Tarkanian Classic: Youth Served!

The top (Platinum) division of the 2021 Tarkanian Classic has a Las Vegas flavor, as three of the four semifinalists call Sin City home. One of the themes of the tournament is the play of the young prospects among the top four teams. We break down five young standouts and Monday’s the semifinal matchups.

Three of the four teams expected to advance to the semifinals in the best division (Platinum) of the 2021 Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas all won quarterfinal contests on Saturday at host Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.). The one “surprise” team has been Durango (Las Vegas), which defeated FAB 50 bubble club Pebblebrook (Mabelton, Ga.), 57-47, in the opening round and handed St. Bernard (Playa del Rey, Calif.) its first defeat in the quarterfinals, 72-53. The Trailblazers have shot the ball extremely well from the perimeter in advancing to Monday’s 6 pm semifinal contest vs. Bishop Gorman.

It could have been an all Las Vegas semifinal has Coronado (Henderson, Nev.) upset Oak Cliff Faith Family Academy (Dallas, Texas), but the Eagles held on for a 69-65 victory. Faith Family took a 36-20 halftime lead, but Coronado was able to get back into the game and make it interesting down the stretch behind the stellar play of 2022 standout Richard “Pop Pop” Isaacs. The Texas Tech-bound scoring lead guard netted 28 points in the second half on a variety of jumpers and drives to the basket and finished with 34 points.

Faith Family Academy will face Liberty (Henderson, Nev.) which moved to 5-0 on the season following its 77-62 quarterfinal win over Bishop O’Connell (Arlington, Va.). Liberty opened the prestigious tourney with a 80-71 victory over St. Augustine (San Diego, Calif.). The Liberty-Faith Family matchup will take place on Monday evening at 8:15 pm after an artistic Tribute to former UNLV and Fresno St. coach Jerry Tarkanian, the iconic college basketball coach synonymous with Las Vegas for whom the holiday tournament is named after.

Here’s a look at the young players helping the Platinum Division winners:

John Mobley Jr., Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.) 6-1 2024 CG
This talented scorer can spark Gorman and demoralize foes at any moment with his long-range shooting and tough shot making. “Juni” can shoot off the catch and has worked hard to become a threat off a one-dribble pull-up. He can also make acrobatic shots on the move and continues to learn how to play both on and off the ball alongside 2024 guard Jase Richardson. After Gorman’s easy 71-39 opening round win over Evangel Christian (Louisville, Ky.) Mobley had 17 points, including four 3-pointers, in the second half to lead a 67-56 quarterfinal win over Salesian (Richmond, Calif.).

Doryan Onwuchekwa, Faith Family Academy (Dallas, Texas) 6-10 2024 C
The Eagles have a deep and talented roster and the 6-foot-10, 255-pound tenth grader starts and is a terrific long-term prospect. Onwuchekwa has soft hands and nice touch around the basket for a young big man. He also runs the floor well for his size and is a strong two-hand rebounder. Playing alongside Texas-Arlington bound forward Brandon Thomas pays dividends, as the young big man displays good patience and moves well in the interior to look for advantages.

Jalen Reece, Oak Ridge (Orlando, Fla.) 5-10 2025 CG
We’re cheating a bit with Reece’s eval, as Oak Ridge has dropped two tough games to begin the tournament after coming in with high expectations. The talent and shooting ability of Reece, however, is impossible to ignore. In the best and most intense opening round matchup, Reece nailed five 3-pointers in the first half, and six overall, while scoring 25 points in a 65-61 loss to St. Bernard (Playa del Rey, Calif.). He came back with four 3-pointers and 14 second half points in a 68-62 loss to Pebblebrook (Mableton, Ga.). If Mobley is not the best shooter in the Platinum Division, Reece is. What’s even more impressive is his poise and demeanor in high-intensity situations. It will be interesting to see where he measures up at down the line. With a few more inches, he’ll have a game reminiscent of Marcus Bullard, the former Mississippi State guard who help the Bulldogs reach the 1996 Final Four.

Dedan Thomas Jr., Liberty (Henderson, Nev.) 6-1 2024 PG
This left-hand point guard has been known for his craftiness and play-making ability since middle school, but he continues to develop his burst and offensive arsenal and it has paid dividends for the Patriots so far. Thomas has always been able to score from inside-out, but his deep range shot is developing more consistency, as well as his ability off the catch. Thomas, who also excels at getting to the free throw line, had 17 points in the quarterfinal win over Bishop O’Connell while backcourt mate, 2023 guard Angelo Kambala, had five 3-pointers and 23 points. With his game, Thomas reminds us of former UCONN and Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) guard Marcus Williams, who grew up in Southern California just as Thomas’ father did before being recruited by Tarkanian to play at UNLV.

Jevon Yapi, Durango (Las Vegas, Nev.) 5-10 2025 PG
One of the most impressive evaluative aspects of any young player in the tournament has been the composure and execution of this freshman point guard for a team that has beaten two teams with D1 bound guards. Yapi simply doesn’t get rattled and can get where he wants to set himself or teammates up. Yapi just doesn’t have a glaring weakness in his game and keeps defenses honest with his corner 3-point shooting. Durango coach Chad Beeten has another quality freshman guard in Mason Brown, while the scoring contributions of lunch-pail types Tyler Riley (6-2, 2023) and Sterling Knox (6-6, 2023) cannot be overlooked. Yapi had 11 points, including three second half 3-pointers, in the first round victory over Pebblebrook and 10 points in the quarterfinal win over St. Bernard.

Tarkanian Platinum Semifinals Breakdown

On Monday at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, the first semifinal contest between Bishop Gorman and Durango will be a contrast in styles. Durango will attempt to run its offense and take quality shots, while the No. 17 team in the most current FAB 50 National Team Rankings will attempt to run and get easy shots in transition and dare the Trailblazers to keep up with them. If Bishop Gorman is hitting a quality percentage from 3-point land on a spacious court and backdrop, Durango will be hard pressed to win unless it keeps the score relatively low.

Bishop Gorman is going to look to speed up freshman guards Jevon Yapi and Mason Brown. Keep in mind some quality, D1-bound guards have not been able to do that in the first two games. Look for the point total of Durango’s Tyler Riley and whomever wins the matchup between Durango’s Sterling Knox and Gorman’s Darrion Williams to be two keys to the game’s outcome.

Faith Family is a big-time unit who will be a tough out for Liberty, which cannot afford to let the Texas boys go up big early as Coronado did in the quarterfinals. When you see how well John Paul II (Plano, Texas) has played in the Nike Division (event’s second best), you can get an idea of just how talented Faith Family is because it beat John Paul, 86-43, earlier in the season.

The Matchup between Ole Miss-bound T.J. Caldwell and Dedan Thomas Jr. will be must see, while the matchup between Brandon Walker and St. Mary’s bound forward Josh Jefferson is worth the price of admission alone. Jefferson has more extended range to stretch the defense, but Walker has more help inside, so Liberty can’t lose the battle on the boards by a wide margin and expect to win. Jefferson had 36 points in Liberty’s first round victory over St. Augustine and coach Kevin Soares would love to see a point total close to that once again. Faith Family starts a larger unit, so look to see if Angelo Kambala can get loose for open perimeter shots. If they are falling, Liberty will be in the thick of things down the stretch.

As for John Paul, it was impressive in its Nike Division 59-38 quarterfinal win over Fountain Valley (Calif.). The 4:30 pm Orleans Arena showdown between R.J. Jones, John Paul’s terrific junior guard, and San Joaquin Memorial (Fresno, Calif.) shooting guard JoJo Hunter (bound for Fresno St.) is one of the event’s top individual matchups in any division. Hunter had 23 points in the Panthers’ 59-56 quarterfinal victory over JSerra (San Juan Capistrano, Calif.).

With Gabe Warren, a 6-foot-6 2023 prospect, and Elijah Obaseki, a 6-foot-7 2022 prospect, John Paul has more rebounding firepower and scoring up front, so the play of SJM’s 6-foot-6 junior forward Mike Davis Jr. will be key. He must stay out of foul trouble for coach Brad Roznovsky.

In the other Nike Division semifinal (3 pm), Crean Lutheran (Irvine, Calif.), is the prohibitive favorite over Bingham (South Jordan, Utah). The Miners are going to have to shoot a high percentage from the perimeter to keep pace with Crean Lutheran.

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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