By MICHAEL KELLY
It was a successful spring for the oldest male squads of the Foothills Phantoms AAU basketball program, and a memorable final campaign for the oldest of the teams.
Made up of players from Fulton and Montgomery counties, both Phantoms squads capped off their seasons in the Zero Gravity National Championships in mid-June, which were played in Massachusetts. There, the Phantoms' 16U squad went 3-1 competing in Division II, while the 17U team was 2-2 playing in a Division I tournament.
The Phantoms' male program also fielded a pair of younger teams in 2014, with both the fourth- and sixth-grade teams medaling in the state championships.
The Phantoms got going in 2010, first with female teams and the male teams followed in 2011. Randy Van Brocklin -- who, along with Rob Taylor and Larry Siver, coached both the 16U and 17U squads in 2014 -- was there at the start for the boys.
"It's funny," he said earlier this week, "when we started out, we had no idea what to expect. We were basically just trying to create a program where the best local kids ... could practice locally so they didn't have to go all the way to Albany to get a decent AAU experience.
"Then, that first year, we went 17-9 and won a couple tournaments," finished Van Brocklin, referring to the squad that eventually became this year's 17U team.
When the players on this year's 17U squad first got together a few years back, they did so as local rivals with little knowledge of one another. But quickly the group meshed, as the players from Amsterdam, Broadalbin, Gloversville and more found success on the court.
"That was the best part," said Robbie Van Brocklin, who plays varsity high school basketball for Broadalbin-Perth. "It's been awesome; I loved [getting to know the other players]. Now, they're some of my best friends."
"I've been playing for the past four years with these guys, since they got the program going, and it's fun because you get to play with all the other local guys you play against during the season," added Gloversville's Asa Barnhill.
While the group of players on the 17U squad meshed together over the years, not far behind them were the boys on this year's 16U team. Randy Van Brocklin said the younger of the two veteran teams did not always necessarily have the size or natural talent to match up with opposing teams head-on, but the group always found a way to compete.
"They were really scrappy kids and they played really hard," he said. "The 16s were so much fun because they were so tough. We'd be playing teams much bigger than us, much more physical than us, but we'd find a way to compete."
The teams' seasons went from tryouts in mid-March to the national championships in mid-June. In all, the 16U squad went 21-9, winning one tournament, making it to another final and advancing to three additional semifinals; meanwhile, the 17U team finished 26-9, won three tournaments and had two runner-up finishes.
The 16U squad has one more season that it can play together with the Phantoms, while the majority of the players on the 17U squad will age out before next spring, meaning 2014 was their last go all together.
"It was fun to play together one last time," Barnhill said.
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