Regular season play in Class A resumed on Saturday after the Metro Holiday Tournament came to a close and the Millard North Mustangs made the drive down to Lincoln to take on Pius X.
The Thunderbolts tuned a one-point halftime lead into a double-digit advantage with a 22-11 third quarter then pushed the lead past 20 before the Mustangs made a late run with reserves in the game.
Here are five thoughts on what went down.
Scott Frost Got a Good One in Austin Jablonski
Austin Jablonski is a baller no matter what the field of play is. Pius’s quarterback who committed to walk on at Nebraska as a wide receiver or tight end on Dec. 24 also happens to be the Thunderbolts’ third-leading scorer on the basketball court.
Jablonski is only listed 6-foot-3, but he plays the five for Pius and more than holds his own thanks to his athleticism, motor and strong frame. He’s averaging around 12 points and six rebounds for the 9-1 Bolts.
On Saturday, Jablonski led Pius with 23 points on 10-of-15 from the field and 3-of-5 from the free-throw line. He threw down a pair of dunks in the game, showing off his athleticism, and carved out space around the rim for tough finishes.
I’ve seen him play basketball a few times and football once, and he’s stood out among the other talented athletes on the field or court. The Huskers got a good one in Jablonski. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him find his way not the field at Nebraska at some point down the road.
Hunter Sallis is a Smooth Operator
One doesn’t have to watch Hunter Sallis play for long to understand why Nebraska (as well as Drake, Ole Miss, Creighton and Iowa State) felt confident enough to offer him so early in his development. Listed at 6-foot-4 now with a long wing-span and plenty more room to grow to go with obvious athleticism, it’s not difficult to envision him growing into the prototypical high-major wing by the time he’s done with high school.
As far as his game goes, the thing that jumps out is how smooth he is. He’s incredibly efficient as a scorer, covering 60 percent of his shots. He’s long and athletic enough to get past his man and to finish around the rim in acrobatic fashion. He also does a great job of getting to his spots in the lane, rising up and shooting over the top of the defense with his soft touch.
Sallis is still too turnover prone and needs to do a better job of reading help defenders, but his skill set and physical tools are a terrific foundation to build off of moving forward.
Charlie Easley is a Gamer
There aren’t many players in the state I enjoy watching more than Pius senior guard Charlie Easley. He first caught my eye a few years ago because of his competitiveness and feel for the game, and he’s only gotten better and better since then.
Easley is as tough a player as you’ll find anywhere in Nebraska. He scraps for boards, seeks out contact in the lane and takes on tough defensive assignments without batting an eye despite also carrying a heavy load offensively (it was a blast watching him and Sallis guard each other).
On Saturday, Easley finished with 16 points, nine assists, five boards, two steals and a block, and stuffing the stat sheet in that way isn’t a rare occurrence for him. He’s cracked the 20-point mark in seven of his 10 games so far with a high of 30. He’s grabbed at least four rebounds in every game with a high of nine. He's dished out five or more assists four times and has grabbed two or more steals in nine games.
After a strong summer, Easley picked up a Division I offer from the Citadel and also holds a few Division II offers. If he was a couple inches taller, he’d be a no-doubt Division I player. Even at a listed 6-foot-2, he’s worth taking another look at for mid- or low-major coaches.
Millard North Will be Fine
Saturday’s game got away from Millard North, just like Wednesday’s Metro Holiday Tournament quarterfinal loss against Omaha Central. The Mustangs are 6-4 on the season now. However, they’re far from a finished product.
Sallis is growing into his role as a leading scorer, and he’s still just a sophomore who played a reserve role as a freshman. Millard North is starting a freshman as well in Jasen Green. He’s going to be really good, perhaps the best player in that 2022 class, but he’s pretty up-and-down to this point — as most freshman are — and I’d imagine he’ll be a much better player by the end of the season than he is right now.
Senior forward Bret Porter, who tore his ACL in June, miraculously returned to the court in early December, missing just two games. He’s been easing his way into things, gradually seeing his minutes increase, and he had a double-double in the first round of the Metro Tournament with 17 points and 10 rebounds, showing what he’s capable of at full strength. Porter was the team’s second-best player last year behind current Wayne State Wildcat Nick Ferrarini, and they’ve got him coming off the bench right now. As he rounds back into form, Millard North’s ceiling rises.
Finally, sophomore point guard Adam Parra, a transfer from Omaha Skutt, should be eligible soon as his 90-day transfer sit-out is nearly complete. I caught part of the JV game and Parra was tearing it up, orchestrating a 20-point blowout for the Mustangs against the Thunderbolts. Para is a good shooter and crafty ball-handler who does a great job of creating offense for his teammates. Parra will add a nice boost to that backcourt when he joins the lineup.
Millard North is a good team now, but its ceiling is higher than just good as the season progresses.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
Saturday was a great win for Pius, and the Thunderbolts did it as a team. Early on, the teams went back and forth. Sallis had 10 points in the first quarter and 16 at halftime, and as a result it was a close game. However, Pius did a great job of making adjustments, and the help defense got a lot better. Suddenly, every time Sallis got in the paint there was one or two defenders there ready to pick his pocket or wall up and take away his lane to the rim. Sallis was limited to just one field goal and one trip to the free throw line, and Millard North went 4-of-13 from the field as a team in the third quarter as the Bolts created some separation.
Offensively, the Bolts blew the game open with 22 points in that third quarter and they did it with unselfish play. Steals from great defensive rotations led to easy hit-ahead run-outs, and good ball movement created great looks in the halfcourt as well. Pius finished with 18 assists on 29 field goals.
Coach Brian Spicka has done a great job with this team and the Thunderbolts are going to be a tough one now that they’ve moved down to Class B (despite playing a mostly Class A schedule this season).
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.