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).
The boys state tournament is a week away, and three of the four Nebraska targets punched their tickets to Lincoln earlier this week.
2019 Forward Akol Arop (Omaha Creighton Prep)
The Junior Jays drew a four-win Omaha Northwest team in their district semifinal which got pushed back to Monday by the snow. Prep made short work of the Huskies, winning 70-47 at the Heider Center. They didn’t need much out of Arop to get the win as he had a season-low six points on 2-of-5 from the field (0-of-1 from 3) and 2-of-4 from the free-throw line with five rebounds (three offensive), one turnover and a block.
Arop played a much bigger role in the district final, however. Prep hosted a good Omaha Bryan team on Tuesday and after a close first half the Junior Jays ran away in the second half for a 68-42 win. The Junior Jays outscored the Bears 46-24 after halftime.
Arop notched another double-double with 18 points on 7-of-12 from the field, 0-of-2 from deep and 4-of-5 from the line, 12 rebounds (three offensive) and two blocks.
With the win, the reigning champs punched their ticket back to the state tournament. At 22-4, Prep will be the No. 2 seed in the Class A field.
2020 Guard Donovan Williams (Lincoln North Star)
The Navigators are headed back to state for the first time since 2012 and for the third time in school history and Williams is the biggest reason for that.
On Monday, North Star took down Omaha North 80-66 in the district semifinal behind monster performances from Williams and senior forward Josiah Allick. Williams recorded his third double-double of the season with 26 points on 6-of-14 from the field (2-of-6 from 3) and 12-of-14 from the foul line with 12 rebounds, one assist and two steals. The only blemish was seven turnovers, but in the end it didn’t cost the Gators the game.
Allick added 36 points and 18 rebounds as the Gators scored 17 or more in all four quarters. With the win, North Star advanced to the district final at Kearney on Tuesday.
North Star found itself down by 12 with six minutes to go against the Bearcats yet rallied with win 55-54 thanks to a game-winning 3 by Williams with 4.8 to play.
North Star’s winner with 4.8 left. pic.twitter.com/3nbqGGpUiH
— Buck Mahoney (@HubSports_Buck) February 27, 2019
Williams finished with 30 points on 10-of-23 from the field and 8-of-9 from the line. He only hit two of his nine 3s, but the second one couldn’t have come at a better time. Williams chipped in four rebounds and two steals and had three turnovers. North Star outscored Kearney 22-14 in the fourth quarter.
At 16-8, North Star will be the No. 7 seed and will get a rematch with Creighton Prep in the first round of the state tournament.
2021 Point Guard Chucky Hepburn (Bellevue West)
Bellevue West and Fremont decided to move their district semifinal up to Friday instead of pushing it back to Monday like a lot of other schools, and the Thunderbirds made short work of the Tigers with a 68-33 win.
Hepburn made an impact in every phase of the game, finishing with 20 points on 6-of-13 shooting (2-of-7 from 3) and 6-of-7 from the free-throw line, eight rebounds, seven steals, five assists, two blocks and just one turnover.
On Monday, Norfolk gave the Thunderbirds a run for their money in the district final but Bellevue West pulled out a 55-50 win to advance to the state tournament. Hepburn finished with 13 point on 3-of-8 from the field, 0-of-2 from 3 and 7-of-12 from the line with two rebounds, three assists, one steal, one block and four turnovers.
Bellevue West will ride a 22-game winning streak into state, securing the No. 1 seed with a 25-1 record. The T-Birds will face No. 8 seed Papillion-La Vista South in the first round on Thursday.
2021 Wing Hunter Sallis (Millard North)
Sallis is the only Husker target who didn’t make the state tournament, and it took a crazy buzzer-beater to keep him out.
Millard North also played its district semifinal last Friday and the Mustangs pulled away in the second half doe a 54-39 win over Lincoln Southwest. Sallis had a game-high 14 points on 4-of-9 shooting (0-of-2 from 3) and 6-of-10 from the free-throw line with six rebounds (two offensive), three assists, two steals and two turnovers. I caught up with Sallis after the game.
That set up a clash of two top-10 teams in the Mustangs and Omaha Westside at Westside on Tuesday and the Warriors pulled it out at the last second. Sallis finished with a game-high 21 points on 7-of-14 from the field, 2-of-5 from deep and 5-of-8 from the line with one assist, one steal and two turnovers. Sallis scored 12 of his points in the fourth quarter.
Westside snapped Millard North’s nine-game winning streak and sent the Mustangs home with a 16-8 final record. Sallis’ final stat line for the season: 18.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.8 turnovers per game while shooting 58 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3 and 77 percent from the free-throw line.
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.