During a youth basketball championship played on the Philadelphia 76ers home court at the Wachovia Center, many team members were in awe of stepping out onto an actual NBA surface. But 16-year-old Chase Freezman was inspired for a different reason: It made him think of his father.
"He brought me to Sixers games when I was younger. We always had season tickets," said Freezman, whose father Brad, 44, passed away five years ago. "I was playing for him. Being on that court brought me back."
Freezman was especially inspired during the final minutes of the Junior Jewish Basketball League senior division final, where his team of 10th- to 12th-graders — sponsored by the Northeast Racquet Club & Fitness Center — battled against a team backed by Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel. With a 7-7 regular season record, Northeast Racquet Club was the heavy underdog against K.I., which finished the season a perfect 14-0.
With just 2:45 left in the fourth quarter, Freezman sank a running shot, giving NRC its first lead of the game at 20-19.
Moments later, he hit a three-pointer that helped ice the game. NRC won 29-21.
"Something came into me," said Freezman, whose 11 points earned him the game's Most Valuable Player award. "I started getting comfortable. I made a few baskets, got everybody's momentum running, and it lasted until the end of the game."
Held before fans filed into the arena for the March 25 game between the Houston Rockets and the Philadelphia 76ers, the JJBL game may have been the day's better matchup on that court: the 76ers lost by 50 points.
"The fans who paid for the Rockets and Sixers would have been happier seeing Northeast Racquet versus K.I. basketball," joked NRC coach David Peltzman. "It was a more exciting game."
This was the second straight year that the K.I. team made it to the finals — and the Wachovia Center. With several players returning from last year's roster, the team was eager to get another crack at winning a title on the Sixers home court.
While K.I. realized the opportunity to play in such a special venue, they were not in awe of their surroundings, according to coach David Koller.
'How Do We Win'?
"They weren't saying, 'We're going to be sitting where [Rockets' center] Yao Ming's going to be sitting.' It was like, 'Coach, how do we win on this court?' " said Koller, who urged that his team look for as many lay-ups and close shots as possible.
Final scores for JJBL games are normally in the 40- to 50-point range, according to one coach. Scores were lower for the title game since the NBA three-point line was much farther away than the line at their regular gyms at Abington Friends School in Jenkintown and the Raymond and Ruth Perelman Jewish Day School in Melrose Park. Many shooters also had to get adjusted to the backdrop of seats behind the hoop — rather than just a wall.
The K.I. team was without two of its stars, however Jason Hershman, 17, and Mike Tepel, 16, played well enough to give them a lead throughout most of the game. Tepel even hit a three-pointer from NBA range.
But it was not enough to stop Freezman and the NRC team from seizing the victory. Since Freezman dedicated the game to his father's memory, he was more than happy with the outcome.
Said the teenager: "I feel like I won it for him."