Tarkanian Classic: 5 Things We Learned!

We will watch all five days of the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas and these are our five main takeaways from the event. Will Dashien Nix and Marcus Bagley emerge as McDonald's All-Americans? Centennial (Corona, Calif.) used its faced-paced, sprinting style to advance to the Platinum Division championship. And as this tournament has shown, teams with good guards and quality shooting can take down nearly anyone, as Centennial (Corona, Calif.) has advanced to the Platinum Division championship game.

Marcus Bagley Has A Chance
The younger brother of Sacramento Kings forward Marvin Bagley III has slowly been getting out from under his older brother's large shadow and he used Tark to completely break out and shine on his own for FAB 50 No. 27 ranked Sheldon (Sacramento, Calif.). The 6-foot-8 forward was banged up in Sheldon's 2019 state title quest, but now his legs are lively and he's jumping ability has taken his game to the next level. Bagley can leap vertically and is now throwing down horizontal dunks in the key and in traffic that he wasn't before. He's also getting tremendous lift on his jumper and it keeps defenders on their heels because he's so powerful and bouncy around the basket. Bagley had 28 points in Sheldon's tough 69-63 first round victory over Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Md.) and was the difference-maker in the Huskies' gritty 48-37 quarterfinal victory over Westchester (Los Angeles). With Westchester holding a 31-29 lead, Bagley led a 19-0 run with 17 points, starting with a dunk and including three deep 3-pointers. When it was all over, Bagley had scored 35 of the Huskies' 48 points. When we say he has a chance, we mean to one day make some NBA money like his older brother. We also mean he's should have a real shot at the 2020 McDonald's All-American Game in Houston.

There Is Plenty Of Parity Among Elite Teams
With the possible exception of FAB 50 top-ranked Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.), the early results of holiday events around the country show almost any elite team can beat another. There are a couple of reasons. When you look at the Pangos Elite 8 Prep Division alone, you realize how many talented players are toiling on teams not eligible for credible national polls. Just imagine how much better some programs would be if players such as guard Dashien Nix of Trinity International (Las Las Vegas), Tre White and Jerrell Colbert of Cornerstone Christian (San Antonio, Texas), Carlos Rosario of Veritas Prep (Santa Fe Springs, Calif.), MarJon Beauchamp and Arthur Kaluma of Dream City Christian (Glendale, Ariz.) and Frankie Collins of AZ Compass Prep (Chandler, Ariz.) among others, were on traditional high school teams. It's easy to understand just how much better public and parochial teams around the West would be if these types of players were on the roster as they likely would have been 15-20 years ago and prior. In the FAB 50, teams below No. 15 simply can beat each other on almost any given night. Another reason is fans often confuse teams with highly nationally ranked players with FAB 50 ranked teams. Not all FAB 50 ranked teams have high-major recruits and not all team with rosters dotted with high majors deserved to be ranked. A good example is Centennial (Corona, Calif.), whose senior leader is Portland St.-bound Paris Dawson, who scored 22 points in the Huskies' 63-53 semifinal win over No. 19 Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) and scored 59 points through the first three victories. The Huskies play well together and consistently play hard, which is often a much bigger determining factor in high school basketball than elite talent. Other examples of FAB 50 ranked teams with this makeup include No. 3 St. Frances Academy (Baltimore, Md.), No. 14 Grayson (Loganville, Ga.) and No. 26 Scotlandville (Baton Rouge, La.).

Small Ball Is All The Rage
When Platinum Division entrant Centennial (Corona, Calif.) defeated preseason No. 21 Rancho Christian (Temecula, Calif.) at its BattleZone tournament, it certainly raised eyebrows. The first question fans and scouts asked as was "how can a team with Evan Mobley lose to a team without a big man?" Mobley is the front-runner for national player of the year (Mr. Basketball USA), so it's a relevant question. The answer we give is, one, guards dominate high school basketball and two, being in shape and sprinting with the ball under control is one of the most valuable aspects of the game at this level and Centennial does it as well as any team we've watched so far. On the other end, Centennial guards the ball with the same energy and stamina. As the Huskies have advanced to the Platinum Division semifinals, perhaps that Rancho Christian result shouldn't be all that surprising. With its relentless style, Centennial also defeated Coronado (Henderson, Nev.) twice (including a 83-48 waxing in the quarterfinals of a team that began No. 41 in the FAB 50), current No. 17 Neumann-Goretti (Philadelphia) in the first round and, of course, No. 19 Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) in the semifinals. As the Tarkanian and the season wears on, these results might not even be that surprising because Centennial's four-guard attack is that lethal, especially when the guards are shooting well as they did in Las Vegas. Centennial coach Josh Giles has done a terrific job with a team that lost three potential starters to transfer in the off-season. The players he lost, however, don't sprint with the ball, stop and start quite like the guys in the lineup now. Plenty of other teams around this country utilize this style instead of trying to force undersized post players on the floor. Sure, talented players with size are always a plus, but there is a way to beat elite teams with size.

Dashien Nix Can Be As Good As He Wants
The most impressive player at the 2019 Tarkanian Classic likely wasn't in the Platinum, The Eight or from Sierra Canyon, it was a 6-foot-4 point guard from Anchorage, Alaska who attends an independent academy just west of the famous Las Vegas strip. Nix is that player, and he led Trinity International (Las Vegas) to the Pangos Elite 8 Prep Division title with a trio of show-stopping performances. Nix controls the game with his pin-point passing, shot-making ability and strength. Nix just has a court presence and confidence that rubs off on teammates and makes a difference on the court. Nix had 32 points in the 73-65 title game win over a talented AZ Compass Prep (Pheonix) team, had a 40-point outburst in a first round win over Tre White and his team at Cornerstone Christian (San Antonio, Texas) and averaged 31 ppg in the eight-team bracket. Nix rates right with Salen Suggs of Minnehaha Academy (Minneapolis, Minn.) and returning National Junior Player of the Year Sharife Cooper of McEachern (Powder Springs, Ga.) as the nation's top lead guards in the 2020 class. The scary thing is, Nix's room for improvement might be the largest among the trio.

There Was Plenty Of 2023 Talent In Vegas
The freshman class is shaping up to be a dynamite group on the West Coast, and nationally, and we had a chance to get a good look at five of them at Bishop Gorman and The Orleans Arena. We'd be remiss to not start off with 6-foot Jared McCain, a sharp-shooting point guard from Centennial (Corona, Calif.), which is the team everybody is talking about among the Platinum bracket. McCain plays with the poise of a seasoned college player and is never rushed or rattled going up against the pressure defense of highly-ranked teams. In the Huskies' 68-64 first round upset win over FAB 50 No. 17 Neumann-Goretti (Philadelphia), which they pulled out after trailing by five points in the final four minutes, McCain hit seven 3-pointers in the second half and had eight for the game en route to a 30-point performance. McCain also had 13 points in Centennial's 83-48 waxing of a good Coronado (Henderson, Nev.) team in the quarterfinals and had 14 big points in the 63-53 semifinal win over No. 19 Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.). FAB 50 No. 6 Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.) has 6-foot-1 Bronny James on its roster and he continues to progress and make an impact for California's top-ranked team. The Trailblazers played two showcase games and in a 76-55 victory over No. 47 Oak Ridge (Orlando, Fla.) and James finished with 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting and looked good on the boards and setting up teammates. His playing time is a bit inconsistent on a loaded roster and the next night in a 66-44 win over Northeast (Oakland Park, Fla.) Bronny on attempted one field goal. Northeast has twin freshmen that really turned heads in Las Vegas: Matthew Bewley (6-8) and Ryan Bewley (6-9). Both drew plenty of attention and right now its Matthew who is a bit more advanced, as he can face up and handle and is more of a perimeter threat. Ryan works underneath more often and is springy on the glass. Both brothers are thoroughbreds up and down the court and Matthew can also defend multiple positions on the perimeter. Matthew reminds us a bit of a combination of 2000 Mr. Basketball USA Darius Miles (who was the No. 3 pick of that year's NBA Draft) and 1993 high school All-American Jerald Honeycutt. A couple other freshmen who's had an impact and is one to track for the rest of the season is 6-foot-8 Jalen Lewis of Bishop O'Dowd (Oakland, Calif.) and 6-foot-1 Sebastian Mack of Durango (Las Vegas, Nev.).

Ronnie Flores is the national Grassroots editor of Ballislife.com. He can be reached at [email protected]. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonMFlores

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