The 2022-23 high school basketball season tipped off this week with various mini-tournaments, invitationals and pods.
One of those events was a four-team pod including Millard North, Lincoln Southwest, Elkhorn South and Fremont.
On Thursday, Millard North blew out Fremont 72-50 while Lincoln Southwest ran away from Elkhorn South, 79-58. That set the stage for a pair of games on Saturday with ELkhorn South serving as host.
First in the consolation, the Storm bounced back from the opening-night loss to blow out Fremont, 81-51.
The in the winners game, Millard North pulled ahead and held on to beat Lincoln Southwest 81-74.
On a Roll
Millard North returned just one starter from its title-winning team in sharp-shooting junior Neal Mosser. The Mustangs returned just one reserve who played significant minutes in junior guard Elijah Gaeth.
This is essentially a brand new Mustang team, complete with a new coach as Tim Cannon retired during the offseason. The story for this team through one week of play is sophomore Derek Rollins. The 6-foot-4 forward followed up a 22-point, seven rebound opener with 22 points and eight rebounds on Saturday.
Rollins did all of his damage against an undersized Fremont squad inside, shooting 10-of-15 all on shots inside the arc. He again showed prowess in the paint against the Silver Hawks, but he also stepped out and showed off his range. Rollins shot 8-of-10 including 2-of-2 from deep and knocked down four of his five free-throw attempts. His most impressive play was a tip-slam, however, as he flew in out of nowhere to throw it down after a teammate’s missed 3-pointer.
Rollins is physical in the paint, he crashes the offensive glass hard and he has tremendous length. He’ll be one to keep an eye on over the next three years.
Rollins wasn’t the only 20-point scorer, however. Gaeth, a 6-foot-3 guard, led everyone with 26 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three steals. He’s a big, crafty guard who is taking over for the departed David Harmon as the team’s primary backcourt playmaker. Gaeth still has some things to iron out as he settles into his expanded role (he shot 9-of-21 largely because he went 0-for-6 from deep), but he has considerable upside.
The Mustangs got 12 points on 4-of-8 3-point shooting from Mosser while Elkhorn North transfer Paxon Piatkowski (the son of former Husker Troy Piatkowski and nephew of Eric Piatkowski) chipped in eight points including a couple of 3s off the bench.
Length for Days
Lincoln Southwest’s starting lineup includes 6-foot-1 senior Rylan Smith, 6-foot-6 senior Lukas Helms, 6-foot-6 sophomores Chuck Love and Braden Frager and 6-foot-8 junior Bhan Buom. That group is going to give a lot of teams problems.
The Silver Hawks can switch everything without giving up a size advantage while in man-to-man and thy can throw out a variety of zones including a 1-3-1 that can be difficult to deal with because of the length they can throw out there. We saw dunks from Buom, Helms and Love on Saturday, and Frager is more than capable of dropping the hammer on somebody as well.
Love picked up a few Division I offers over the summer and is continuing to grow physically while expanding his game. He didn’t shoot the ball particularly well on Saturday, but he converted some impressive shots at the basket, using his handles to get by his man and his length to extend and finish at the rim. He finished with a team-high 23 points on 11-of-19 shooting with five boards.
Buom had 15 points and four boards while Helms, the son of former Nebraska coach Connie Yori, recorded a double-double with 14 points, 10 rebounds and four steals while shooting 8-for-9 at the foul line. Smith backed up a 12-point, 12-assist performance in the opener (tying his own single-game school record for assists) with 12 points and five assists, though he also spent much of the game on the bench with significant foul trouble.
The Silver Hawks battled right to the end after falling behind midway through the fourth quarter, but ultimately 1-of-10 from deep and 18 turnovers was too much for them to overcome. Millard North knocked down nine 3-pointers and gave the ball away three fewer times, so although the Silver Hawks outscored Millard North in the paint and at the charity stripe, it wasn’t enough to overcome the 3-point disparity.
Millard North shot 5-of-8 from deep in the third quarter to build a seven-point lead heading into the fourth and the Silver Hawks weren’t able to climb all the way out of that hole in the final eight minutes.
Elkhorn South had a rough first game as the Silver Hawks’ length gave them all sorts of problems, but they bounced back with an impressive performance against an out-manned Fremont team.
Seniors Alec Noon and Evan Werner combined to outscore Fremont 40-31 by themselves, and the duo only played two-and-a-half quarters.
Noonan, the twin brother of Nebraska football commit Maverick Noonan and son of former Husker Danny Noonan, scored a game-high 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting (4-of-4 from deep) including a three-point play. He also grabbed five rebounds and three steals. Noonan is committed to Midland University in Fremont and is a very talented player who can score the ball at all three levels, as he showed on Saturday.
Werner is a knock-down shooter from anywhere on the floor and showed that against the Tigers, finishing with 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting (4-of-6 from 3) and 3-of-3 free-throw shooting with six rebounds and three steals. He missed a lot of practice time in the fall after undergoing surgery at the end of the summer, but he didn’t show any rust against Fremont, hitting back-to-back right corner 3s to open the second half and trigger the running clock.
Noonan and Werner are part of an all-senior starting five for the Storm, who are looking to develop depth with an inexperienced bench. Sophomore Lincoln Schwarz and junior Davis Estill provided a spark on Saturday, scoring seven points apiece in an efficient manner and combing for eight rebounds and three assists.
Fremont is an undersized team without much varsity experience, and if the Tigers are going to have any success this year it will likely be a result of the team catching fire from 3.
Fremont will likely struggle to generate a big volume of quality looks inside the arc, but it does have some kids who have the ability to get hot and bomb away from 3, most notably junior Jadyn Cascio Jensen and freshman Coriahnn Gallatin. Fremont shot 5-of-23 from deep on Saturday, which is why they lost by 50, but they’ll have better days.
The Tigers had five freshmen or sophomores in their rotation on Saturday. I mentioned Gallatin, one of the best players in his class who played up at the 15U level last summer with Nebraska Supreme on the Under Armour Association. He is a dynamic ball-handler and a good passer with the ability to hit tough jumpers off the bounce. He only scored six points while shooting 2-of-5 from 3 on Saturday, but he put up 12 points and shot 4-of-8 from deep in his varsity debut against Millard North.
Maurice Bryant, a sophomore guard, was the only Tiger in double figures against the Storm with 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting (2-of-4 from 3). He scored 12 points on 4-of-6 from the field (2-of-3 from 3) and 2-of-2 for the foul line in the opener. With Bryant and Gallatin, coach Mark Williams has a backcourt he can build around for the next few years.
Around the Metro and Beyond
Other Class A teams that went 2-0 to win their pods include Gretna, Lincoln East, Lincoln North Star, Bellevue West, Lincoln High. Omaha Burke and Omaha Central also went 2-0 to advance to Monday’s OPS Invitational final.
Micheal Etzelmiller at Millard North, Adam Brill at Lincoln Pius X, J.J. Zumbrennen at Elkhorn South, Lee Steinbok at Lincoln North Star, Bruce Chubick Jr. at Omaha Central, Will Pope at Papillion-La Vista and Nick Thompson at Elkhorn are all first-time head varsity coaches who scored their first win (or wins) this week. Thad Perry, the second-year coach at Omaha Northwest, also earned his first victory after a winless first season but outlasting Omaha South in overtime on Saturday.
Congrats to all of these coaches and their programs.
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.