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B-ball travel team snags national championship



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Oxford’s high school travel basketball team celebrates the national championship it won July 24. (click for larger version)
August 03, 2011 - Boys basketball coach Paul Marfia is continually striving to raise his basketball program up to be one of the top teams in the area.

That process received a kick start when Oxford's high school travel basketball team won the American Youth Basketball Tour's (AYBT) Dvision 3 national championship on Sunday, July 24.

They defeated the Michigan Titans 57-45, an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball team based in Southfield, MI.

"It's great for those kids because they had that trust and worked so hard, like the kids before, and it's nice to see them get a reward for it and get a championship because they deserve to be champions," Marfia said.

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Participating on the team were seniors Jacques Toussaint, Mark Hazelwood, Zach Raisch, Colin Goetz, Javante Evans, junior Mike Censullo and freshman Connor Elzerman. Also participating was Manistee resident Nick Johnson.

The four day tournament was held in Ft. Wayne, Indiana from July 21-24.

"We really didn't expect to win," Censullo said. "We went out there to try our hardest...we tried harder and we played stronger than anyone else, and that is why we won."

Toughness was something Marfia preached throughout the entire tournament.

"We had a motto that toughness wins, and that was true," Marfia said.

He added that even though they didn't have one kid who dominated every game, their ability to play together as a team is what propelled them to the championship.

"I wouldn't put any kid as the MVP (most valuable player) because every kid had to step up and we didn't have one kid carry us," he said.

"We stacked up well because we were so balanced," Marfia added. "We didn't have a great kid that we could hand the ball to...we just had a great team. We had great kids that stepped up that played their role and made their shots, made that rebound and that is why we were successful."

According to Marfia, the tournament was set up in four divisions to ensure competitive balance, with the elite AAU teams being in division one and high school teams in division four.

Oxford was placed in division four, but after four games in pool play, tournament directors approached Marfia and asked him if he wanted to move up to division three, which was filled with low-level AAU teams and the elite high school teams.

"As long as (the hoop) is 10 foot high, we will play whereever we need to be," he told the directors. "I want competitive games. I don't want to beat people by 40 points."

Oxford finished pool play with a record of 5-1. They would face off against a team from Botkins, Ohio in the opening game of the single-elimination tournament. Ironically, Botkins knocked Marfia's Oxford squad out of the tournament two years ago.

Oxford would go on to defeat Botkins 36-34. OHS senior Mark Hazelwood would lead the team in scoring with 16 points.

The victory over Botkins was the first AYBT tournament win for Marfia, who had been attending the tournament for eight years.

They would follow up their victory over Botkins with a 36-34 comeback win over a team from Muskegon, MI.

Marfia felt that game was the true championship game.

"They were 6'9, 6'7 and 6'6 and it was awesome for our kids to really battle," he said. According to Marfia, a total of six technical fouls were called in a game that went back and forth.

With 12 minutes left in the game, Oxford found itself down by 10 points, but they battled back to take the lead with a minute and a half left in the game.

They defeated the Jackson Thunder in the semifinals before defeating the Titans in the championship game.

Hazelwood said he hoped the national championship was something they could build off of and use going into the upcoming basketball season.

"I think it is definitely going to give us some confidence and it is going to let people know that we are for real, we are ready to play," he said.

"It gives us a taste of victory so we know how it feels to win...and we just want it even more," Censullo said.

Marfia couldn't have agreed more.

"This isn't the end of the road, this is the start of something for this group of kids...I hope it gets them excited to go to their driveway, to go to the weight room and get themselves better," he said.

The national tournament wasn't the only event Marfia had his kids participated in over the summer. They lost in the finals of a tournament at Hope College earlier this summer and also played to games at Wayne State University over the course of two weekends.

Marfia said by summers end, the team would have played close to 42 games.

Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.
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