The Columbia Catz don’t give up easily.
The Catz, an age 16 and younger boys’ basketball team, made two comebacks in the Kansas City Keys AAU Basketball Tournament, which was. They went 4-1 to finish second in the tournament June 24 to 26, which qualified them for the National AAU Division II Championships July 9 to 14 in Little Rock, Ark.
“I was very happy with our performance in the tournament,” said coach Thomas Burkett. “According to what other people thought of us, we overachieved.”
The Catz overcame a 20-point deficit to beat the Kansas City Keys 70-65 in their second game of the tournament.
“They weren’t expecting it at all,” Burkett said. “It was their tournament, and we were just this little team from central Missouri.”
The Catz went on to play the nationally-ranked St. Louis Eagles, who feature two 6-foot-8 players, in the semifinals.
The Catz went into the game thinking they had nothing to lose, Burkett said. In the final minutes, they began chipping away at the Eagles’ 13-point lead. With the Catz down by one and less than 10 seconds to play, Timmy Gross maneuvered around one of the 6-foot-8 Eagles and scored the winning layup.
“Timmy’s not afraid of anything,” Burkett said. “He just went up against that big kid and put it in.”
Gross, who will be a junior at Rock Bridge High School next year, said he wasn’t aware that one of the tallest Eagles was guarding him in the final seconds.
“I didn’t even see him,” Gross said. “I guess I wasn’t thinking about it too much. I didn’t even know how much time was left.”
With the 68-67 victory the Catz advanced to the final game against the Oklahoma City Athletes. However, with two players missing to play in tournaments in different sports, the Catz were down to six players and they couldn’t keep up with Oklahoma City and lost 74-61.
“We just ran out of gas,” Burkett said.
Last year, the Catz finished eighth in the national tournament.
Burkett said availability of players will be a big factor in the team’s performance in the tournament this year. Because of participation in other summer sports leagues, several players miss games occasionally.
“If we can get everybody together and get a full squad, we should do pretty well,” he said.
Gross said that other commitments will affect the success of the Catz.
“We’re more school-oriented, so we haven’t played together as much as some of the other teams,” Gross said.
Burkett said that many of the Columbia Catz players have been playing together on various teams for years, some since first grade. One of the main goals of AAU basketball is to build the basketball skills of players while they are young.
Burkett said he is proud of his team.
“They play hard and they want to win every game, but they also just want to have fun,” he said.