It took 12 years but Nick Cleaves finally broke through the door.
Cleaves, of San Francisco, combined with his California teammates to lead Ballerz By Law to the men’s 6-foot-and-under elite championship, 20-18 over Spokane-based ES Elite, under a scorching sun Sunday afternoon at the 24th Hoopfest.
The final for the shorter men was more entertaining than the 6-foot-and-over elite title game. In a matchup that was essentially Gonzaga University against Community Colleges of Spokane, Douglass Properties defended its title, cruising to a 20-12 win over Luster Construction before about 1,000 at Nike Center Court.
Cleaves, who played at San Francisco State University and two years in Germany, was named most valuable player after scoring 10 points.
Ballerz By Law took a timeout leading 19-18. Moments after play resumed, Cleaves drove the key on a clear-out for the winning basket.
“This group has been together about seven years and we’ve won our bracket every year only to lose in the semifinals,” Cleaves said. “So to finally get over that hump this year was amazing. Then to finish it out and win the championship was an amazing feeling. Long time coming, long time coming, definitely.”
ES Elite, behind Rogers graduate Therone Tillett, opened a 7-3 lead. But Ballerz scored five straight points, taking its first lead at 11-10. Though the game would be tied four more times, Ballerz never fell behind again.
The temperature at game time was 91.
“It takes a toll on you, it really does,” Cleaves said of the heat. “So you want to stay hydrated as much as possible, keep the fluids in and hopefully everything works out.”
Cleaves thought the MVP honor should be shared.
“These guys they isolate me, they’re giving me the ball in the right spots, so this is kind of a team MVP,” Cleaves said. “It’s not just me. Thank those guys definitely.”
In the final game Sunday, former University of Portland standout Nik Ravio and former GU standouts Josh Heytvelt and David Pendergraft combined to mow over Luster Construction, which consisted of CCS coach Jeremy Groth, former CCS coach Clint Hull, Cheney High grad Griffon Jones and Vanguard University coach Rhett Soliday.
The 6-foot-5 Jones drew the unenviable assignment of defending the 6-11 Heytvelt. Try as he might, Jones usually couldn’t stop the Clarkston grad when he posted up inside where he scored most of his seven points.
Heytvelt’s presence inside opened up the outside for Ravio, who scored a team-high nine points and was named MVP.
“It truly was a team effort,” said Ravio, who played in Greece last year and hopes to return to Europe next year. “Josh is the most dominant player in this thing. Half the time we try to get him the ball and we can’t because he’s got two guys on him. There’s two guys guarding him and I’m open so it gives me a lot more opportunities.”
And Pendergraft played a similar role Sunday as he did much of his career at GU – he rebounded and got the garbage points.
“We took advantage of our opportunities,” Heytvelt said. “I got the ball in the paint some and Nik did a really good job of penetrating and shooting and Pendo just plays very hard. You might not ever see a stat in the statline for Pendo but he’s the hardest worker on the court.”
Heytvelt, who played in Turkey last year, is getting married in less than a month. He owns a home in Airway Heights. He’s waiting for a contract offer to either return overseas or play in the U.S.