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 holidays and weather made sure that each of the four teams we focus on here got just one game in last week. The three Metro teams pulled out wins but Lincoln North Star dropped a tough one on Saturday.
2019 Forward Akol Arop (Omaha Creighton Prep)
I caught up with Arop after his game on Saturday, so check out that story for an extended look at Arop’s performance and his thoughts on the season so far. For those of you that aren’t premium subscribers, however, he came alive after halftime to lead top-seeded Creighton Prep to a 76-70 overtime win over No. 16 Omaha Benson in the first round of the Metro Holiday Tournament.
Arop picked up two early fouls and only scored four points in the first half but he went off in the second to finish with a game-high 22 points on 10-of-13 from the field and 2-of-4 from the free-throw line. He grabbed a season-low three rebounds, but both teams shot over 55 percent from the field so there weren’t too many boards to go around. He turned the ball over three times but blocked two shots and grabbed one steal.
The Metro Holiday Tournament will continue at the Ralston Arena with the quarterfinals on Wednesday. The Junior Jays will face No. 8 seed Omaha South at 3:30 p.m. after the Packers blew out Millard West on Saturday. The semifinals will follow on Thursday with the final set for Friday.
2020 Guard Donovan Williams (Lincoln North Star)
North Star uses Hudl Assist for its statistics and Hudl is on break for the holidays, which explains last week’s lack of box score as well as this week’s. Things should be back on schedule starting on Wednesday. Unfortunately, the Navigators fell to Grand Island 48-43 in the play-in round of the Heartland Athletic Conference Tournament.
North Star did play a consolation game against Lincoln Southeast on Monday and Williams finished with 29 points and seven 3-pointers, tying the school record for 3s in a game.
— Jacob Padilla (@JacobPadilla_) January 1, 2019
Next up for the Gators is a rematch with Lincoln Northeast on Saturday. North Star won the first meeting 75-46.
2021 Point Guard Chucky Hepburn (Bellevue West)
The second-seeded Thunderbirds took on No. 15 Papillion-La Vista in the nightcap of the Metro Tournament’s first round on Saturday and Bellevue West smothered the young Monarchs with their defense, forcing 21 turnovers in a 66-46 win.
Hepburn finished with 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting (1-of-3 from 3) and 2-of-2 from the line with seven steals (picking the pocket of Papio’s point guard a handful of times), five rebounds, four assists and three turnovers. Hepburn showed off his athleticism with two fast break dunks, elevating to throw down with both hands.
The T-Birds will take on No. 7 Omaha Bryan after the Bears survived an upset bid by Elkhorn South thanks to a game-winning 3-pointer by senior guard Javen Udofia. Tipoff on Wednesday is set for 8:45 p.m.
2021 Wing Hunter Sallis (Millard North)
The spectacular sophomore woke up a little under the weather on Wednesday morning but played through it and tied Bret Porter for the team lead with 17 points in a 62-52 win against Omaha North.
Sallis shot 7-of-10 from the field and 3-of-7 from the line, though he missed his only attempt from deep.Sallis dished out three assists, grabbed two steals and a board and only turned the ball over twice.
Porter also shot 7-of-10 from deep and grabbed 10 rebounds for his best performance yet after returning from a torn ACL he suffered in June. With Sallis playing the way he has been and Porter getting back to full strength, the Mustangs have two legitimate No. 1 scoring options and should be taught to beat the rest of the way.
The Mustangs will take on Omaha Central in the Metro quarterfinals on Wednesday at 5:15. The Eagles pulled off a come-from-behind 68-65 win against Millard North when the two teams met earlier in the season.
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.