Holy Spirit's Middleton leads Team Final

Coach Jamal Hunt can't explain it. His players recognize it needs to stop. But the 16-under Team Final Black AAU basketball squad tends to be slow out of the gates against teams its players feel they should dominate.

"We play down to the competition," Hunt said Wednesday after his team came back from a seven-point first-half deficit to win its first game at the Hoop Group Summer Classic East tournament at Philadelphia University.

"As we get further into the events, we turn the intensity on and play much better."

A Nike-sponsored club, Team Final Black carries players from all over the region that won their roster spots over hundreds of other prep players in an initial tryout. The team holds its practices in Wilmington, Del. and has players from Trenton, Atlantic City, Reading, Chester and more locations.

That trend Hunt said he stresses daily to avoid nearly hurt Team Final Black in its opener against Team Wade -- a Dwyane Wade and Jordan sponsored club from Miami. Team Final Black played an improved second half and came out on top, 64-57.

"We've got to get going earlier so we can get our lead and get comfortable," said Johnathan Middleton, a 6-foot-3 swingman from Holy Spirit High School in Absecon, N.J.

Hunt's club has earned the right to be confident. In May, it won the 16-under Big Shots tournament held at Archbishop Carroll with a win over Philly Pride in the title game and Hunt said there have been a handful of tournament semifinal appearances throughout the summer.

Almost falling into the losers bracket early of the 32-team Hoop Group tournament provided a valuable lesson moving forward for Team Final Black.

"We come into games and we don't think they're on our level," said Middleton. "We've got to stop taking them for granted."