On Saturday, the Heartland Events Center in Grand Island played host to the 11th annual Heartland Hoops Classic, and this year’s field was bigger and better than ever before.
The event, organized by Grand Island Central Catholic coach Tino Martinez, included some of the best teams from multiple classes throughout the state and also brought in two of the best teams in the country for the main event.
Five of the eight match-ups included future Husker athletes.
The first game of the day, tipping off bright and early at 9 a.m., had Yutan and 2018 football preferred walk-on commit Colton Feist taking on South Loup. The game was Feist’s first time playing in an arena of that size.
“I’ve never played in an event center like this,” Feist said. “It was a new experience, but pretty fun. Quite a few fans.”
Behind a strong outing by Feist, the Chieftains pulled out a 57-48 win.
Yutan jumped out to an early lead, but South Loup stormed back into the game and kept it close throughout.
South Loup took the lead midway through the third quarter, but Feist took over with a pair of buckets and then an assist to give the Chieftains the lead once again. His strong play continued into the fourth, but South Loup refused to go away, pulling within one at 49-48. However, the Chieftains closed the game on an 8-0 run to secure the victory.
Feist finished with a game-high 18 points with 14 of them coming in the second half including eight in the final frame.
He notched a double-double with double-digit rebounds and made plays for his teammates as well. He did all that while chasing around South Loup’s best player, Cade Connell, a sharp-shooter with more than 1,500 career points. Connell finished with 13 points.
“That’s what it’s been like lately just because we’ve been running out bigger lineups,” Feist said. “It just makes more sense for our other bigs to guard the other big people; they’re a little taller too.”
At 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, Feist showed off his athleticism, face-guarding Connell and limiting his touches throughout the game. Feist’s tremendous motor on the gridiron translates just as well to the basketball court as his hustle alone made a big impact on the game.
“I kind of just let the defense lead into offense,” Feist said. “You’ve got to be in good shape, I guess.”
Feist said he’s enjoying his senior year, but he’s looking forward to getting on campus this summer.
“I’m pretty excited to get to work down there too,” Feist said. “I think I’m going to be going down there in June. It’ll be fun.”
Another 2018 preferred walk-on commit, Wyatt Liewer, led his O’Neill Eagles against Hastings St. Cecilia in the second game of the day.
Points were at a premium as the Eagles failed to connect on all eight of their first-half 3-point attempts, allowing St. Cecilia to pull ahead 26-18 at the break.
O’Neill’s poor shooting continued into the third quarter, but St. Cecilia shot the lights out. The Bluehawks knocked down six of their 10 3s in the period to take a 46-29 lead into the fourth.
St. Cecilia maintained its lead throughout the fourth quarter. O’Neill pulled as close as 10 on a 3-pointer by Liewer with 1:20 to go, but St. Cecilia held on to win 65-51.
Liewer finished with 10 points and four rebounds. His length and athleticism jumped off the court and its easy to see why Nebraska wanted him as a wide receiver.
Even with the loss the Eagles are still 18-2 and right near the top of the Class C-1 standings and are poised to make a run in March.
“I think we’re pretty confident going into the postseason,” Liewer said. “We’ve had a couple tough losses to some good teams but we’ve learned from it and I think it made us better.”
Playing in the Heartland Events Center should be a good experience for the Eagles as they prepare for a run in the state tournament.
“It’s awesome,” Liewer said. “It’s pretty cool. It’s a little different than back home in our little tiny gym but there were a lot of people.”
Looking ahead, Lewer, who committed to Nebraska in mid-December, said he’s excited by the way the walk-on class came together.
“I think it’s looking pretty awesome,” Liewer said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys coming in that want to work hard and get better and change the program around so it should be good.”
The third game of the day was a showdown between Class A’s Omaha South and one of the best in Class B in York. Garrett Snodgrass, a 2019 Nebraska football commit, starts for the Dukes while Simon Otte, one of Nebraska’s newest 2018 preferred walk-on commits, comes off the bench.
The Packers got off to a quick start, but York stormed back to take a 17-11 lead after one and and the Dukes rolled the rest of the game.
Snodgrass finished with 13 points and showed off a variety of skills, finishing inside, knocking down a couple of free-throws and even splashing a 3. Otte, whose biggest impact comes on the defensive side of the ball, chipped in six points.
Game five involved 2018 football preferred walk-on commit Joseph Johnson and the Gretna Dragons taking on Ponca. Both teams left their offenses at home, however, as Gretna fell 34-33 on a game-winner by Ponca senior Connor Day.
Johnson, the team’s leading scorer on the season, finished with six points.
Grand Island Central Catholic, the host team for the event, beat a short-handed Winnebago squad 67-61 behind 24 points from senior Mayra Almayra.
Game six was a clash between two of the best in Class B as Omaha Skutt held on to beat Aurora 73-68 behind 18 points from senior Austin Ash.
In the headline event, Sunrise Christian Academy (Bel Air, Kansas) handed Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Virginia) its first loss of the season thanks to a 10-0 start to the fourth quarter that broke a two-point game wide open. The Buffaloes won 76-65.
The game featured players committed to the likes of Kentucky, Oregon and Florida with a number of above-the-rim plays.
The nightcap featured the only Husker who is planning to play basketball at Nebraska as 2018 signee Brady Heiman and the Platteview Trojans took on the Crete Cardinals.
Crete took a 28-27 lead into halftime, but Platteview pulled ahead 43-40 after three. The Cardinals tied the game at 44-all in the fourth.
Then the 6-foot-11 Heiman took over. Platteview went on a 12-2 run with Heiman scoring eight points and assisting a teammate’s layup.
“I think at any point I’m the best player on the floor,” Heiman said. “It was time for me to do my thing.”
Heiman, who by his own admission had a rough first half as he missed a number of shots around the basket, showed a variety of skills during the fourth quarter. He finished inside, snatched a shot attempt out of the air for a block, knocked down a 15-foot-jumper and hit a number of free throws to seal the victory.
Platteview cruised to the finish line to improve to 20-2 on the season. The Trojans look to be a strong contender for the Class B state championship behind Heiman and Wayne State signee Nate Thayer despite losing third-leading scorer Rayshon Hovaldt to a torn ACL.
“Our first game without Rayshon was York and that was our first loss,” Heiman said. “I think every game without him we’re getting better as a team. We’d still love to have him back. It’s hard to miss a player like that.”
Heiman finished with a game-high 21 points, seven rebounds and two blocks against Crete and in the process he broke the school record for career rebounds with 886.
“I think the guy who had it before me only played two seasons, so it means I’m slacking,” Heiman said about the record.
Heiman is following the current Huskers run through the Big Ten closely, and is looking forward to being part of the program next year.
“It’s fun to watch them right now,” Heiman said. “You’ve got [Isaac] Copeland and [James] Palmer, it seems like one of them is going off every game. [Isaiah] Roby had a great game [against Rutgers], had a monster dunk. They’re fun to watch right now and it’s fun looking forward to it.”
The 11th annual Heartland Hoops Classic proved to be a terrific stage not only for high school basketball but for a number of future Huskers as well.
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.