On Saturday, DJ Sokol Arena on the campus of Creighton University played host to the 2019 Nebraska Prep Classic, the annual all-day event organized by Boys Town Coach Tom Krehbiel that brings in teams from all over the state — and outside the state’s borders as well — for a series of match-ups.
This year’s Classic included eight games — two girls and six boys. I missed the first half of the day as I stopped by Creighton Prep for a showdown between the Juniors Jays and Omaha Central first (more on that later), but I caught the last four games.
Here are five thoughts on all of Saturday’s action.
Winnebago 71, Council Bluffs St. Albert 60
The faces change every year, but Rez Ball lives on and as the team’s stars move on, role players step up into the spotlight. From Mathew and David Wingett to D’Von LaPointe to MaNaPe Cleveland, Coach Jeff Berridge has turned the keys of one of the most entertaining offensive systems in the state over to a player who has worked his way up the ranks from role player to star.
Next up is TJ Frenchman-Whitebear, a 6-foot-1 senior guard. Frenchman was an offensive spark off the bench as a sophomore on a team with David Wingett as its star, and last year he became a starter and doubled his scoring average. This season, he’s leading the Indians in scoring and exploded for 32 points on Saturday to lead Winnebago to the win.
Frenchman shot 13-of-22 from the field, 4-of-8 from 3 and 2-of-3 from the free-throw line while adding six rebounds (three on each end), two steals and a block to his stat line. Frenchman scored all over the court, knocking down shots from deep both off the catch and off the dribble and getting to the rim both on cuts and on drives.
Berridge encourages his players to run and gun with almost reckless yet joyful abandon and that style of play can produce the kind of performance we saw from Frenchman on Saturday. He was as good as anybody who set foot on that court on Saturday.
Boys Town 62, Bellevue East 58
Offensive balance won the day for the Cowboys and tournament host Tom Krehbiel. All five starters for Boys Town finished between nine and 13 points in the four-point win. Boys Town finished with 17 assists by my count.
Senior point guard Jahad Burt set the tone with 10 assists by himself, and he didn’t even attempt a shot until the second half, scoring seven of his nine points in the fourth. Senior guard Davion Saunsoci led the way early with all 13 of his points in the first half while junior forward Uzziah Freeman tallied 11 of his 13 in the second half (to go with his team-high nine rebounds). Senior bruiser Chrishaun Henry scored 11 points and senior wing Jayven Wynn chipped in 10 points and five steals.
Bellevue East senior Fred Knotts led all scorers with 19 points and junior Joey Skoff added 14, but it took the duo 33 shots to score those 33 points. The biggest problem for Bellevue East was their 1-for-18 performance from deep. It’s hard to make a fourth-quarter comeback when you can’t make a 3.
Omaha Westside 68, Kansas City Central 46
The Warriors took control of this game in the second quarter then blew it wide open in the third. Westside outscored Central 24-9 in the second period, and the most impressive part of that kind of dominance is they did it with star junior guard Jadin Booth spending much of the quarter on the bench with two fouls.
With Booth out of the lineup, junior PJ Ngambi and freshman Chandler Meeks picked up the slack, combining for 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting. As a team, the Warriors shot 9-of-11 from the field in the quarter including 4-of-5 from deep (but only 2-of-6 from the charity stripe).
Booth returned to the court in the third quarter and scored seven quick points to help the Warriors push their lead over 20 and they cruised the rest of the way. Westside was the much more disciplined team, finishing with 15 points to just seven assists while shooting 52.2 percent from the field and 6-of-13 from 3.
The Eagles shot well from 3 overall (10-of-24 for the game), but they were 5-of-8 in the fourth quarter after the game had already been more or less decided. I didn’t track their turnovers, but there were a ton of them.
Senior forward Chase Thompson led all scorers with 21 points and six rebounds, but Ngambi was named MVP of the game. He finished with 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting (2-of-4 from 3), dished out seven assists with just one turnovers and grabbed three boards and a steal. When Ngambi is playing well, Westside is tough to beat. Meeks seems to be growing more comfortable and confident with each passing game as well, another great sign for Westside. He finished with seven points on 3-of-4 shooting and notched four steals.
Omaha Bryan 68, Denver East 60
Omaha Bryan secured a quality win in the event’s night cap, which tipped off right around 9:30 p.m. Central time. Bryan used a 10-0 run midway through the third quarter to take control then held on in the fourth.
Seniors Javen Udofia and Sam Gregory put the team on their back and combined for 31 points in the second half, outscoring the Angels by themselves. Udofia and fellow senior guard Jerome Wallace, the team’s top two scorers on the season, each picked up three fouls in the first half and combined for just 10 points before spending the last four minutes or so on the bench.
After a quiet first half, Gregory scored the first six points of the third quarter and exploded for 11 in the period without missing a shot from the field or the foul line. Udofia asserted himself as well with six points and an impressive buzzer-beating finish by Gregory had the Bears up 52-44 after three.
Denver East opened the fourth with back-to-back 3-pointers to cut Bryan’s lead down to two, but Bryan responded with a 6-0 run and Udofia closed it out form there, putting his head down and getting to the rim to finish or draw fouls. He scored 12 of Bryan’s 16 in the period to finish with 24 points on 8-of-12 form the field and 7-of-12 from the line with nine rebounds, three blocks, two steals and two assists. Gregory finished with 15 points on 4-of-7 from the field and 7-of-7 from the free-throw line with seven rebounds, three blocks and two steals.
Udofia and Gregory were also tasked with defending Denver East’s Kwane Marble, a senior wing committed to Wyoming. Marble finished with 22 points, but he shot just 7-of-19 from the field and 5-of-10 from the free-throw line.
Omaha Central 63, Creighton Prep 51
This one wasn’t part of the Nebraska Prep Classic, but it was a big game featuring 2019 Nebraska signee Akol Arop.
The Junior Jays took down the Eagles in the semifinals of the Metro Holiday Tournament, but the Eagles — now at full strength after missing a couple of guys earlier in the year — took round two on the Prep’s court.
This game features a match-up of two of the best players in the state in Arop and Central senior John Tonje. In the Metro game, Arop shut Tonje down unlike anyone else has done all year (he’s averaging over 25 points per game), holding him to a season-low 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting. Until a couple of dunks later in the game, Tonje looked hesitant trying to score against Arop’s length and athleticism.
However, Tonje showed none of that hesitancy on Saturday. Arop still caused him plenty of problems around the rim, but even so Tonje attacked over and over again and finished with a game-high 21 points. Thanks in part to Arop’s defense, it took Tonje 21 field goals to get to 21 points (he was 6-of-21 overall and 1-of-7 from 3), but he also got to the free-throw line a lot (7-of-8) and got Arop into foul trouble.
Arop finished with 15 points on 5-of-13 shooting, nine rebounds and three blocks, and he missed all three of his jump shots outside of the paint. Arop and Tonje are both Division I players and they made each other work for everything they got.
The difference in the game was the other guys, though. Junior guard Abe Hoskins III had a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds while Latrell Wrightsell Jr. added 16 including nine in the fourth. Central took control for good int he third quarter where the Eagles outscored the Junior Jays 19-12 and Prep players not named Arop or senior Thomas Faber (Prep’s second-leading scorer who holds several Division II offers) combined for zero points on 0-of-5 shooting. Arop and Faber combined for 28 points and no one else scored more than seven for Prep.
After a great start to the season, Creighton Prep has now dropped two straight games and three of its last six. To get things turned around, the Junior Jays will have to get more out of their supporting cast. Central, on the other hand, seems to be settling in and looks like it will be a factor come March.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.