A crowded, basketball-themed Oktoberfest tent. The intersection of viral advertising and outtakes from Blade Runner. Cheerleaders, eye-searing neon sneakers and thumping, bass-heavy rap tracks, all with two of the nation’s top recruits — Cheick Diallo and Isaiah Briscoe — showing off for Fox Sports cameras and the likes of Kentucky coach John Calipari.
They said the revolution would be televised. If this wasn’t a revolution, it sure wasn’t business as usual.
Still, Sunday’s Fox-televised showcase game at Nike’s temporary Zoom City Arena in New York City’s Soho brought plenty of eyeballs and viral attention, both for the competition on the floor and the spectacle of the arena itself. Nike built the venue to go along with the NBA All-Star festivities in New York and had a full house of about 750 people for the first of three high school games on the day.
In the end, top point guard Isaiah Briscoe and his Roselle (N.J.) Catholic basketball team from New Jersey edged Long Island’s Our Savior New American School, featuring top power forward Chieck Diallo, 63-59. The competitive final score belied a sloppy game that featured more missed shots and turnovers than makes on Nike’s futuristic, all-LED paneled basketball court.
It is the first time a competitive game that counted in the standings has been played on an LED court in the United States, according to Nike. An LED court has been previously used in Asia for Nike events.
The setting may have thrown off the more highly regarded of the two teams in Sunday’s signature face-off, with Roselle Catholic struggling to a slow start. Briscoe, the team’s Kentucky-signed point guard, struggled to find his flow, finally getting on the board with 2:47 left in first quarter with a pair of free throws. His most notable contribution before that was an offensive foul in the paint. He added two more free throws with just 5.7 seconds remaining the quarter and finished with four points without hitting a shot. He would eventually finish with a game-high 29 points, but 19 of those came from the free throw line, where he was an impressive 19 for 22. Briscoe shot just 4-for-18 from the field in the win.
Conversely, Our Savior’s Diallo made his presence felt in the paint, both on offense and defense. He had a pair of blocks, started the fast break off a number of rebounds, and added an and-one dunk among his offensive contributions. Despite his overpowering presence down low, Our Savior could never truly pull away and as the game wound on, Roselle’s defense began to shut the big man off inside, forcing his teammates to pick up the slack. Diallo finished with a team-high 16 points, an honor he shared with another Diallo, senior shooting guard Djabril, who finished 4-for-9 from the field and added seven free throws.
There was little doubt that the unique setting appeared to be a significant contributing factor to the game’s inefficiencies, and between the first and second quarter Briscoe complained to a friend sitting courtside that he kept slipping on the surface.
“It is what it is,” Briscoe said after the game when asked about the court conditions. “It was hard to focus because while you’re playing the court is (flashing electronically). It’s just weird, but at the same time it’s just fun. … At the end of the day it was a great court, and whoever came up with the idea, I can’t even explain it. It’s a crazy experience.”
Briscoe’s teammate Matt Bullock echoed the guard’s concerns about the light-up court.
“It wasn’t slippery to me. I feel like the lights get to you a little bit,” Bullock said. “At timeouts, you had to try not to look at it.”
Or, maybe, like MJ, it was all about the shoes? Briscoe was the only player on the court wearing a pair of all-white Jordan Brand sneakers, with the rest of his team opting for blindingly-bright orange Nikes and Our Savior playing in a mix of Nike models. Briscoe was also the only player who refused to wear the neon-tipped, latticed socks Nike outfitted both teams in for the game, opting instead for a pair of old-school white low top basketball socks. He is apparently a traditionalist before all else.
In the end, the traditionalist won out thank to his team’s more structured play in the second half and his own success at the free throw line. While Our Savior continued its campaign to push the pace, Roselle found its footing, slowing the game when it could to set up designed plays that worked the ball in for its bigs to get clear looks in the high post above the long outstretched arms of Diallo. That plan worked, particularly when Bullock connected from the perimeter; he finished with 15 points for the Lions.
There would be no late, grandstanding comeback, in part because of Briscoe’s prowess from the free throw line. The senior was almost perfect, contributing nine from the charity stripe after the Lions were put into the bonus. Add to that his smooth ball-handling even as Our Savior attempted to trap him, and the game was safely salted way by Roselle even as Djabril Diallo and Kassoum Yakwe provided some late highlight reel jams for the Pioneers en route to the 63-59 final score.
So what did we learn? That Briscoe could overcome a cold-shooting night to still have an impact. That Diallo is as overpowering in the post as advertised. But, perhaps most clearly, we learned that if LED courts are the shape of things to come, someone better start working on a basketball version of a Zamboni, or stickier shoes.