by Rob Taylor Jr., Courier Staff Writer
All last summer, while school students were happily sleeping in during summer break, there Sean Snead was, in Pittsburgh’s Sheraden neighborhood, waking up at four in the morning, practicing his dribbling and shooting skills before the break of dawn.
He could feel it. He could see it. He and his Pittsburgh Obama Academy teammates facing six-time defending champion Allderdice in the 2020 City League boys basketball championship game. And he could see his team pulling off the upset, rushing the court and giving the school formerly known as Peabody its first boys hoops title as Obama.
When Snead turns 21, maybe he should try his luck at Rivers Casino, because what he envisioned last summer turned out to be right on the mark.
And the Obama senior’s shooting was right on the mark, too, as Snead led his team to a 50-39 victory over Allderdice in the City League championship game at Petersen Events Center, Feb. 15.
“I watch these motivational videos on YouTube about being an underdog, and ever since the summer, working out, I knew what it was,” Snead told the New Pittsburgh Courier after the game. “I knew we were going to get this.”
Allderdice came in as the perennial favorite, and for good reason—they had won the previous six City League boys hoops titles, including a thrilling, 71-70 triple overtime win over Obama to claim the 2017 title. At that time, it was Allderdice’s fourth consecutive title. In 2018, Allderdice beat Westinghouse for title number five in a row, and last year, Brashear was Allderdice’s victim, for number six in a row.
Snead said he had heard talk about Allderdice wanting to defeat Obama for a “Stairway to Seven” claim.
“We shut all that ‘Stairway to Seven’ stuff down,” Snead said.
On the same court that saw Allderdice’s girls basketball team dominate Westinghouse, 57-36, for their third consecutive title earlier in the afternoon, Allderdice’s boys team had no bite early on. Obama got out to a 9-0 advantage, igniting the Obama contingent of fans.
But Allderdice, who was coming off a huge demolishing of Brashear in the semifinal matchup, Feb. 11, clawed back into the game. At the half, Allderdice only trailed by two, 19-17, as players like Tony Henderson and Blake Haber exerted their offensive prowess on the tough Obama defense.
The third quarter was full of half-court offense and a plethora of defensive rebounds, as the shots just weren’t falling for either squad, a repeat of the final few minutes of the opening half. Obama scored 10 points in the third quarter; Allderdice scored 11, for a 29-28 Obama lead heading into the final quarter.
But in the fourth, Obama found its touch that eventually won them the championship. Obama guards Dashon Cruse and Sayon Bennett were able to find paths to the basket, resulting in points or free throws. Snead was unmatched down low, snaring both offensive and defensive rebounds; the offensive variety leading to points for Obama. And, with two minutes remaining and the arena realizing that an upset could be in the making, Obama freshman guard Tariq Francis nailed a three-pointer from the left wing, giving the purple- and black-shirted squad a 43-35 lead and, essentially, the win.
“Our kids came up with the mantra, ‘one quarter,’ Obama coach Devas Simmons told the Courier postgame. “Natel Blessit lost the city championship in football. He said, ‘coach, one quarter. We gotta win every quarter. One quarter at a time.’ And I always say, before it’s said and done, there’s only one switch, and that’s the ‘on’ switch, because that’s how we gotta play hard for 32 minutes, and we know we can compete against anybody.”
Snead scored 17 points, Bennett scored 11, and Francis added 10 for Obama (14-8). Henderson led Allderdice (18-6) with 14 points, Rob Jones scored six, and Haber added five.
Simmons told the Courier he knew his team came into the championship game as the underdog. “It’s like Mike Tyson,” he said. “Who wouldn’t pick Mike Tyson over anybody he faced?” referring to Tyson as Allderdice. Then, to complicate matters, Obama started the season 0-4. No way could Obama compete with the Allderdice Tysons…or so they thought.
“Everybody thought we’d be out of it at 0-4, but no one (on Obama’s team) panicked,” Simmons said. “We knew we’d be here. The question was, can we play hard and disciplined…and the young men did just that.”
(ABOUT THE TOP PHOTO: OBAMA ACADEMY’S PLAYERS AND CHEERLEADERS celebrate winning the 2020 City League boys basketball championship over Allderdice, 50-39. The game was held, Feb. 15, at Petersen Events Center. – Photos by Courier photographer William McBride)