MIDDLE VILLAGE, N.Y. — In what would be the biggest game of their careers for many of his fellow competitors at the DICK’S Sporting Goods High School Nationals, Miller Grove (Lithonia, Ga.) senior Alterique Gilbert was working on one hour of sleep.
Less than one night before propelling the Wolverines to a 67-65 upset of Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.), Gilbert was playing in the McDonald’s All American Game… in Chicago. The UConn-bound senior left the hotel around 3 a.m. to catch a 5 a.m. flight, but couldn’t sleep on the plane.
“I tried to (sleep), but not really,” he said after the win.
Gilbert was the lone boys player making the Chicago to New York commute this year after five made the trip last year.
Thursday, Gilbert tallied 20 points, four assists and two steals to lead his team past the Pilots and into a semifinals date with Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) on Friday at Christ The King at 5 p.m.
“We’ve got a team of guys that believe, and when you’ve got a team of guys that believe in themselves and they play for each other and not just with each other, it makes all the difference in the world,” Miller Grove coach Sharman White said. “When you watch teams like Syracuse get to the Final Four when they’re a 10-seed and things of that nature, that’s what you’re seeing in these guys.”
White didn’t want to compare his team’s upset to the Orange’s run in the NCAA Tournament, but he did say there were similarities in the two teams’ spirits.
“I’m not trying to compare us to Syracuse, I’m just saying it’s the same type of fight and the same type of moxie you’ve got to have to advance and continue to play,” he said. “This is our NCAA Tournament.”
Gilbert was sensational throughout the game Thursday, but it was senior point guard Aaron Augustin’s floater with 11 seconds left that provided the winning basket. Augustin has established a reputation for being the one who sets up the big play, but not necessarily the one delivering on it.
“Usually he’s creating the shot for somebody else because he’s such a good playmaker, but this time it was on him — he answered the bell,” White said. “He didn’t have the greatest game, but he had the greatest shot of the game.”
Augustin finished with four points and five rebounds, while shooting 2-of-7 from the field.
Findlay Prep’s final play was designed to be a pick and roll between Skylar Mays (21 points) and PJ Washington (15 points, 13 rebounds), but broke down as time ticked away.
The Pilots (28-2), seeded No. 3 in the tournament and ranked No. 5 in the Super 25 poll, was understandably upset following the loss, but players said it wouldn’t define their season.
“There are a lot bigger things than basketball at this point,” said Markus Howard, who finished with 13 points. “You grow a relationship with 11 other guys that you’re playing ball with, and the relationship factor is more important than the game aspect.”
Oak Hill (43-1) has been a dominant force in the tournament, reaching the finals in four of the last eight seasons, including the last two. White said the tilt with the Warriors will provide Miller Grove (31-2) a chance to make an even bigger statement, if victorious.
Miller Grove is playing in the DICK’S Nationals for the first time. The Georgia state association began allowing teams to participate last year.
“We know who we are in Georgia,” he said. “We want people to know who we are across this country.”
While there was plenty of cause for celebration, there will be none for Miller Grove Thursday night — especially Alterique Gilbert.
“We’re going straight to bed. We’ve got a game (Friday),” he said. “We’ll celebrate when we get back to Georgia.”