HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. -- An oversized luxury bus pulled up to the Martin Luther King High School campus Thursday and the school's boys basketball team piled in for a trip to the New York State Class D championship tournament that begins Friday.
"This is the way the Section 1 champions get to ride," one of the players said the Tigers loaded their luggage. "Let's roll."
The Tigers (13-8) will meet University School Friday at 10 a.m. in the New York State Public Schools Class D semifinal at the Glens Falls Arena. A win will extend the trip to upstate Glens Falls to Sunday's championship game against either New York Mills (20-3) or Argyle (22-0).
"We want to have good time because none of us have been to the (big arena) championships before," Tigers captain Jermaine Shaw said. "We have to focus and play our best, but this is a good experience."
Rajien Griffin, whose three-point shot with less than a second remaining gave the Tigers a thrilling 44-42 victory over Bridgehampton in the Southeast Regional championship game last Friday, seemed relaxed a ready for the three-hour trip.
"We've played in a couple of big games at the County Center, so we're okay with playing (in Glans Falls)," Griffin said. "We're going to play hard. We're going to do our best. It's going to be fun."
MLK's head coach Scott Green, who was an assistant with the Tigers when they won the state tournament in 2005, said the trip would be a good experience for his players.
"They say University is a good team and that they like to run," Green said. "If we play our game and limit mistakes we can win. I think the kids are going to enjoy the trip. I know they would like to win another state title for the school."
Dashawn Johnson, who is one of the team's top rebounders and defenders, said he believed the Tigers were ready.
"It's about playing defense and staying focused in the game," Johnson said. :We may a lot of mistakes in our last game. If we play our game, we can win."
Once the luggage was stowed away, the Tigers players and coaches settled in for the ride upstate that may end in the second state title in school history.
"We can win," Griffin said. "It's up to us and we will play hard."
University Prep is 19-3 in its first year of competition and is a young team of freshmen and sophomores. Marique Simkin, a 5-foot-9 eighth grader, is a key player.
Rajien Griffin leads the Tigers with 21.7 points per game, Peter Hargove adds 12.9 per game and Dashaun Johnson and Jermain Shaw are the team's leading rebounders.
The Tigers are the underdogs and seeded fourth among the Final Four teams in the tournament, but the team has heart and is tough to handle on the defensive end. Look for the Tigers to pull an upset Friday.