Nebraska basketball fans have more reason than ever to pay attention to high school basketball in the state this year, so each week Hail Varsity will be looking back at the performances by 2019 commit Akol Arop (Omaha Creighton Prep), 2020 commit Donovan Williams (Lincoln North Star) and 2021 targets Hunter Sallis (Millard North) and Chucky Hepburn (Bellevue West).
Creighton Prep and Bellevue West both made it through last week without dropping a game while Lincoln North Star and Millard North each split their games. Chucky Hepburn and Donovan Williams found ways to contribute even when their shot wasn’t falling while Hunter Sallis broke out of a mini-slump with a big game to close out the week.
2019 Forward Akol Arop (Omaha Creighton Prep)
The Junior Jays only had one game last week, but it was a special one: the annual Christmas in the Cage game.
Each year, Creighton Prep hosts a game in December prior to the holiday moratorium and Metro Holiday Tournament tabbed Christmas in the Cage (the student section is called the Bird Cage). Fans fill the stands more than any other game and at halftime, students put on a skit involving both secular and religious Christmas characters and a basketball game. It’s hard to explain, but a lot of fun to witness.
The Grinch saves Christmas in the Cage. pic.twitter.com/Fw9Ccva7Jg
— MikeSautterOWH (@MikeSautterOWH) December 16, 2018
As for the game itself, the Junior Jays dispatched a solid Elkhorn South team 66-40 to improve to 5-0 on the year. The Storm is undersized inside and Arop took advantage of that to put up 20 points on 9-of-10 from the field and 2-of-2 from the foul line with nine rebounds, one assist, one block and two turnovers. Oh, and he did this:
Akol Arop with the dunk and Prep leads Elkhorn South 35-20. #NebPreps pic.twitter.com/6wS2cnA6rt
— MikeSautterOWH (@MikeSautterOWH) December 16, 2018
Creighton Prep has another one-game week as the Junior Jays will plat at Omaha Benson (2-4) on Friday.
2020 Guard Donovan Williams (Lincoln North Star)
The Navigators suffered a tough one-point loss to a quality Lincoln Pius X team before bouncing back for a much-needed win against Lincoln Southwest. Donovan Williams put up 20 in both games but continues to struggle with efficiency.
On Friday, the Thunderbolts beat North Star 66-65. Williams put up 21 points on 5-of-16 from the field (3-of-9 from 3) and 8-of-10 from the free-throw line with six rebounds, four assists, three steals and five turnovers.
On Saturday, the Gators bounced back to beat the Silver Hawks 67-51 for their second win of the year. Williams finished with 20 points on 5-of-15 from the field, 2-of-8 from 3 and 8-of-10 from the foul line with eight rebounds, seven assists, one steal, two blocks and two turnovers.
The 6-foot-5 Williams is now 16-of-47 inside the arc and 11-of-46 outside of it on the year, two really rough percentages. He’s attempting nearly eight 3s per game at a 24 percent clip and isn’t much better inside, shooting 34 percent. On the bright side, he’s still managing to put up points because of his ability to get to the foul line as he is 42-of-55 from the stripe on the year, which is just over nine attempts per game. Another good sign was Williams’ ability to get others involved and impact the game outside of scoring with seven assists and eight boards.
North Star is now 2-4 on the season and will host a 1-5 North Platte team on Thursday.
2021 Wing Hunter Sallis (Millard North)
Sallis had one rough game and one solid one last week, the Millard North’s results reflected that.
On Friday, the Mustangs jumped out to a 27-18 lead after one quarter at Omaha Central before the Eagles rallied to outscore them 39-26 over the second and third quarters. Central held on for the comeback win 68-65. Sallis finished with 10 points on 4-of-11 from the field, 1-of-3 from deep and 1-of-2 from the line with one rebound, three assists, two steals and five turnovers.
John Tonje and Max Polk, who I’ve written about before, scored 29 and 19 points, respectively, to pace the Central comeback. Max Murrell, a 6-foot-7 junior forward, led the way with 14 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks for the Mustangs.
Sallis had a better showing on Saturday as Millard North beat Papillion-La Vista South 59-52. He finished with 19 points on 5-of-9 shooting (1-of-2 from 3) and 8-of-8 from the charity stripe. He grabbed four rebounds and two steals but turned the ball over four more times.
Sallis now has 26 turnovers and 11 assists on the season. He’s a young kid adjusting to a much bigger role than he had last year as a freshman, but those turnover totals have to drop moving forward.
Millard North is 4-2 on the year now and will play a rivalry game at Millard West (3-3) on Friday.
2021 Point Guard Chucky Hepburn (Bellevue West)
Chucky Hepburn had two very different games but made big contributions in both to lead the Thunderbirds to a pair of wins.
On Friday, Hepburn struggled as a scorer, finishing 1-for-10 from the field (0-of-4 on 3s) and 8-of-11 from the free-throw line for 10 points. However, junior guard David Nuor had the hot hand, finishing with a career-high 30 points, and Hepburn kept feeding him instead of forcing his own shot. The 6-foot point guard finished with six rebounds, eight assists, six steals and just one turnover in a 75-72 win against a talented Omaha Bryan team.
He rediscovered his scoring touch on Saturday, however, as he led the T-Birds with 24 points on 5-of-9 from the field and 14-of-14 from the line. He also grabbed eight boards, dished out three assists and grabbed one steal, though he did turn the ball over four times as Bellevue West smacked Omaha Central 80-65 in the Thunderdome.
Hepburn went 0-of-6 from deep last week and is now 9-of-31 (29 percent) from 3 in six games. The biggest area in which he needed improvement coming off of a stellar freshman campaign was the consistency of his shot as he shot 26 percent from deep. That still seems to be a work in progress, but the many different ways he can control a game is what makes him such an intriguing prospect for the Huskers.
Bellevue West is 5-1 this season and will play two more games this week. On Thursday, the T-Birds will host Papillion-La Vista (2-4). On Friday, Bellevue West will host an Omaha Westside team that just dropped its first game of the season on Saturday against Lincoln East.
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.