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Vol. LXIV, No. 31
 
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
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THREE’S COMPANY: Mark Aziz of George’s Roasters and Ribs/The Ivy Inn, left, draws the attention of three foes from the Princeton Sports Bar and Grill last Monday in the opening game of the best-of-three league championship series in the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League. Aziz scored a game-high 11 points to help top-seeded George’s pull out a 36-34 nailbiter over No. 3 Princeton Sports Bar and Grill.

With Aziz Thriving Nicely in Leading Role, George’s Roasters Wins Hoops Series Opener

Bill Alden

When high-scoring center Scott Findlay blew out his knee last month, things looked bleak for George’s Roasters and Ribs/The Ivy Inn as it chased its third straight title in the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League.

But longtime George’s stalwart Mark Aziz filled the void for Findlay, averaging 11.2 points a game as the veteran club went 7-2 and earned the top seed for the summer hoops playoffs.

Aziz, a former College of New Jersey star who played professionally in the Egypt Superleague last winter, earned the summer league’s regular season MVP for his heroics.

Last week, Aziz showed his value, helping George’s survive two tight playoff battles as the club edged eighth-seeded BLK 49-48 in the quarterfinals last Wednesday and then topped No. 5 University Radiology 42-34 in the semis two days later. The bruising 6’8 Aziz scored 17 points in the quarterfinal win and then chipped in 14 in the semis.

In game one of the best-of-three league championship series against third-seeded Princeton Sports Bar and Grill last Monday, George’s relied on Aziz once again as it blew a 12-point halftime lead to find` itself trailing 30-27 late in the second half.

Displaying his tenacity and strength, Aziz scored two key buckets down the stretch as George’s pulled out a 36-34 victory to move with one victory of that third straight crown.

In reflecting on the win, Aziz pointed to George’s collective character as a major factor in the triumph.

“It is a never quit, never down, never out of it mentality,” said Aziz, who ended the evening with a game-high 11 points. “We never get down on ourselves; we never get down individually.”

After having survived two tough playoff tests coming into Monday night, Aziz said that George’s was unruffled as it squandered its early advantage.

“Whether we are up by 20 points or down by 20, it is still two points at a time,” said Aziz, assessing the rally which was capped by a game-winning three-pointer from Kyle Burke with 10 seconds remaining in regulation.

“That’s how we see it; we take it one play at a time. Every championship team has a close scare early. That’s tournament play; you just need to survive and advance.”

Early on, it looked like George’s wasn’t going to have many scary moments Monday as it jumped out to an early 18-5 lead, featuring a stifling defense.

“We rely on defense every game, that’s how we get to the championship every year,” said Aziz. “We know if we play our defense, we can get through some bad sets on offense.”

Princeton Sports Bar and Grill came alive in the second half, sparked by guard Al Jerido, who arrived at halftime and proceeded to score nine points.

Aziz acknowledged that Jerido gave George’s fits. “Our defense slipped and they got back in it,” said Aziz.

“We knew Al was either going to shoot them into the game or shoot them out of the game. Tonight, he shot them into the game. We just had to weather the storm and get it done and we did.”

With Game Two of the championship series slated for Wednesday night at the Community Park Courts, Aziz knows that George’s will have to weather another storm to take its third straight league crown.

“We can’t have that slip up early in the second half like we did today,” asserted Aziz. “We just need to stay focused on the defense and rebounding. The offense will come and take care of itself.”

Taking care of business in the absence of Findlay and earning an MVP award in the process has made it a special summer for Aziz.

“It meant a great deal,” said Aziz, referring to the MVP honor. “Scott went down and he was MVP before. When he went down, I just wanted to help the team win. If I got an award, I got an award, whatever. I figured that was the main reason I got it; Scott went down and people thought we were down and out. I am glad I was able to step up to play for my team and get us here.”

For Aziz, playing pro ball in Egypt has helped him step up his game this summer.

“That definitely helped me a lot in this league,” said Aziz, who play for the Cairo-based Zamalek club. “It is a pretty competitive league; it is pretty tough.”

And Aziz’s toughness was on full display last Monday as he helped George’s take a big step to another title.

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