Knox College face KC for All-island basketball title
When Kingston College (KC) take to the National Stadium Courts this afternoon seeking yet another feather in their remarkably bedecked sporting cap, they will come face to face with a virtual unknown in the form of Knox College.
Both are seeking the biggest prize in schoolboy basketball — the ISSA/KFC Under-19 title. But while KC have won a plethora of titles over the years, their Clarendon-based opponents are merely finding their feet as it relates to asserting their dominance at a level that evokes incredible and unbridled passion.
For Knox's accomplished coach Oneil Watson, "It's a part of the achievement of the 65th Anniversary of the school and it has motivated the boys to go out and give of their best".
For the famed 'Purples' of North Street, this is an ideal opportunity for a season's redemption, having snatched a last-gasp fourth-placed finish in the competitive Southern Conference Championships and advancing as one of the underdogs for the National Play-offs. .
With the KC die-hards expected to vociferously flood the Stadium Complex for the grand finale at 5:00 pm, it's easy for the faint-of-heart to be intimidated, especially if they are from the rural parts of the country.
However, Watson — who is also coach of back-to-back Central Conference Basketbal League winners Manchester Pythons, who also copped the All-Island JPS League in 2009/2010 — has planned meticulously for such a possibility.
"I expect the boys to go out there and execute and not be overly nervous...That was a drawback as they were overcome by the occasion in the junior semi-final Play-offs against KC last week and it accounted for us not qualifying for both All-Island finals.
"This is a form of motivation for them and they won't be as jittery as before," Watson told the Observer yesterday.
This afternoon's finalists have traversed similar paths in qualifying for their showdown. KC played second fiddle to winners Hydel High, St Andrew Technical (STATHS) and St Catherine High in the Corporate Area tournament, but showed their mettle in the National Play-offs by dismissing Christiana, 59-55, and Spot Valley, 76-31.
Buoyed by that golden run, KC rode this momentum to topple defending champions Hydel, 50-49, in the semi-finals last Friday to earn the right to contest the championship decider.
Knox — who have never progressed this far in the All-Island Under-19 contest and were runner-up to Christiana High in the Central Conference tournament — turned back STATHS, 50-44, in Friday's semis after earlier defeating St George's College and Old Harbour High, 59-53, and 56-38, respectively, in the National Play-offs.
Interestingly, Knox have formed an alliance of sorts with KC's close neighbours and great rivals St George's College in a unique basketball exchange programme that has been in existence for the past three years. The programme takes the form of weekend camps which alternates between both campuses.
Undoubtedly, Knox will hope to capitalise on one key benefit derived from that programme. According to Watson, "We have had a lot of benefits from it as it has exposed the boys to different players, different techniques and a new atmosphere as Kingston has a different atmosphere from Knox.
"It's a collaboration with Clifford Brown, the head coach of St George's," he said, adding that after the first year of the weekend camp in 2010 Knox made it to the All-Island Under-16 final.
To their credit also, they have chalked up an impressive four Central Conference Under-16 titles in six years. Additionally, seven players in the current senior squad have been playing together from the Under-14 level.
In Friday's semis against STATHS, guard Shamrock Blackstock, shooting guard Alanzo Orr, centre Alwayne Smith, forward Delano Clarke and talented guard Shane Graham (who last year travelled to Washington on a collaborative sporting programme between the US Embassy and the Jamaica Amateur Basketball Association) shone in the six-point victory.
Regardless of what KC coach Dennis Thompson and players like Damion Johnson and Clifton Jean have up their sleeves, the Knox aggregation is exuding confidence ahead of arguably their biggest showdown in the school's history.
"The boys have been preparing well for this competition. They would have done just as well last year but for a few missing gaps, but we're using last year as motivation to go out and produce," Watson said.
"The players remain humble and disciplined, and should give a good account of themselves," he added.
Regarding their famed opponents, Watson said: "The most we know is that some of their boys were at the Star Search Camp with our boys, so I know them from that standpoint, but don't know KC as a unit.
"I know that they came fourth in the Southern competition, but that is not necessarily an indication of their strength as they turned back Hydel. We are prepared for any eventuality and whatever they have to offer; we have to adjust and execute our game plan. We'll quickly assess them and then counteract...," he asserted.
Meanwhile, in the Junior All-Island final at 3:00 pm, KC will face Munro College.