HAMPTON — If it's not apparent watching Team Takeover play, the Washington, D.C.-based summer basketball squad confirms it every time it breaks the huddle — its players have genuine affection for each other and their leader.
After head coach and Team Takeover program director Keith Stevens finishes talking, everyone raises a hand and they chant in unison: "One-two-three, family!"
"It's definitely a family," forward Martin Geben said. "The whole program is a family. We practice a lot, we spend a lot of time with each other and we have good chemistry. We've bonded really well."
Without stars, but chock full of college prospects targeted by the likes of Virginia and Virginia Tech, Team Takeover continued its unbeaten run through Nike's Elite Youth Basketball League, at Boo Williams' annual boys' invitational tournament at the BooPlex.
Team Takeover won both of its games Saturday, running its record in Nike's summer-long elite 17-and-under circuit to 7-0. All 40 EYBL teams play two more games Sunday and then prepare for the league's final two stops in Dallas and Minneapolis next month.
Balance carried Team Takeover to a 78-66 win over Detroit-based The Family Saturday morning. Dion Wiley's second-half 3-point barrage lifted them to a 76-75 win against an Indiana team Saturday evening.
"The program is about toughness," guard Tre Campbell said. "You've got to play tough every time you go out on the court.
"We all know each other. We play against each other a lot in (high school), but we come together for this team. We're pretty unselfish. That's how we beat a lot of teams. We're unselfish."
The toughness and selflessness begin with Stevens, a 39-year-old D.C. native who worked his way through local coaching ranks and basketball circles. He ran a small summer program for several years that gradually succeeded at regional and national levels, thanks to hard work and one of the most fertile talent bases in the country.
Athletic giant Nike took notice and began to fund their efforts. Team Takeover now has two dozen teams, boys and girls, from age 8 to its elite 17-and-under travel teams. Team Takeover rapidly became a friendly rival to longtime program DC Assault, in a city and metropolitan area with ample talent to support several top-shelf programs.
"First and foremost, we want good kids," Stevens said. "We want kids with character, who want to do things the right way. We want kids where we don't have to worry about what they're doing in the classroom. Even if kids aren't strong in the classroom, we want kids who want to get stronger and we'll do what we can to help them get to where they're trying to get, academically."
Among Team Takeover's recent alumni are Indiana standout Victor Oladipo, Virginia Tech's Jeff Allen and Erick Green, and guard Stanford Robinson, who will play for the Hoosiers next season.
Several college coaches, as well as his colleagues, described Stevens as someone who is in the summer basketball business for the right reasons: to help kids and not for self aggrandizement.
"He knows everybody in the program, from age 9 all the way through 17," said Cory Alexander, the former Virginia guard who is a coach in the program. "He's got a relationship with them, he follows those guys, he's involved with every team, whether it's 'A' team, 'B' team, whatever it may be. The kids have such a great relationship with him — that's the beginning of it. From there, of course, he's a very strong basketball mind. I just appreciated the way he was doing things and I wanted to be a part of it."
Alexander also coached in Boo Williams' program for several years and sees a good deal of Boo's program in Team Takeover.
"At the end of the day, Boo Williams set the model," Alexander said. "There's no question about it. I have the utmost respect for Boo. And what guys like Keith and other guys in the EYBL have done is, they've taken that model and they've adapted it to modern day.
"Keith is a modern-day version of Boo. He's out spending time on the road, developing relationships with the kids. Of course, it goes well beyond the basketball court. They've got to make sure they're doing what they need to do in the classroom. Because the goal for all these programs is to get every one of their kids a college scholarship. So if you don't do it academically, then they can't get you a college scholarship. And they don't want that coming back and reflecting negatively on the program. So, if you're not going to get it done academically, then you're not going to be a part of the program."
Team Takeover fields a balanced team sprinkled with local recruiting targets. Virginia and Virginia Tech are interested in Geben, a 6-9 junior from Lithuania, by way of Boonsboro, Md., Wiley, a 6-4 junior from Oxon Hill, Md., Phil Booth, a 6-3 junior from suburban Baltimore, and 6-7 sophomore Marcus Derrickson.
Old Dominion is interested in Geben and Campbell from D.C., though both may have played their way out of reach for the Monarchs. Maryland offered Campbell a scholarship, and Notre Dame recently offered Geben.
Among the coaches who attended Saturday's games were Maryland's Mark Turgeon, Virginia's Tony Bennett and Jason Williford, Virginia Tech head coach James Johnson, ODU coach Jeff Jones and assistant John Richardson, Miami's Jim Larranaga, Notre Dame's Mike Brey, George Mason head coach Paul Hewitt, Towson's Pat Skerry, Hampton native and Holy Cross head coach Milan Brown, William and Mary assistant Kotie Kimble and George Washington assistant Kevin Sutton, a former assistant at ODU.
"I think our kids are so successful when they go to college," Stevens said, "because most freshmen, when they get to college, don't know how to play hard. One of our main goals is to teach them how to compete every game, every play.
"When you get to college, you might struggle with different offenses and things like that, but it should never be a struggle with how to compete."
Team Takeover has no highly-rated players, just kids who play hard and cohesively and with respect for one another. They enjoy nothing more than facing teams and players with big reputations.
"You come out and you want to prove something to everybody," Geben said.
"That's the motivation," Campbell said. "We've got to come out every day and play hard, and like I said, Takeover is about toughness."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times