The high school basketball season got underway on Thursday night and Hail Varsity was at Omaha Westside as the Warriors hosted Lincoln North Star led by 2020 Nebraska commit Donovan Williams.
The host Warriors pulled away down the stretch to win 58-51 in what was a tight battle throughout.
Here are some thoughts on how the game played out.
Donovan Williams is Just Scratching the Surface
To be quite honest, Donovan Williams did not have a good game on Thursday night, and even so he still finished with a double-double. The 6-foot-5 junior shot just 5-of-20 from the field including 3-of-12 from deep. He went scoreless in the first quarter and missed his first six shots from the field. Still, he finished with a game-high 23 points and 10 rebounds and also dished out three assists for the Navigators.
Williams sparked a 17-3 run spanning the second and third quarters with 10 points in the second period and he hit a big 3-pointer late that made it a two-point game with about 30 seconds to play, though North Star’s comeback came up short.
Williams boosted his point total by getting to the free-throw line and converting 10 of his 13 attempts. He’s a tough match-up with his size, strength and athleticism and took advantage of the Warriors being in the bonus to get to the line time and time again in the fourth quarter.
But throughout the game, and especially in the second half, he relied far too much on his perimeter jump shot. He struggled to adjust to the way the game was being called in the first half and the Warriors did a good job of staying in front of him defensively.
Williams needs his teammates to step up and spread the floor a little bit so he’s not running into three guys every time he tries to drive, but he still needs to find a way to score more efficiently. If he can do that, the sky is the limit.
Heck, he already had 23 and 10 on an off day.
Josiah Allick is Primed for a Breakout Senior Season
Allick, a 6-foot-6 forward, has a case for being one of the most improved players in the state from a year ago. He saw the court in just 15 varsity games and totaled 30 points all season a year ago, but on Thursday, he set a new career high in the opening moments by scoring North Star’s first five points (his best was four on a number of occasions last year) then knocked down a 3-pointer to finish the first quarter with eight points.
Foul trouble limited him the rest of the way as he only finished with 12 points, but he scored those points in an impressive fashion, displaying terrific explosiveness and solid touch. He should be one of the better big men in Lincoln this season.
Allick is the older brother of 2022 Nebraska volleyball commit Bekka Allick, who is already on varsity as a freshman. Allick, a 6-foot-3 forward, scored eight points in her high school basketball debut as North Star lost to a good Westside team 64-42.
Jadin Booth Comes up Clutch
Williams is the top-ranked player in the 2020 class, but right behind him is Westside’s Jadin Booth who holds an offer from Omaha and who put up 20 points per game as a sophomore.
On Thursday, Booth got off to a hot start with nine first-quarter points, but then he went ice cold after that, scoring just one point in the second and third quarters. However, when his team needed him to step up in the fourth quarter, he did so.
With the game tied at 44-all and less than four minutes to play, Booth drove into the lane and collapsed the defense before skipping the ball out to junior Carl Brown on the left wing for a 3-pointer that gave the Warriors the lead for good. After trading free throws, Westside got the ball to Booth and he drove baseline for the reverse layup, his first field goal since the first quarter that put the Warriors up 51-46 with about two minutes to go. From there it was a free-throw game as Booth sank five of his six attempts down the stretch to seal the victory and give him a team-high 17 points despite the rough shooting night (1-of-8 from 3). He also dished out a game-high seven assists with just one turnover.
Westside Supporting Cast Steps Up
In last season’s district final loss to Bellevue West, Booth finished with 30 points, Chase Thompson added 17 and junior guard PJ Ngambi pitched in five. The rest of the roster threw up a goose egg.
Booth and Thompson, now a senior, are going to get theirs almost every game. But if Westside wants to win more than 11 games this season, Coach Jim Simons is going to need more from the supporting cast.
Westside got that on Thursday. Ngambi will be given every opportunity to emerge as the third scorer the Warriors need and he took advantage of that against North Star. Ngambi finished with 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting including 2-of-3 from deep. Ngambi knocked down a few jumpers against North Star’s zone defense, taking advantage of the attention paid to Booth on the perimeter and Thompson inside.
Brown, a junior forward, averaged just 2.1 points and 1.9 rebounds as a sophomore. On Thursday, he finished with 12, his first double-digit scoring game. Brown only shot 3-of-10 from the field, but he hit one of the biggest shots of the game as I mentioned above and also grabbed eight boards, tied with Thompson for the team lead.
If Westside can get consistent offensive production from those four, all they’ll need is defense and energy from the rest of the rotation and they’ll be tough to beat.
Nebrasketball Coaches Showing Support
Nebraska assistant coach Jim Molinari was in the house at Westside to watch Williams play his first game of the season. Prior to arriving at Westside, Molinari made a stop at Creighton Prep to see 2019 signee Akol Arop leading the Junior Jays against Norfolk. Head coach Tim Miles himself was at Lincoln Southwest to see 2021 wing Hunter Sallis and Millard North play against the Silver Hawks. Chucky Hepburn, the other 2021 prospect with an offer from the Huskers, was on the road at Kearney for the season-opener but the Huskers should have plenty more chances to see him play around Lincoln and the Omaha Metro the rest of the season.
Expect to see Miles, Molinari and Michael Lewis in the crowd at gyms throughout the season. They’re making local recruiting a big part of what they do once again with Lewis leading the way.