Emotion, wisdom and prayer was in play Friday at War Memorial Gymnasium in Cambridge, as friends and family of Medina Dixon gathered to honor the late legend in an opening ceremony.
Then the music started, the ball tipped, and a collection of New England’s 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 her legacy. Friday’s first round matched the former Cambridge star’s tenacity and spirit.
“Medina, this one’s for you,” said Adrienne Goodson, a former teammate of Dixon’s and a WNBA All-Star. “I know you’re smiling down.”
McClain emphasized the selective nature of the tournament. Using his connections to New England’s top AAU programs, he reached out to players and coaches and invited them to participate. Eight teams from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, and New Jersey have entered with star-studded 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 guys aren’t here by accident.”
The teams turned former rivals and friends into teammates. Jasmine Cox, this winter’s Boston City League MVP, shared a backcourt with Kayana Armbrister, a former Fenway foe and two-time Globe All-Scholastic who now plays at Dexter Southfield.
“Honestly, I kind of felt honored . . . I’m excited to play this year, especially with all my friends from prep schools and different city of Boston schools,” Cox said.
Each squad was outfitted with custom tournament jerseys. Through a partnership with sports apparel company PUMA, the teams also sported matching basketball shoes. Rachel McAllister, a PUMA co-op in Marketing-Sportsstyle, was on hand for the first round and helped lead the partnership.
“We’re really, really passionate about women’s basketball, and this is definitely something we wanted to be a part of,” McAllister said.
Cambridge mayor Sumbul Siddiqui was among the speakers in the opening ceremony, testifying to Dixon’s impact on the state’s basketball landscape and the Cambridge community.
“I know how important this journey is to Medina’s family, and how meaningful it is to see her legacy continue in Cambridge,” Siddiqui said. “Medina was one of the all-time great Cambridge athletes.”
Amidst the reflection were four hard-fought basketball games with an intensity that far exceeded the typical All-Star competition. Cox hit an overtime 3-pointer that proved to be the winner for her Next Level All-Stars, who beat the Springfield Ballers, 29-26. The Medina Dixon Dream Team I, headlined 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 competing against each other. It’s crazy; it was a good time though.”
This weekend is just the first iteration of the tournament. McClain says the future for the event is sky-high.
“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 the court with Medina Dixon Dream Team II, and opposite her were two of her St. Mary’s high school teammates: Kellyn Preira and Niya Morgen, playing for the Maine Firecrackers.
“This is, like, our first time playing against each other,” Queliz said. “So we were just laughing and talking. It was fun.”
The tournament will continue Saturday, and conclude with the championship game Sunday.