Emotion, wisdom and prayer were on display at Cambridge’s War Memorial Gymnasium on Friday as friends and family of Medina Dixon gathered to honor the late legend at an opening ceremony.
Then the music started, the ball swung, and a collection of New England high school basketball talent dueled on the first day of the Battle New England All-Star Tournament. Dixon’s cousin, Al McClain, organized the tournament to unite the region under his legacy. Friday’s first round lived up to the tenacity and spirit of the former Cambridge star.
“Medina, this one’s for you,” said Adrienne Goodson, a former Dixon teammate and WNBA All-Star. “I know you’re smiling.”
McClain emphasized the selective nature of the tournament. Using his connections to top New England AAU programs, he contacted players and coaches and invited them to participate. Eight teams from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine and New Jersey signed up with star rosters.
“Before Medina passed, she had a special conversation with me,” McClain said. “And one of them was [that] she wanted to see all the best girls represent her in a basketball tournament. So from there, I did my research. You are not here by accident.
Teams turned former rivals and friends into teammates. Jasmine Cox, Boston City League MVP this winter, shared a backcourt with Kayana Armbrister, a former Fenway foe and two-time Globe All-Scholastic who now plays Dexter Southfield.
“Honestly, I felt honoured…I’m excited to be playing this year, especially with all of my friends from prep schools and different schools around the city of Boston,” Cox said.
Each team was equipped with personalized tournament jerseys. Through a partnership with sportswear company PUMA, teams also sported matching basketball shoes. Rachel McAllister, a PUMA Marketing-Sportsstyle Co-op, was on hand for the first round and helped lead the partnership.
“We’re really, really passionate about women’s basketball, and it’s definitely something we wanted to be a part of,” McAllister said.
Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui was among the speakers at the opening ceremony, testifying to Dixon’s impact on the state’s basketball landscape and the Cambridge community.
“I know how important this trip is to Medina’s family and how meaningful it is to see his legacy continue at Cambridge,” said Siddiqui. “Medina was one of Cambridge’s greatest ever athletes.”
Amid the reflection were four hard-fought basketball games with an intensity that far exceeded typical All-Star competition. Cox hit an overtime 3-pointer that proved to be the winner for his Next Level All-Stars, who beat the Springfield Ballers, 29-26. Medina Dixon Dream Team I, led by Orlagh Gormley (North Quincy), Kaelyn Carroll (Tabor) and Jasmyn Cooper (Oliver Ames) lost, 42-41, on a no-call that was questioned.
“It was really intense,” Cox said. “Especially when it’s 10 good players going against each other. It’s crazy; it was still a good time.
This weekend is just the first iteration of the tournament. McClain says the future of the event is dizzying.
“It’s a chance to represent the city,” he said. “It’s a movement.
The tournament also turned typical teammates into competitors. Yirsy Queliz took to the court with Medina Dixon Dream Team II, and in front of her were two of her St. Mary’s High School teammates: Kellyn Preira and Niya Morgen, playing for the Maine Firecrackers.
“It’s, like, the first time we’ve played against each other,” Queliz said. “So we were just laughing and talking. It was fun.”
The tournament continues on Saturday and concludes with the championship game on Sunday.