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Vol. LXIII, No. 31
 
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
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BRIAN’S SONG: George’s Roasters and Ribs/Ivy Inn guard Brian Halligan, left, heads to the hoop in action last week in the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League championship series. Halligan and top-seeded George’s topped No. 6 Cool Runnings 47-37 last Friday in the third and decisive game of the best-of-three series. After the game, Halligan was named the winner of the Foreal Wooten Award as the Playoff MVP.

Displaying Mental Toughness and Team Unity, George’s Wins 2nd Straight Summer Hoops Title

Bill Alden

It was the third and decisive game of the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League championship series and Shahid Abdul-Karim was sticking with his playoff routine.

“I have a ritual any time we play a final game,” said Abdul-Karim, a star guard for defending champion George’s Roasters and Ribs/Ivy Inn. “I watch a Michael Jordan tape and that gives me some inspiration.”

Abdul-Karim and his teammates had some extra inspiration collectively as they girded for their clash with Cool Runnings on Friday at the Princeton High gym, having blown a late lead two days earlier and squandering a chance for a perfect season.

“It was kind of shocking,” said Abdul-Karim, reflecting on the 41-39 loss in which he didn’t play because he was working the night shift in his job as a patrol officer for the Princeton Borough Police Department.

“We felt we were the better team but we didn’t play too well. Bobby [Bobby Davison] sent out some text messages saying we have to get it. Most of us have played college ball so we know how to come back after a loss. We pretty much knew if we played the style of ball we know how to play, we were going to come out on top.”

Abdul-Karim and his teammates on top-seeded George’s displayed their workmanlike style as they forged an early 17-9 lead over No. 6 Cool Runnings in the title clash.

But with R.J. Wilks and Al Jerido catching fire, Cool Runnings gamely rallied and narrowed the gap to 27-22 at half.

Showing its championship pedigree, George’s opened the second half with a 13-7 run and never looked back in winning the title 47-37 and ending the summer with a 13-1 record.

Abdul-Karim, for his part, never doubted that George’s would come through as it won its second straight league crown and third in the last five seasons.

“The thing we all understand is that basketball is a game of runs,” said Abdul-Karim, who scored a game-high 14 points in the victory with Brian Halligan chipping in nine, Mark Aziz adding eight, and Scott Findlay contributing seven.

“We made our run in the beginning. They made a run and it got close and then we made our run. We just buckled down. We said we are up; just keep playing the way we are playing and we’ll be fine. Everybody came together, everybody was on the same page.”

In the view of Abdul-Karim’s backcourt mate, playoff MVP Halligan, the team drew strength from having survived some tough battles in the past.

“What is nice about us is that we are all extremely experienced and we have been playing together for so long,” said Halligan, noting that the core of the team started playing together when they were on The College of New Jersey men’s hoops team.

“We didn’t want to come this far and not win a championship. It’s like the New England Patriots that one year, you win all the games and then you lose the championship. We had time to get our minds right.”

While Halligan was proud to win the MVP award, he noted that the award could have easily gone to Findlay or Davison.

“We all have confidence in each other,” added Halligan, known affectionately as “Shaggy” by his teammates due to his resemblance to the character in the “Scooby Doo” series.

“If one guy doesn’t play well, we have the guys who can come in and do the same thing. It is really nice to be deep, especially in a summer league like this.”

For Abdul-Karim, the deep friendships that have developed over the years among the players have resulted in a unit that is tough to rattle.

“We hang out together; we do a lot together,” said Abdul-Karim, a former Princeton High basketball star who went on to play for Springfield College.

“We go to movies; we are all tight. We all keep in contact with each other. It is just one of those things where that bond transfers out on the court. It shows that we all care about winning and we all care about that one common goal.”

And in the process, the tight-knit George’s squad is establishing a championship routine.

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