The California Stars showed up to the Las Vegas Classic on Thursday with mismatched shorts to go with generic, reversible jerseys, and spent the ensuing three days defeating all comers — including two Nike sponsored grassroots programs — en route to the platinum premier championship.
No style necessary.
No shoe deal necesssary, either.
The Stars subdued Nike Elite Youth Basketball League staple Mac Irvin Fire of the Chicago Area with a 68-60 victory on Sunday to clinch the event’s top 17U title at Spring Valley High School.
Stars program director and head coach Julius Von Hanzlik celebrated with his players at center court, and proudly professed the circumstances of the victory while his team posed for pictures with the shiny gold trophy.
“The names on the jersey and all the (shoe company) patches, it means nothing, really,” said Von Hanzlik, who doubles as a skills trainer and works with some of the best prep players on the West Coast. “We don’t even have matching shorts. … We feed off that. We’re hungry.”
Von Hanzlik founded the program in 2016 as a means to develop talent, and help under-recruited kids earn scholarship offers. The Stars are built with skill and substance, and 18 of his former players have signed with Division-I schools under his direction.
This year’s group didn’t have high-profile prospects like the Fire, but had several versatile, tough-minded guards that helped stymie Mac Irvin five-star wing Khalil Whitney, and four-star Kansas commit Markese Jacobs in the championship.
“Everybody thinks that we’re going to lose,” Stars guard and Montana recruit Josh Vazquez said. “Even here, everybody on the sideline said, ‘Ya’ll are going to get blown out.’ We just come out and play with high energy, because we know nobody can compete like us.”
The Stars posted a 2-1 record in pool play, losing only to the Fire on Thursday. They started tournament play Saturday with a pair of wins, and defeated Minneapolis based Nike program Howard Pulley in the tournament semifinals on Sunday to earn their rematch with Mac Irvin.
Whitney and Jacobs scored 23 and 15 points, respectively, but the rest of the team struggled to score against the Stars.
California point guard Jordan Brinson anchored a spirited defensive effort, and facilitated a free-flowing offense that resulted in layups and clean, catch-and-shoot 3-pointers.
“We all don’t have the hype that we deserve and we’re all underplayed in basketball,” said Brinson, who left Nike’s Team Why Not to play with the Stars this weekend. “We wanted to come out strong and show everyone that we can compete with all the five-stars and four-stars. We should be on that level, and recruited just like them.”