Fri, Oct. 7, 2011 - [Men's Basketball]
This was a different Final Four than Brian Centella likely ever imagined during his basketball career at Loras College.
It started at Jackson Park in Chicago. It ended on Alcatraz in San Francisco.
The gymnasiums of the north suburbs of Chicago, the Iowa Conference, and the Midwest were likely a distant memory on August 18, 2011 for the former Duhawk who made a 1,000 Point Club small-college career out of beating his defender one-on-one from 2005-09.
When he started winning "street ball" games in the "Red Bull King of the Rock" tournament qualifier in Chicago, he was the unknown guy hitting jumpers and knocking out guys with a history of playground success.
After a bit of championship game controversy on the South Side (more on that in a bit), Centella was crowned champion of that Chicago qualifier and earned an all-expenses paid trip to San Francisco for a chance to battle 63 other players who were fighting for the cash prize and title as "King of the Rock" in Red Bull's second version of this tournament.
When he arrived at Alcatraz on Loras' Homecoming weekend of 2011, he carried the weight of one of the most respected basketball communities in the world – The Second City.
"It was the first Homecoming I've missed," Centella said after the memorable weekend.
"I always have fun coming back to see my teammates, coaches, and friends that weekend."
This trip to San Francisco certainly offered a good reason to miss his first purple and gold celebration.
That Thursday night in August in Jackson Park started as a chance for a young man who still plays in 3-on-3 tournaments and highly competitive 5-on-5 leagues in the Windy City to test his individual skills again.
"I just read about it," Centella admitted. "I was excited to try the Chicago one and try and make it to San Francisco."
Some early success in the Chicago qualifier led to some head scratching by the other players who signed up, but Centella quickly earned everyone's respect as he showed his ability to both step back and make a shot, and, get to the basket – skills Duhawk fans were used to seeing in the Fieldhouse and AWC.
"I made it all the way to the championship game and was definitely the underdog against the local guy (Nicholas Thomas). It was kind of a crazy way I won it," Centella says.
Despite the lawless connotation of "street ball", Red Bull's tournament included two referees and strict rules regarding a shot clock (15 seconds), length of game (5 minute running clock), and fouls (5 per person, per game) so as to ensure fairness and order.
With a "foul to give" in the Chicago championship and a late lead, Centella wrapped up his opponent with just seconds remaining in hopes of using the running clock to ensure his championship. The taller adversary, who had dozens of fans in attendance, converted his basket after the tie up and sent the crowd into frenzy, seemingly placing Centella in the runner-up role.
However, after a short conference with the referees, tournament officials granted Centella the win based on the whistle that only few could hear – waiving off what appeared to be a game-winning shot.
"I wasn't a very popular guy, but I earned the win on a long night of basketball," the 24-year-old physical education major from Grayslake noted.
And so his ticket to San Francisco was punched – with the opening tip set for September 24, Loras' Homecoming. Both players would advance to San Francisco as finalists from the Chicago qualifier, but Centella entered with the Chicago title attached to his name.
Thomas would eventually lose his first round game.
"Red Bull really did it right," he says.
"It was a pretty big production."
The trip included a tour of "The Rock", meals, and a bag of "gear" for the players – and headlining the event was Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics who attended and spoke to the 64-man field prior to the opening games.
Before long the tournament was underway and Centella picked up where he left off in Chicago against the bracket of international qualifiers, former professionals, and in some cases – street ball legends. The qualifiers came from 13 countries in all, according to the Red Bull website.
He knocked off players from Indianapolis, Washington D.C., Atlanta, and Norfolk on his way to winning "Court 1".
"I've played some outdoor games over the years, obviously, but people don't realize what the conditions are like out there," he said about the weather on the pacific coast – and specifically – that island setup on Alcatraz.
"I won my first game there and built some confidence. But it can be hard to shoot from long distance with the wind…which can favor the bigger guys. The ones who did the best were 6-7, 6-8."
On that list was former And1 Mix Tape Tour player Hugh "Baby Shaq" Jones – Centella's Final Four opponent and eventual champion.
"The games are so fast-paced. You've got just five minutes…it is tough to play like that all night," the teacher and coach at George Washington High School in Chicago confessed.
Jones, who also played for a NCAA Division III school (Southern Maryland) won the semifinal and eventually the tournament –bringing home the $10,000 prize and title of "King of the Rock".
Centella also acknowledged bringing the crowd to their feet, and at the same time, feeling like an underdog during the long event.
All in all, it was a great reason to miss his first homecoming – and a great job representing Loras College and NCAA Division III basketball.
If there was a "King of the Rock Bowl" tournament, we're pretty sure Centella would win it.
CBS originally planned to cover the event in a tape delayed, abbreviated format on October 22, 2011. That date has since been pushed back, but a new date has not yet been announced.
Check out Red Bull's coverage of the Chicago qualifier HERE
Check out Red Bull's coverage of the 64-man Alcatraz tournament HERE
Check out ESPN's Page 2 coverage HERE
Check out Dime Magazine's coverage HERE