The last week of December every year brings with it holiday basketball tournaments all across the state of Nebraska. The weather impacted some of them (most notably the Heartland Athletics Conference Tournament), but one that went off without a hitch was the Gretna Holiday Tournament at Gretna High School.
The boys side of the tournament featured match-ups between the host Dragons and Elkhorn Mt. Michael on one side of the bracket and Omaha Gross and Aurora on the other side.
Gretna pulled out a hard-fought 60-49 win over the Knights in game one. The Dragons used an 8-0 run in the third quarter to pull ahead 43-33. Mt. Michael responded with six straight to close out the period but Gretna played stall-ball in the fourth to hold onto the lead, shooting 5-of-5 from the field and 7-of-9 from the free-throw line to seal the victory.
The second game was all Huskies as Aurora blew out a young Gross team 70-45. Aurora led 47-16 at halftime and pulled its starters halfway through the third period and Gross followed suit at the end of the quarter, letting their benches play the final eight minutes.
Aurora and Gretna will play in Saturday’s final while Gross and Mt. Michael will play for third place.
Here are five thoughts on Friday’s action.
Strong Point Guard Play
One of the things that stood out to me at Gretna is the point guard play, particularly in the first game but a little int he second as well.
First, for Gretna, senior Tre’ Mikkelsen had a terrific game, picking his spots to score and creating opportunities for his teammates. He finished with 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting (2-of-4 from deep) and hit all five of his free throws including four in the fourth quarter.
Mt. Michael switched back and forth between a 1-3-1 zone and man-to-man on defense, and Mikkelsen did a great job of probing and picking apart both of them. He finished with eight assists while turning the ball over just one time.
On the other side of the ball, Gross transfer Airan Lopez had a strong game as well. The sophomore is small in stature but big in game, scoring 11 points (second on the team) while shooting 3-of-7 from deep. Gretna used a lot of 1-3-1 as well and Lopez found the gaps of the zone and hit some big shots.
Lopez only finished with one assist, but he had a handful of other assist opportunities that didn’t end in made baskets and he only had one turnover which wasn’t even really his fault. Beyond that, he’s constantly communicating with his teammates, directing them to the right spots on both ends of the floor. “Coach on the floor” is an old basketball cliche, but it really does apply to Lopez.
Finally, Aurora senior Baylor Scheierman is one of the flashiest passers in the state. At 6-foot-6, he doesn’t exclusively run the point as he also happens to be the team’s tallest player, but when the ball is in his hands the other four guys have to be ready to get the ball at any moment, no matter where they are on the floor. He finished with four assists, setting up teammate Cade Reichardt — who finished with 17 points and shot 3-of-4 from deep — for some really good looks. One of his best passes was a cross-court dish over the top to the far corner for a Reichardt 3, and that’s not an easy pass to see or make. Scheierman set passing records on the football field as a quarterback, and he’s just as good of a distributor on the basketball court. More on him later.
Gretna A-OK Transitioning Up a Class
The Dragons are still playing a Class B schedule this year, but they've moved up to Class A this season and their schedule will catch up soon. The Dragons are off to a 5-1 start this year, their only loss coming by one point to a salty Bennington squad, and they should be just fine once they make the full jump to Class A.
Gretna looked good on Friday. They’ve got a veteran point guard in Mikkelsen who has four years of varsity experience under his belt. They’ve got a strong interior presence with 6-foot-5 junior Ely Doble who had 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting and 10 rebounds against Mt. Michael. They’ve got one of the better pure shooters in the state in junior wing Hershal Vuksich who finished 3-of-6 from 3 on Friday. They’ve got a few sophomores on the roster with some upside. And right now they’re playing without an injured Clay Frost, a skilled junior combo-guard who could be re-joining the lineup soon.
The best part about all of that is that they have just two seniors — Mikkelsen and back-up guard Landon Graver — which means most of their team will be back next season a year older and a year stronger. Combine that with one of the better coaching staffs in the state in Brad Feeken and defensive coordinator Bill Heard and I don’t expect to see the Dragons fall off any time soon.
Knights Have Bright Future
Mt. Michael gave Gretna a good fight on Friday and they did it down a man as sophomore center Kaleb Brink has been out since suffering an injury in the season-opener. Brink is close to a return and will make the Knights even tougher to deal with thanks to his interior scoring prowess and rebounding.
Seven of the 12 players listed on the varsity roster for Mt. Michael are sophomores — including all five starters — and four others are juniors. They have just one senior on the team.
Sophomore wing Brad Bennett led the way with 15 points on Friday and is a talented scorer, capable of catching fire from the perimeter or using his length to finish around the rim. Sophomore wing Joe Chouinard has a strong frame and a lot of game, and he should only become more impactful as his consistency and aggressiveness improve. Lopez brings a much-needed dynamic to the backcourt with his ball-handling and quickness and sophomore forwards Kyle Pelan and Parker Hottovy are good role players with bring physicality and hustle to the floor.
Add a healthy Brink to that group and you have a team that could be the favorite in Class B the next two years after this senior class cycles through at some of the other Class B powers.
Scheierman Shows off his All-Around Game
I already mentioned Scheierman’s passing above, but the South Dakota State signee also had a double-double with 17 points, 10 rebounds and two steals, and he did it in less than 20 minutes of action.
He wasn’t as efficient as he could of been as he didn’t get a couple calls he probably deserved and he forced a couple of looks that he probably didn’t need to take (but is certainly capable of hitting), but he impacted the game so many different ways with his length.
At 6-foot-6 with vision, handles and improved strength, Scheierman is a match-up nightmare capable of scoring at all three levels, and he was aggressive on the glass as well with four offensive boards and a couple of put-backs. He was the primary defender on Gross’ leading scorer Trey Powers as well, holding him to six points on 2-of-9 shooting in the first half.
Scheimerman isn’t going to be asked to be the leading scorer in Brookings next season, but he can certainly help the Jackrabbits next season with all of the other things he does on the court. I can certainly see why South Dakota State coach TJ Otzelberger was so excited about locking him up earlier and expects him to make an instant impact.
Christian Riha is Relentless
You don’t find many 6-foot five-men in high school basketball, but that is exactly what Gross has in senior Christian Riha. Riha is strong enough to hold his own in the paint despite his lack of height and he’s quick enough to take unsuspecting defenders off the dribble while handling the ball out on the perimeter (he plays center and middle linebacker on the football team). Gross often runs its motion offense through Riha at the top of the key as he is a good passer, and he often defers to others.
But one Friday, with nothing else working, Riha did his best to put the team on his back and finished with a career-high 16 points and 10 rebounds in three quarters of work. He was all over the offensive glass, grabbing six boards on that end, and finished through contact couple of times, using his body to carve out space around the basket. At one point he even busted out a Euro-step into a finger roll.
Things didn't go well for Gross against a much more talented Aurora team, but Riha didn’t let that affect the way he played.
Bonus Take: Hastings Adams Central Scores Elusive Class B Win
The games at Gretna got over shortly after 5 p.m., which gave me enough time to make it across the Metro to Bennington to catch the Badgers take on Adams Central in the Bennington Holiday Tournament.
The Patriots lost their season opener to Aurora by nine and suffered a tough three-point loss to the reining Class B champion York on Dec. 18, but the Class C-1 Patriots finally broke through against Class B competition with a 68-61 win in the Badgers’ Den.
The story of the game was 6-foot-9 junior post Haggan Hilgendorf who finished with a game-high 28 points and nine rebounds. He shot 10-of-18 from the field and 7-of-7 from the charity stripe, showcasing a refined skill set and improved strength from this past summer.
Hilgendorf scored several times in the post, using jump hooks and up-and-unders against aguagd-heavy Bennington line-up. He also stepped away from the paint, knocking down a couple of mid-range jumpers as well as a 3 and putting the ball on the deck a couple of times to finish or draw fouls.
If Hilgendorf continues to play like that and Adams Central gets good guard play from the likes of senior Thomas Hunt (committed to Division III Nebraska Wesleyan), senior Nolan Sughroue and sophomore Cam Foster, they’re going to be a serious factor in their class come March.
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.