Anytime you host an event like this in Chicago there’s always gonna be players. There are a lot of hungry guys out here. That being said, I think some of the returning players played really well also. It’ll be interesting. I think you guys have a really tough decision to make. It’s not going to be easy picking the final eight.
Dime: Veese, I know you played with your teammates from last year today, did you feel it was important to get all of them on the same team?
L.J: Yeah I think right away the returning guys were ready. They were all with it because we wanted to come out here and show everybody why we were the Champions. Plus, the guys really just wanted to play with guys they were already comfortable with. All the camaraderie was still there, which gave us the advantage to say the least. But we play really well together. Brian took it upon himself to do it solo today and he did an excellent job. He put on a show today and he’s one of the best guys here in my opinion. But yeah, it was a great decision to play with the returning guys and show everybody else that we were the team to beat. Everybody wants to make that trip so we did what we had to do against some good teams and won some tough games out here today.
Dime: Brian, you brought your own five to the gym today and ended up winning more games than any other team. How often do you play with those guys and what gave you the confidence to bring them out here to compete against the rest of Chicago?
B.C: When I was contacted to be a part of the event again I was asked if I had any players I wanted to bring, so I jumped on it right away. To give some of my close friends and guys that I trust on the basketball court an opportunity to come be a part of this, it’s really cool. And I do think it gave us an advantage that we knew each other and play with each other all the time. That being said, I think we played really well tonight. We lost a really close game to Veese and those guys that could’ve went either way, but you know what, they were there last year in Brooklyn for a reason. That team was really talented.
Dime: What are you two trying to accomplish in terms of the game of basketball? Are you looking to play on a larger scale? Or is it simply about playing for the love of the game now?
V.J: I think all real competitors who play ball have had an NBA dream. My aspirations have always been to play professionally. I play a little semi-pro, PBL ball, but I haven’t made the jump to play where I think I’m capable of playing yet. But I think the Red Bull Midnight Run gives guys the opportunity to propel themselves in a lot of different directions. Whether professionally, socially, marketing wise, whatever, I think this has given guys a lot of notoriety, and an opportunity to showcase their talent.
B.C: Yeah I think for me, I work full-time – I’m a teacher – but I still play basketball super-competitively. My schedule allows me to have a summer off where I can go play against the best players around the city and participate in events like the Red Bull Midnight Run. I was also playing in the PBL a little bit this year. I played pretty well. For me it was always a dream to play well in the right place and right time and maybe get some overseas looks or something like that. I always keep myself in shape because basketball is still the number one passion in my life.
Dime: Brian, I know you’re a teacher, but you’re also a basketball coach right?
B.C: Yeah, the winter is really busy for me. It’s cool to do events like this and then have my players rooting for me and following it and going on Dimemag.com to check it out. It’s awesome to hear them like “damn check out my coach!” so that’s fun and really rewarding for me.
Dime: Last year there were only 3 other cities, this year the stakes have been raised. Do you guys think you have what it takes to win it again?
V.J: Most definitely. I think we come with that necessary tenacity. Chicago players, we have an X-factor man, just that extra gear. We play with passion, and just that will to win. When it’s all said and done, we want it most. You can’t measure heart. The guys that played with us in Brooklyn last year, they all have heart and it’s something you can’t teach. It’s something that’s in you, the dog in you to just go out there and take it. That’s what it took last year. Out there in Brooklyn we just had to take it. We were the smallest team by stature but the largest team by heart, and we proved that.
B.C: I think Veese hit it on the head. I heard Atlanta looked really good, but we’re the team to beat. We’ve been there and we’ve done that. So there gonna have to come get us. But I’ll never take a team lightly. I’ll never take a city lightly. I’ve played basketball long enough to know that great teams can come from anywhere. But I still think all roads lead through us.
Dime: Tell me about your playing experience.
Elijah Jones: I’m originally from Florida. I went to school in Kansas, I played junior college ball but I ended up getting into some trouble my first year. I wasn’t on the right page. So I went back to school the next year and ended up getting hurt. I had to get surgery on a hernia. Right now I’m just getting back to playing again. I’m starting to workout again now that I’m finally healthy. So right now it’s a building process just trying to get my game back in top shape.
Dime: By the way you were playing out there it doesn’t look like you were hurt at all. Are you back 100% now?
E.J: Yeah finally 100%. I feel really good now. It’s great to be back on the court.
Dime: When you were playing in school what was your natural position? Were you a three, a four? What position did they have you playing?
E.J: I played the three position and the four position simply because we had a 6’11” dude on our team. So I played the three and the four.
Dime: Do you feel like you can handle the ball a little bit too?
E.J: I feel like I can handle the ball, playing the three I was on the perimeter so I had to learn to dribble pass and shoot like a guard basically. When you put in enough time practicing those skills you can accomplish anything with your game.
Dime: So you’ve got some hidden guard skills? You didn’t get a chance to showcase them tonight because you were too busy dominating the paint.
E.J: I’m real confident in my guard skills. I spent enough time developing them in school because I just wanted to play. For me to get minutes it was going to have to be at the three sometimes so I had to learn quickly.
Dime: What do you feel that you have to offer to the top 8? Last year they were a tight unit and they won the Championship, but they lacked the size. Maybe you could help fill that void.
E.J: Yeah that’s what I heard, I feel like I can bring everything they need really. Rebounding, scoring, anything they need. Especially dunking on people. That’s what I like doing the most.
Dime: Yeah I think you had about eight dunks in one game earlier, you had the whole gym going crazy, is that one of the best aspects of your game?
E.J: When people get under the rim, I gotta do what I gotta do. N obody’s safe down there when I’m on the court.
Dime: What do you want to get from the Red Bull Midnight Run and from the game of basketball in general?
E.J: Really just to get better everyday. Like I said I’m from Florida. I came up here simply to get away. In Florida I was in a bad situation. Everybody’s struggling trying to find a way, and right now basketball is my option and my way out. So that’s what I’m here for. I’ve got a little girl too, that’s my heart right there. So if basketball can help me provide for my family that’s what I’m going to try to accomplish. Playing in the Red Bull Midnight Run could get me closer to achieving my goal.
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