Post-Christmas: What We Learned

We evaluated two days each of The Classic at Damien and The Holiday Classic presented by SBLive Sports in SoCal and offer our five main takeaways. FAB 50 No. 17 Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.) captured the Holiday Classic with an overtime victory over Oak Cliff Faith Family (Dallas, Texas), while No. 7 Centennial (Corona, Calif.) survived The Classic at Damien. FAB 50 No. 1 Duncanville (Texas) loses in overtime to No. 25 Richardson (Texas) in the title game of the Whataburger Tournament in Texas.

1. People Just Don’t Care Enough
As omicron variant surges throughout the country, you just felt and sensed people understood there was a risk attending holiday tournaments. That risk seemed much greater than evaluating fall leagues or during the NCAA live period this past summer. Teams dropped out en masse in both major post-Christmas tournaments we observed because of COVID-19 protocols. Of course, it was easier to drop out after being regulated to the loser’s bracket, but some teams had legitimate issues that prevented them from continuing and rightfully dropped out. A few teams, however, didn’t tell foes of positive COVID-19 tests among players until after the game or after the fact and at least two coaches we know of were not pleased with that scenario. They wanted the option of being able to play or opting out prior to the game. Regardless of one’s vaccination status, there is no doubt few people properly wears a mask at all times over their nose in public or in gyms around the country. There isn’t anyone to enforce local ordinances at these tournaments as well. In the end, people don’t care enough about the next person and only care about how the ongoing pandemic affects their own livelihood. There is only one way to completely eliminate the danger: stay home for an extended period of time. Some choose to do that and others do not.

2. High School Basketball Affected For A Third Season
Thirty-seven of the 50 teams in the final FAB 50 rankings for the 2019-20 season were affected by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as some states did not complete their respective state tourney. The 2020-21 season never came to fruition in some selected states and regions and the 2021-22 season is now affected by the pandemic, even though the season started on time in every state. The omicron variant has caused positive cases to soar in recent weeks and pre and post-Christmas holiday tournaments were affected. If will be interesting to see how this latest winter surge affects the rest of the season as we ring in the New Year. Will public school districts be forced to take a pause on indoor activities in the coming weeks? It could happen, especially in states or regions with strict COVID-19 guidelines. If definitely won’t happen in some states, but if virtual learning is implemented by a school district, it could cause a pause to the high school basketball season. If in-person learning continues without interruption, it would be hard to justify not playing while students sit in classrooms for six hours per day. Either way, high school basketball fans will hold their breath heading into the first full week of 2022.

3. The Future Is Bright In SoCal
Taking in the action at The Classic at Damien, it was evident there is a plethora of young talent in California, particularly in the massive CIF Southern Section. Devin Williams (6-9) and Curtis Williams (6-6), a pair of 2023 forwards, impressed in front of a flock of college coaches and national scouts on day three as Centennial (Corona, Calif.) defeated Etiwanda (Calif.) to advance to the Platinum Division final. Williams just might be the best long-term prospect on a talented Centennial team and Etiwanda’s Williams had a break-out performance, scoring 27 points and showing improved range and offensive prowess in a losing effort. Our focus was getting a good look at the talented 2025 prospects in attendance, particularly the young trio of “big guards”, and they didn’t disappoint. Elzie Harrington, a 6-foot-5 lead guard from St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.), has terrific poise and feel, in addition to the athleticism to get to the rim at the highest levels of high school basketball. Jovani Ruff, a 6-foot-4 combo guard from Poly (Long Beach, Calif.), has a terrific stroke from long range and the mid-range, and likely the best assortment of scoring skills among the three. Brayden Burries, a 6-foot-4 wing guard from Poly (Riverside, Calif.), affects the game in a variety of ways. He has the ability to punish defenses with his downhill driving, can score on the interior with well-timed moves, or handle and beat defenders off the dribble. He could develop into the best prospect from Riverside Poly since future NBA Hall of Famer Reggie Miller signed with UCLA and was a top 50 national prospect in 1982-83. All three have their strengths and it will be interesting to see whom develops into the clear cut No. 1 prospect. Harrington’s teammate, 6-foot-7 Kade Bonam, is not far behind the trio as a prospect. He is a versatile scorer and defender would fits into the mold of a hybrid playmaker that colleges seek since the emergence of the Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green. Another 2025 prospect, six-foot Gavin Hightower of Windward (Los Angeles, Calif.) is a high scoring guard but unfortunately his team had to pull out of the event due to COVID-19 protocols.

4. Owyhee (Idaho) Is A Team To Watch In 2022-23
Idaho has never had a team finish in the FAB 50 rankings since its advent for the 1987-88 season, but will that change in 2022-23? The Owyhee (Meridian, Idaho) Storm could make that a possibility with four returning starters and only two graduating seniors off its fine team this year. Six-foot-5 Jack Payne will be off to Colorado State, but there will be plenty coming back to make a FAB 50 push for coach Andy Harrington. Liam Campbell (6-5) is a 2024 combo guard who projects as a high major prospect. Jackson Rasmussen (6-7) is a 2025 forward with a high ceiling as well. Another 2025, Cameron Downie (6-3), is a terrific outside shooter and a high-level passer, while 2023 Titus Bailey (6-3) is another quality player. All of them gained valuable experience during the NCAA scholastic live period this past June and during The Classic at Damien. For the record, the highest ranked team ever from Idaho was Meridian High School in 1991-92, when it finished No. 7 in the Midlands Region Top 10.

5. Chris Nwuli Is A Big-Tine 2025 Prospect
FAB 50 No. 17 Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.) won two major holiday tournaments and have a plethora of underclass prospects that most colleges know about. Those same programs better start learning about this 6-foot-8 freshman forward as well. Nwuli is quickly developing into a Top 25 national prospect in the class. When he gets minutes in tight games, the springy, young front court man makes an impact with his shot blocking prowess and rebounding, while being a threat to score off the glass or catch. Nwuli needs some offensive polish, but that will come as he matures and gets more playing time on a deep and talented team. Speaking of maturity, Nwuli will be 14 years old for a few more months and his upside is off the charts with the normal development expected of a prospect his age.

Tournament Wrap

Unfortunately after its big 64-56 semifinal victory over previously unbeaten and FAB 50 bubble club Damien (La Verne, Calif.), Poly (Riverside, Calif.) had to drop out of The Classic At Damien’s Platinum Division on the day of the championship game because of COVID-19 protocols. Poly was led in the scoring department in the semifinals by 2022 Payden White with 24 points and Rhode Island-bound 2022 Chance Stephens with 23 points. The victory avenged an earlier loss to the host club in the championship game of the Rumble For Rosecrans Tournament.

Poly was scheduled to play FAB 50 No. 7 Centennial (Corona, Calif.) in the Platinum Division title game, but Centennial was declared the divisional champion and ended up playing Gold Division finalist Crean Lutheran (Irvine, Calif.) in a non-bracket game on December 30. Crean Lutheran came into the game unbeaten and won the Gold Division title at the recent Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas, but dropped a 66-56 decision to Centennial in what was officially deemed a “non-bracket” game. Devin Williams, Centennial’s athletic 2023 forward, had 16 points as the Huskies moved to 12-1 on the season. Williams had 20 points in Centennial’s 67-61 semifinal victory over Etiwanda (Calif.), while New Mexico-bound point guard Donovan Dent had 23 points.

Crean Lutheran (10-1) was led by 2024 point guard Vyctorius Miller with 18 points, six assists and five rebounds. Miller, a Tarkanian Classic divisional MVP, one of the best prospects on the West Coast in his class and the son of noted rapper Silkk The Shocker (Vyshonn Miller), did not suit up in the Gold Division 54-52 semifinal win over Rolling Hills Prep (San Pedro, Calif.).

Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.) followed up their Platinum Division title at the Tarkanian Classic by capturing the National Division title at The Holiday Classic presented by SBLive Sports in Del Mar, Calif. Gorman took on talented Oak Cliff Faith Family (Dallas, Texas), a team that finished in third place at Tarkanian. Bishop Gorman fell behind by as many as 19 points in the Tark title game against Liberty (Henderson, Nev.) before winning in double overate at the buzzer, and fell behind by 13 points in the second half against Faith Family. The Gaels once again needed overtime to pull out a victory to improve to 14-0.

Leading the way in the 81-73 overtime win was 2024 guard Jase Richardson, who had a breakout game with 23 points. Darrion Williams, a 6-foot-6 small forward who remains one of the top 2022 unsigned prospects in the West Region, was named tourney MVP after netting 21 points.

Right before the third quarter buzzer, Williams nailed a 3-pointer to get Bishop Gorman within 10 points (58-48). The Gaels slowly chipped away at their deficit before taking a 61-60 lead with 4:06 remaining on a 3-pointer by 2024 guard John “Juni” Mobley. Faith Family (18-4) battled back and the game went into overtime tied at 68-68 after the Eagles’ Brandon Walker played excellent defense on Richardson as he attempted a game-winning shot with the game clock running down. In overtime, Richardson hit a corner 3-pointer, his fifth and final one of the game, to give Gorman a 73-70 lead it would not relinquish.

“I just needed to do whatever it took for the team to win,” said Richardson, the son of former NBA forward Jason Richardson. “After we got down, we just came together as a team.”

Walker, bound for UT-Arlington, and 2022 guard Isaiah Jones scored 19 points apiece for Faith Family.

It will be interesting to see where Bishop Gorman lands in the the next edition of the FAB 50 National Team Rankings, after entering the holiday tournament season at No. 17. There is likely to be a new No. 1 team when the next set of rankings are published.

On December 30 in Mansfield, Texas, No. 1 Duncanville (Texas) lost in overtime, 60-58, to No. 25 Richardson (Texas) in the tile game of the 64th Annual Whataburger Tournament. Duncanville (15-1), which handed Centennial its only loss of the season so far, had a chance to win or tie the game in the closing seconds of overtime, but 2023 forward Ashton Hardaway‘s 3-pointer was off the mark and Anthony Black’s put back attempt missed and was late.

Black, the 6-foot-7 2022 guard, entered the game in the fourth quarter. He was held out earlier in Duncanville’s three games at the long-running tournament and the Panthers’ 57-53 win over DeSoto (Texas) on December 21 because of an ongoing eligibility issue with the University Interscholastic League (UIL). The game was tied four different times in the final three minutes of regulation.

Kentucky-bound Cason Wallace was named tourney MVP after scoring 22 points for Richardson. The Eagles came into the tournament with a lone loss to FAB 50 No. 22 North Little Rock (Ark.).

We’ll have more on Black’s eligibility situation in our next FAB 50 update.

Ronnie Flores is the national Grassroots editor of Ballislife.com. He can be reached at ronnie@ballislife.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonMFlores

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