Saturday marks the 13th annual Heartland Hoops Classic, the all-day high school basketball extravaganza held every year in mid-February at the Heartland Events Center in Grand Island. This year’s Classic features eight games, the first tipping at 8:30 a.m. and the last at 8:30 p.m.
Thirteen teams from all across Nebraska will take part as well as three others from outside Nebraska. The showcase game will pit Nebraska’s top team in Millard North — featuring Nebraska targets Hunter Sallis and Jasen Green — against one of the top prep powers in the country in IMG Academy.
The Millard North game is set for 6:45 p.m., which means any Husker fans wanting to go to the Nebrasketball game against Wisconsin at Pinnacle Bank Arena 1:15. should have plenty of time to make it out to Grand Island to double-dip.
Here’s a full preview of what basketball fans can expect to see on Saturday
Millard North vs. IMG Academy, 6:45 p.m.
IMG is 18-6 this season, but three of those losses have come to Monteverde Academy, one of the more talented high school teams assembled in recent memory. The roster features four 5-star and three 4-star prospects according to 247Sports’ composite rankings.
Tennessee signee Jaden Springer, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound guard, is ranked 16th in the 2020 class. Mark Williams, a 7-foot-1, 230-pound center signed to play at Duke, is No. 29 in 2020. Matthew Murrell, an Ole Miss signee, is a 6-foot-3, 200-pound guard ranked 38th overall. IMG’s fourth senior is Zach Edey, a 7-foot-3, 285-pound 3-star center pledged to Purdue (how does Matt Painter keep getting all these giants?).
Moussa Diabate is a 6-foot-11, 215-pound 5-star forward with 12 offers from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, Pac-12, American and Mountain West. He’s ranked 10th in the 2021 class. Lynn Kidd is a 6-foot-10, 225-pound 4-star center with offers from Auburn, Florida, Georgia Tech, Iowa State and Xavier. He’s ranked 98th in 2021.
IMG has two 5-star prospects in the 2022 class as well. Brandon Huntley-Hatfield is a 6-foot-10, 225-pound forward with 11 offers from the ACC, Big East, Big 12, SEC and the American. He’s the fourth-ranked prospect in that class. Jarace Walker is a 6-foot-6, 225-pound guard with an offer from Howard and interest from several high-major schools. He’s at No. 7 in 2022.
Over half the IMG roster is listed at 6-foot-10 or taller with two 7-footers. Millard North has a lot of height compared to most teams in Nebraska, but the Mustangs will definitely be giving up some height and bulk on Saturday.
Millard North has three players with Division I offers. Hunter Sallis turned some heads when Rivals recently made him a 5-star prospect and the 20th-ranked player in 2021. He’s still 42nd in 247Sports’ composite as the other services haven’t quite caught up yet. In addition to Nebraska, Sallis holds offers from 15 other schools including Gonzaga, Kansas and Creighton. Millard North is going to need him to look every bit the part of a 5-star prospect on Saturday.
Nebraska is the only school to offer Jasen Green at this point, but the 6-foot-7 sophomore will likely draw plenty of attention this summer. He’s come on strong in the second half of the season and Millard North will need a big game from him.
Max Murrell is a 6-foot-9, 200-pound forward committed to Stanford. He’s a terrific athlete and shot-blocker who can step out and hit shots from the perimeter. Murrell will have to find a way to stay out of foul trouble and deal with the bigger bodies IMG will play in the middle.
Two juniors round out Millard North’s staring lineup. Saint Thomas (6-foot-6) has been one of the Metro’s breakout players, averaging 15.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4-3 assists for the Mustangs after playing sparingly as a sophomore. Jadin Johnson is a 6-foot-3 point guard who hasn’t necessarily lit up the scoreboard since transferring from Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln but he’s received some Division I interest.
Sunrise Christian Academy (Kansas) vs. Bishop Walsh (Maryland), 5 p.m.
The other two out-of-sate teams will face off ahead of the Millard North-IMG game.
Sunrise has seven players who hold division I offers led by 2020 point guard Ty Berry, a Northwestern signee and one-time Nebraska target. Kendall Brown is a 5-star 2021 wing from Minnesota who transferred to Sunrise this year. He holds 18 offers including ones from Nebraska and Creighton, though Kansas and others appear to be sitting in the best position with him.
Jayden Stone (2020), Dillon Jones (2020), Zachary Clemence (2021), Willie Lightfoot (2022) and David Oyona (2023) all hold D-I offers as well.
For Bishop Walsh, 2020 Seton Hall pledge Dimingus Stevens leads the way. Jalen Miller and Jordan Rayford, both 2021 guards, hold mid-major offers.
Falls City Sacred Heart vs. Fullerton, 8:30 a.m.
Falls City Sacred Heart is sitting at 22-1 a year after advancing to the Class D-2 state semifinals and is led by senior forward Tyler Witt. Fullerton was a state qualifier in Class D-1 last year as well and returned a pair of double-digit scorers from that team in senior guard Brandon Rasmussen and senior forward Jordan Maxfield.
Yutan vs. Elm Creek, 10:10 a.m.
Yutan is led by a talented trio in junior point guard Brady Timm, senior guard Trey Knudsen (a Morningside commit) and senior forward Colby Tichota (a Midland commit). Fro Elm Creek, junior Trey Miner leads four Buffaloes averaging double digits with 17.4 points per game.
Elkhorn Mt. Michael vs. Kearney, 11:50 a.m.
Center Kaleb Brink is one of the most fundamentally sound post players in the state and is leading the Knights with 15.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Kearney is coached by former Husker Drake Beranek and features Wichita State baseball commit Seth Stroh (14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game) and junior Jack Johnson (12.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game).
Hastings vs. BRLD, 1:30 p.m.
After a 17-0 start, Hastings has lost two of its last three but still has one of the best rosters in Class B led by senior point guard Connor Creech, a Western Nebraska Community College commit. Lucas Vogt is a dynamic junior point guard who runs the show for BRLD (20-0), the reigning Class C-2 state champion.
Ogallala vs. Auburn, 3:15 p.m.
This game features two of the top teams in Class C-1. Carter Brown leads the way for the 16-2 Indians while Cam Binder, a junior guard for Auburn (20-0), is one of the best shooters in the state with a tendency to come up big in the clutch including last season when he led the Bulldogs to a state championship.
Grand Island vs. Grand Island Central Catholic, 8:30 p.m.
The night cap features two home-town teams. Senior forward Them Koang (19.9 points and 10.0 rebounds per game) and stud sophomore Isaac Traudt (17.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game) do the heavy lifting for the Islanders. Central Catholic, coached by Heartland Hoops Classic organizer Tino Martinez, is 18-2. Isaac Herbek, the younger brother of Nebraska football walk-on Jacob Herbek, is second on the team in scoring (11.7 points per game) and first in assists (3.5 per game) as a sophomore while junior Koby Bales (12.5 points per game) leads the way.
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.