NORTH AUGUSTA --- The dozens of AAU basketball games at the Peach Jam over the past four days have started off pretty much the same.
Ten boys take the floor, turn to their teammates and identify the number of the player they will guard. Man-to-man defense has quite the monopoly.
Team Takeover, out of Washington, D.C., held a similar grip over the rest of the teams gathered at the prestigious, Nike-sponsored event. The team was unbeaten heading into the title game Thursday with an average winning margin of 15 points, primarily because coach Keith Stevens said his players can adapt to any style of play.
Team Takeover's 1-3-1 zone defense -- not man-to-man -- ignited a 70-62 win over the St. Louis Eagles.
Team Takeover ended the event 8-0 at Riverview Park Activities Center, only playing two games closer than 10 points. The other 23 teams each lost at least twice.
Point guard James Robinson made all 10 of his free throws and led his team with 24 points in the title game. Duke recruit Michael Gbinije added 19.
"We didn't take any games off," said Gbinije, a 6-foot-6 forward.
Team Takeover won a season-long Nike event called the Elite Youth Basketball League, which was played out by 42 teams over four months in four cities. The EYBL is in its inaugural year and brought with it a litany of firsts, including a 35-second shot clock and a championship game aired on ESPNU.
With so many new elements making their debut, a team in only its second year with Nike took the title.
"When we signed the contract, a lot of guys doubted we could do it in two years," Stevens said. "They told us it was going to take a long time."
Team Takeover, rarely lacking confidence, went 5-0 in pool play last year, Stevens said, before losing in the quarterfinals to Team Florida.
"We should have won it," he said.
Team Takeover's opponent this year had a collection of wing players and shooting guards unmatched in the tournament. Guards Bradley Beal and Ben McLemore are rated among the 10 best players in the country by ESPNU, and 6-4 forward Roosevelt Jones is headed to play for Butler, NCAA finalists. The 1-3-1 defense, which extended out to halfcourt on plenty of possessions, forced long jump shots and discouraged penetration. St. Louis attempted 21 3-pointers -- it made five -- and got to the foul line only 10 times compared to 33 for Team Takeover.
"It made them take some shots they really didn't want to take," Stevens said.
"The defense is so unique," said Gbinije. "Not a lot of teams do that. They were trying to overload on the side, and get the ball to the corner ... we stopped it."
Team Takeover led by at least five points the final 10 minutes until Beal nailed a fall-away 3-pointer with 46.7 seconds left. Beal, a Florida recruit whose future coach, Billy Donovan, was watching courtside, was MVP of the under-17 world championships in Europe, which the United States dominated.
He joined his team here on Tuesday morning, and St. Louis did not lose until the title game. The Eagles posted consecutive wins over two of the hottest teams in the tournament -- Philadephia's Team Final and the Oakland Soldiers -- but could not find the shooting and defensive endurance to knock off the top team.
"He picked it up down the stretch," Stevens said. "My main thing was, I would let him get his as long as the other guys didn't get theirs. ... I just wanted them to keep shooting jump shots."