Written by Alex Semerjian and Sydney Imus
Prototype 81 vs. Fabletics
Play-in Weekend for the VBL tipped off with a Saturday evening matchup between #8 seed Fabletics and #9 seed Prototype 81 x Sunblock. Without star player Allex Austin, Fabletics struggled to control the paint, with the veteran big bodies of Prototype 81 able to take advantage of Fabletics lack of size. Brandon “Big Baby” Jamar (16 pts, 8 reb) and Davie “Pop Champagne” Champagnie (18 pts, 5 reb) scored in the paint with ease, forming a twin towers dynamic for Prototype 81. Brandon would get player of the game on his birthday. Juice Bilbrew (15 pts) had his usual solid showing, not needing to over-exert himself as Prototype cruised to the 82-64 victory. Ben Ramirez (10 pts) had a crazy minute sequence for Prototype, scoring 2 three pointers and throwing a between-the-legs lob to Brandon. Additionally, it was nice to see team namesake and NFL legend Terrell Owens (10 pts) put on a solid performance for the crowd. For Fabletics, Mel had a good game with 14 points and 6 assists, while young Ish (11 pts) had a solid game as well. Prototype will move on to face Timeless, a rematch of Juice’s memorable 63 point game last year.
dompen vs. Urban Necessities
Sunday tipped off with a matchup between 4th seed dompen (4-2) and 13th seed Urban Necessities (1-5), ending in a 82-65 win for dompen. Although dompen was without their star players, they got production from their whole roster, with players in previous weeks taking increased roles and delivering. Chief among those was CJ (20 pts, 7 reb) who looked unguardable for dompen and took advantage of mismatches on the offensive end. VBL Veteran and dompen player-coach Crushow had his best game of the season, scoring 11 points on 100% shooting from the field. Crushow’s hounding defense on Omari “#1 draft pick” Ferguson (12 pts, 5 reb, 4 ast), earned him player of the game honors from his teammates. Chima led Urban Necessities with his 20 points, 5 rebounds, and thunderous dunks. VBL assist leader Angel “Bubbz” continued his dime dropping ways (8 ast) and Byron showcased his shooting prowess (3 3s), but neither were enough for Urban Necessities. For dompen, Trey (10 pts), No Fear (9 pts, 10 reb, 5 ast), and Boobie (14 pts) all stepped up and contributed. With the addition of some of their star players in the coming weeks, dompen will be a force to be reckoned with as playoffs continue.
Crenshaw Coffee vs. In the Lab
Sunday’s mid-day matchup was between a young In the Lab squad and a veteran Crenshaw Coffee team. This game was characterized by runs, with In the Lab taking a couple of big leads and Crenshaw Coffee being able to answer. After verbal arguments and tension, Crenshaw Coffee was able to fight through and give themselves a chance to tie the game with 7 seconds left. The attempt was way off, and In the Lab came out with a 76-73 victory. In the Lab has leaned heavily on the 7 Ds, Darius, Dwight, DJ, Darae, Deuce, Coach Dev, and Coach Desean to propel them to 5 straight wins. The young squad looks hungry, but moments of mental weakness have given other teams a chance to take advantage of the squad. Player of the Game and Play-in Player of the Week was earned by the stellar play of Darae, who stuffed the stat sheet. Darae’s 18 points, 16 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 blocks, and 4 steals showcased his all-around game and immense impact on his squad. Darius (22 pts), DJ (10 pts, 6 ast), and Dwight (9 pts, 6 ast) had solid games and will look to carry their performances into the quarterfinals. For Crenshaw Coffee, AJ “Chosen One” (21 pts, 9 reb, 5 ast, 4 blk, 3 stl) and Chance the Hooper (25 pts, 5 3’s) were able to keep up with the high scoring of In the Lab and put their team within striking distance. In The Lab will look to keep the energy going in pursuit of back to back VBL titles, which will put Dev amongst the top coaches in league history.
Hamilton vs. Actively Black
The next matchup between #7 Actively Black and #10 Hamilton x Wilson was an intriguing clash between two middle of the pack squads. Actively Black is a squad that is dependent on who shows up, with the squad looking stronger on certain weeks. In this matchup, Actively Black was without 4-5 of their most influential talents, leading to a scoring struggle. With Chris Staples struggling from the field, Actively Black was unable to take the lead from Hamilton x Wilson who held on throughout the contest. Hamilton was led by Dommo (12 pts, 6 reb, 4 ast, 4 stl), who was able to convert defense into offense with his speedy fast break moves. On the interior, Dre “Mountain of a Man” (14 pts, 8 reb) had a great effort, solidifying the paint and closing down driving lanes. Ultimately, Hamilton got a 62-50 dub, moving onto a matchup against #2 seed and juggernaut Surf Club x Fentwood Hoops. Actively Black was led by Kaison (12 pts, 4 3s), who’s deep-range shooting ability was on full display.
Bball Junkies vs. New Jersey Sets
New Jersey Sets vs. BBall Junkies was the penultimate matchup of the play-in weekend, with NJS coming in as the #5 seed and BBall Junkies as the #12 seed. The game seemed evenly matched on paper, with BBJ having a better squad than their regular season record. 2022 MVP Zach Hinton showcased why he’s regarded as one of the best players in the league, with his 26 points and 8 rebounds setting the tone for his squad. In a close game, BBall Junkies pulled away, with the defense of Chris (5 stl) and versatility of Chidi (11 pts, 7 reb) coming through in the clutch in a 73-68 win. Zach Hinton got player of the game for BBJ, with “The Artillery” hoping to steer his team deep into the playoffs. For NJS, Estes (15 pts,13 reb) had another great game, while Jiair dominated (25 pts, 9 reb, 3-and-ones) in the interior and looked like one of the league’s best players. Jeff Montenegro (13 pts) and Devin (10 pts) also had solid games for NJS, but the efforts were not enough to overcome BBall Junkies’s chemistry and continuity. With the win, BBJ will play dompen, which looks to be an intense matchup.
Woodies vs. The Mecca
The final play-in match was between 3 seeded The Mecca (5-1) and 14 seeded Woodies (0-6). With the sun setting in the background and vibes at a high, the game was shaping up to be special. Although a lopsided matchup on paper, Woodies had the addition of Randy “White Chocolate” Gill and the return of his two sons Jacob “Mint Chocolate” & Isaiah “Mocha Chocolate” (11 pts), turning the team into a whole new squad with a newfound energy and hunger. From the get-go Woodies was competitive, answering blows from star power on The Mecca with flashy passing and exceptional ball movement. After a cold start, White Chocolate would get it going in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, making 5 three-point shot attempts to give his team a half-time lead and a hold on the game. JJ (12 pts) would provide the 4th quarter spark for Woodies, with his creative finishes and infectious energy getting his teammates going and giving Woodies a double-digit lead. The Mecca would gain some momentum off of a sit-down alley-oop from Spencer to Malik “Slim” Anderson (12 pts, 8 reb, 4 ast), which saw Baby Shaq go to the sideline. Ultimately, Woodies was able to withstand the run of The Mecca and earned a 76-70 win. In his season debut, White Chocolate would receive player of the game, with his 24 points, 5 3-pointers, and 4 assists leading his squad to the upset victory. Additionally, the consistent presence of Jayson “Jamaican Jay” Smith (12 pts, 6 reb) delivered for Woodies, with his chemistry with the Choco family on display. For The Mecca, Slim and Josh “Buffet” (12 pts, 4 ast) continued to show off their partnership, while Sek (11 pts, 3 3s) was a bright spark off the bench. With the win, Woodies will face streaking In the Lab in the quarterfinals, which is a rematch of last year’s final and is a game that everyone is already discussing and excited for.