Last month Chris Braley was representing his nation in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia, as part an international basketball exchange.
This month he’s a national champion.
The Newport teenager returned home Tuesday night from Lake Buena Vista, Fla., after helping his MBNation team win the AAU boys basketball Division I 12th-grade national championship at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
It’s believed to be the first time a team from Maine has won an AAU Division I national title.
“It’s probably going to be a long time before it happens again,” said Braley, a Bangor Daily News All-Maine first-team honoree after his junior season at Nokomis Regional High School last winter. “I don’t know if it’s really set in yet.”
MBNation, coached by Mike Woodbury, was one of 40 teams in the 12th-grade field that were divided into 10 four-team pools.
Braley and his teammates lost their first game of pool play, but won their next two games to advance to the championship bracket as the pool runner-up.
MBNation then won four straight championship-bracket games, capped off by a 57-46 victory over Team Magic in Monday’s final.
“We knew we just had to win the rest of our games after we lost the first one,” said Braley, a 6-foot-4 guard who will reclassify as a junior at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H., this fall.
The MBNation squad was down to seven players for its championship game, and when four of those players fouled out Woodbury called on two youngsters who had come along with the team — Cam Chea, an incoming freshman at Cheverus of Portland and Spencer Ruda, who will be a freshman at Gorham High School — to play in game’s final minutes.
“We hung on,” said Braley, who also battled bursa sac issues in his right elbow throughout the championship event as well as two preceding tournaments.
MBNation’s team success was derived in part by good defense and offensive patience — the team allowed just 49.2 points per game during the championship tournament.
“We probably slowed it down more than most of the teams,” said Braley. “We use a dribble-drive offense that’s more disciplined than what a lot of the other teams ran.”
MBNation was one of the youngest teams in the 12th-grade division, with only Vukasin Vignejevic, a recent graduate of South Portland High School, having completed high high school career.
Others on the roster were Alex Furness of Wells, who will attend Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Mass., as a postgraduate this fall; Dustin Cole of Bonny Eagle High School in Standish; Liam Langaas of York, Will Defanti of Portland and Northfield Mount Hermon School in Mount Hermon, Mass.; Harry Rafferty of Berwick Academy and James Kapothanasis of Cheverus.
The tournament victory ended a marathon basketball run this summer for Braley. He spent two weeks in July in Russia as part of an exchange program organized by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in partnership with the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and USA Basketball. Braley was one of 20 young American athletes — 10 boys and 10 girls — who traveled to Moscow and St. Petersburg to share their basketball expertise with Russian peers while getting a taste of life abroad.
Two days after returning from Russia, Braley left for Florida where his MBNation teams took part in three different tournaments encompassing more than 20 games in less that two weeks.
Members of the team finished second in their bracket of an 11th-grade Super Showcase tournament that preceded the national championships, then won five of eight games in the Division I 11th-grade championships that is considered the premier event among the AAU age-group national tournaments.
“The senior division doesn’t have as many teams competing as the juniors because most of the seniors have already committed to a college,” said Braley. “But it’s still good basketball.”