This week the 5th-grade Bloomington Hoosier Hoops team will be going to Cocoa Beach, Fla., to defend their national title, July 21-27. \nThe team is seeded 2nd in the tournament, but only because of the point accumulation system which is in place and not because of a win-loss record. \nIn their age division, the 5th-grade team is 75-0, and it has won six 6th- grade tournaments and a total of 130 games since October, including defeating the State Champion 6th-grade team. \nThe team will be playing in the tournament -- which is similar to the NCAA bracket system -- against a total of 96 teams.\n"I wish there was something like this when I was younger," said Dan Van Trese, father of one of the 5th-grade players. \nA majority of the team has been under the tutelage of head coach Isaac "Spud" Washington since 2nd grade, and it has had four years to work together and gel as a unit. Washington originally hails from Berkeley, Calif., and has now been coaching basketball for almost 11 years. Last year, his 4th-grade team won the National Championship in Orlando.\n"Our 7th-seeded team had to win nine games in a 93-team tournament bracket," Washington said.\nAnd a dramatic series of victories this was for a team who went into the championship last year relatively unknown.\n"I wanted to cry when they won the National Championship last year," assistant coach Clarence Stephens said. "No one knew who these kids were. They did an excellent job, and when the whole gym was shouting 'Hoosiers,' it was such a great feeling."\nSelf-proclaimed "Phil Jackson of the team" Melvin Boatner said he also enjoyed the tournament experience.\n"I was more proud of them accomplishing what they did then what I did at any age," said Melvin Boatner. \nHe played in an NBA summer league during his career.\n"We won the Championship game by 1 point, 42-41," fifth-grader Julian Boatner said. "We were awarded a crystal bowl, and we all received gold medals and jackets."\nAnd team members said the size of the crowds added an extra dimension of pressure and competition to the games.\n"It was pretty nerve-racking," said 12-year-old fellow teammate and NBA hopeful Matthew Bower. "These were the biggest crowds I ever played for." \n On top of all the pressure, it takes hard work, effort and poise to win a National Championship at any age level.\n "Those kids work really hard," Melvin Boatner said. "Their work ethic has helped them become young adults -- they follow instructions well as a group and respond better than most adults. If I could hand pick the 11 kids we have for this team, it would be the ones we have."\n The now 5th-grade team is looking to defend their national title.\n Two of the top 10 players in the country are on the team. Jacob Mulinix (forward/center) and Rolandon Finch (forward) both average 18-19 points and 10-12 rebounds per game. The whole team contributes offensively for a total of about 80 average points per game. \n The other players on the team include guards Julian Boatner, Ricky Washington, D.J. Stephens, Marcus Etnier and Jordan Luallen. Bower, David Blackwell and Garrett Mack are the forwards, and Stephen Van Trese, the team's newest member, is the other forward/center.\n"Nobody on this team has an attitude problem, and they play really well as a group," Melvin Boatner said.\nClarence Stephens agrees that the team has progressed extremely well together.\n"I've watched them grow into good achievers in what they have worked hard for," Stephens said. \n"We push 'em to the max, so when it comes to that one- or two-point game, they can go the distance. They have the hearts of champions."\nAnd that championship mentality pays off in other parts of these kids' lives.\n"Stephen was always at the top," said Dan Van Trese of his son. "He was always the top athlete in his age group and a straight-A student."\nAnother benefit of working with a team includes an improvement in social interaction.\n"I've become good friends with a lot of my teammates," Blackwell said.\nIn addition, most of these kids are from the Bloomington area. One team member is from Indianapolis, two of the players are from Center Grove, one is from New Albany and the other seven are all from Bloomington.\nSome of the team will be flying and some driving to Cocoa Beach. Through fundraisers and sponsorships, the team was able to pay for hotel expenses, but could not raise enough for travel. \n"We would like to have a little more support financially from the Bloomington area," Washington said. "It costs us about $17,000 for travel and lodging."\nFundraisers for the team include car washes, running tournaments and sending letters out to local businesses for corporate donations. The team was proud to have received a sponsorship from Nike for next year.\nThe team said they are thankful for support this year from the Bloomington Sportsplex, who donated their facility for practice, and financial sponsors Union Planters Bank, Visteon, Southern Indiana Pediatrics and TerMar Builders.
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