The Battlecats, an Evanston third-grade boys’ basketball team, won a National Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Division II Championship at the start of August, defeating WPC Elite team from Baltimore by a score of 42-38. During the tournament at ESPN/Disney Center in Orlando, the Battlecats competed against seven teams from around the nation and finished with 7 wins and 0 losses.
“The most memorable moment had to have been when our starting point guard, Elijah Bull, broke down in the middle of the court and started crying immediately when the clock hit zero,” said Coach Chris Tobin. “Here’s a kid that doesn’t show his emotions one way or another, in practices or in games. He just plays. So to see him like that, and then the rest of the kids joining in, it was just overwhelming.”
Travis Ransom and Chris Tobin founded Team Battlecats in 2010 with the hope of providing Evanston youth a chance to play competitive basketball in their home city without the expenses that some other travel teams require.
Coach Tobin said most of the team’s funding comes from volunteer participation and of course, the families involved. Many of the other AAU teams are funded by NBA players or other programs, he said, so for Evanston’s team to achieve a national championship with no financial backing is a “phenomenal thing.”
“We want to give as much as possible for as [little money] as possible,” he said.
Coach Scottie Bull added that over the last ten years, Evanston has had plenty of talented basketball players, yet they often leave to play for Chicago or other North Shore programs.
“Kids were going elsewhere to play travel basketball. We wanted to create a situation where Evanston kids could stay in Evanston [to play],” he said.
Coach Bull was hired to coach the team in January, when he required intensive and rigorous practices three to four times a week. The team practiced at local schools such as Haven, Chute and King Lab. The team also traveled regularly to play other teams in the Midwest, so sometimes this meant six days of basketball in a week. Coach Bull said they are trying to implement an intensive, disciplined program so by the time these kids get to high school, they are ready to play on the varsity level.
Coach Tobin said that third-graders are one of the best age groups to work with because of how impressionable they are and how willing they are to learn. He said this group of boys responded well to the kind of program the coaches are trying to run.
When the Battlecats started out, coaches did not want to teach just the game of basketball. They also wanted to create a support system to help kids excel in other areas, such as academics. While a seventh-or eighth-grader might think he knows it all said Coach Tobin, younger kids try to take in all the coaches have to teach. When they start young, he said, the messages that are drilled in become routine so that the players are ready to become productive high school students and athletes.
As one season ends, coaches and players already have to start thinking about the next one. One player asked, “So coach, when do we start up practices again?” Coach Bull said the participation numbers doubled this year from last year, and with a national championship under their belt the coaches are expecting a similar – if not even better – turnout.
The winning team includes Cam Barnes, Elijah Bull, Mark Cannon Jr., Ryan Harvey, Daeshaun Hemphill, Isiah Holden, Donville James, Jalen Jones, Jalen Axibal, Giovanni Prior, Anthony Sayles and Kyle Wilson.
The Battlecats in Orlando and more information on the team are available at www.allevanstonbasketball.com.