Smith and Haley prove difference for Flyboys

  • Flyboys celebrate their title (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
  • Key man: Smith shoots during the Summer Island Basketball League final at Somersfield Academy (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Sharp shooting from guards Akil Smith and Jaren Haley were the difference for the Flyboys as they defeated an understrength Thundercats side 71-68 in the recent Summer Island Basketball League final.

Smith led all scorers with 24, with Haley adding 22 in a thrilling climax to the season against the Thundercats, who had lost only one game all season, but were missing player-coach Jason Lowe as well as promising youngsters Jorel Smith and Bryce Gonsalves from the final.

The Flyboys were dominant early on, leading 34-27 at half-time and 53-41 early in the second half, before a spirited run from the Thundercats saw them take leads of 56-55 and 62-59.

However, Flyboys dug deep to clinch the championship.

“Play-off time, you’ve got to show up or go home,” Smith said. “All season, we had a bunch of new faces and were trying to get everyone acclimated, so we started off rough, but everyone fell into the role. Come play-off time, it came to me to become a scorer, not a facilitator and luckily tonight, the shots were falling.

“Jaren Haley started off hot and it got us all going and we fed off each other. We’re a very close team, the core group has been together for five or six years, so when one of us is doing good, the rest of us feel that energy.”

The Flyboys impressed as they rallied behind Smith after seeing a healthy lead disappear after the break, partly because of a technical foul that have Thundercats four free throws.

“So everyone looks at me as the leader, so I had to get everyone on the same page,” Smith said.

“We had a little dust up there, but, not just me, but the rest of the team came together and realised that we couldn’t let it get out of control. We had been controlling the game up until then and we couldn’t do something silly or stupid to let that all go to waste.

“The core for the past four or five seasons has been myself, Vernon [Lambe], Dion [Easton] and Jaren and every year we add pieces around us. We picked up a young guy in Miguel [Perry], another young guy in Mykal [Hartman].

“He comes in and gives us great effort. Adam [Correia] just came back from the States, a great IQ, those things all help and everyone plays their part.”

Smith was also quick to praise the Thundercats, who were led by a trademark all-round effort from Kieron Burgess, who led them with 21 points, including a thunderous dunk from a midcourt steal.

However, he guaranteed a win in the final, which Smith said motivated his team.

“They only lost one game all season,” Smith said. “I think it was Kieron who guaranteed victory in the paper. You can’t give out bulletin board material like that, and I bet you that’s the last time he does that!

“He was actually a Flyboy last year. He’s a very competitive player. He’s going to want the challenge. I know him he’s not going to want to come back.”

Smith said he has high hopes that his team can carry on their success, with the 28-year-old keen to carry on playing in “attack mode”.

“Growing up, I loved Dwyane Wade,” Smith explained. “Favourite player right now? Russell Westbrook — always in attack mode, so when push comes to shove that’s why I try and do — attack, whether it’s shooting threes, attacking the basket, playing hard D, I just give my all, 110 per cent of the time.

“I picked [basketball] up pretty late, so I’ve been playing since I was about 12 or 13 and I’m 28 now. I like to think I have a high basketball IQ and I try to play with guys with high basketball IQs and slowly bring on other guys.

“We had to show the young guys the ropes and they caught on quick.”