The fall sports season for high school sports is officially in the books, and that means it’s time for basketball. The high school hoops season gets underway on Thursday and with two Nebrasketball commits and two other targets in-state, Husker fans have more reason than ever to follow along with the action.
With that in mind, Hail Varsity will bring you high school basketball coverage all season long beginning with a look at some of the top teams and players to watch this season.
Omaha Creighton Prep
All four of the current Nebraska targets play for Class A teams.
Akol Arop, a 2019 forward who signed with the Huskers on Nov. 14, attends Omaha Creighton Prep, the reigning Class A champion. At 6-foot-5 and 190 pounds, Arop led a 26-1 Junior Jays squad in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots but is the only starter back for Coach Josh Luedtke.
Outside of Arop, the Junior Jays will rely heavily on senior guard Thomas Faber, who missed most of his first season at Prep after transferring from Dowling Catholic in West Des Moines, Iowa, and sitting out per NSAA rules, then suffering a wrist injury after playing just 12 games. Faber is a knockdown 3-point shooter who also has the ability to make plays for others and he has received offers from most of the Division II schools in the area.
The roster is stacked with length and shooting with seniors CJ Wolfe and Louis Hacker, junior Spencer Schomer and sophomore Mai’Jhe Wiley while senior Sam Pickering and sophomore AJ Rollins add depth inside. A big key for the Junior Jays will be replacing the production of Jaylin Hunter, the son of former Nebraska assistant Kenya Hunter who moved with his dad to Connecticut. Senior Robert Peters is small in stature but played very well in June and during fall league and will get the first crack at the job.
The Junior Jays open the season at home against Norfolk.
Lincoln North Star
Donovan Williams, a 2020 guard, is the other local player who has already committed to Nebraska. The junior put up over 18 points a game last season but the Navigators finished 12-13 on the year. This year, Williams is looking to lead a new-look roster to the postseason.
At 6-foot-5, Williams plays a lot of point guard for coach Tony Quattrochi and presents a difficult match-up for defenses with his size, athleticism and skill. He’ll have to up his efficiency as well as his production in non-scoring categories.
Josiah Allick, a 6-foot-7 senior forward, is one of the more improved players in the state from last year and forms a strong one-two punch with Williams. Allick is the older brother of 2022 Nebraska volleyball commit Bekka Allick and is a terrific athlete in his own right who plays hard all the time. Sophomore wing Kwat Abdelkarim is a crafty scorer while junior Luke Juracek is a floor spacer. Junior Jared Lopez and senior Julian Best add depth in the frontcourt.
The Navigators open the season at Omaha Westside on Thursday night and Hail Varsity will be in the house for that game.
Chucky Hepburn, a 2021 point guard who holds an offer from Nebraska, runs the show for last year’s runner-up in Bellevue West which enters this season as most people’s early favorite in Class A because of all the pieces that return. Hepburn is a 6-foot guard who averaged almost 14 points and five assists as a freshman and looks to have taken a big leap forward heading into his sophomore season under Coach Doug Woodard.
Hepburn’s backcourt partner in Nico Felici is back for his senior year and is capable of going off for 20-plus in any game. Bellevue West has the height to match up with most teams with 6-foot-7 senior Deng Jal and 6-foot-8 junior John Shanklin in the middle in addition to length and athleticism on the wings with juniors Nate Sullivan and Louis Fidler. Senior guard Jacob Coldanghise will give the team a boost when he returns from the injury that cost him most of the football season.
Bellevue West opens the season with a tough road trip to Kearney onThursday night.
The final local player with a Nebraska offer is Hunter Sallis, a 6-foot-3 sophomore wing at Millard North. Sallis also holds offers from Drake, Ole Miss, Creighton and Iowa State.
The Mustangs finished a disappointing 12-12 last season and lost a big-time scorer in Nick Ferrarini to graduation, but expectations are high for this squad thanks in large part to the development of some younger players like Sallis.
Sallis will play on and off the ball for Millard North, initiating offense at times while also spotting up or cutting off the ball at others. The Mustangs should be strong at the point guard position with senior Jake Rueschhoff, a very good shooter and smart passer and sophomore Skutt transfer Adam Parra, once he’s eligible to play.
Inside, the Mustangs have as much upside as any team in the state. Max Murrell, a 6-foot-7 junior, holds an offer from Kansas City and is a tremendous shot-blocker who is developing as a scorer and should be more involved in the offense this season with his ability to score both inside and out. Next to Murrell is 6-foot-5 freshman Jasen Green, arguably the most intriguing player in the 2022 class.
Unfortunately, senior forward Bret Porter, the team’s leading returning scorer and son of former Husker football player Budge Porter, tore his ACL in June.
The Mustangs open the season at Lincoln Southwest on Thursday night if any Husker hoop heads in Lincoln are interested in getting a look at Sallis.
Best of the Rest
All four of the above teams should be in the mix for state tournament berths, but there are several others that figure to be in that mix as well.
Omaha Central has the look of a top-five team thanks to a strong returning core headlined by senior wing John Tonje whose skill set has really expanded over the last year. Tonga can shot from the perimeter, put the ball on the deck to create his own shot and finish above the rim. He could be among Class A’s leading scorers this year. Long-time point guard Roman Behrens is gone but that should provide more opportunity for junior Max Polk to blossom as the team’s point guard while Latrell Wrightsell Jr. should be one of the better 3-and-D guards in the state.
Omaha Bryan lost do-everything star Tre Crawford but bring almost everyone else back. The Bears will need more consistent production out of dynamic combo-guard Javen Udofia to replace some of Crawford’s production. Jerome Wallace is one of the better 3-point shooters in the Metro while Will Grixby brings the energy at the point of attack. Forwards Sam Gregory and Antione Curtis have good chemistry together and crash the glass hard.
Kearney has a strong front court led by 6-foot-7 Liberty signee Shiloh Robinson, who missed his entire junior season with injury, and 6-foot-4 junior Seth Stroh, who stepped up in Robinson’s absence and had a strong sophomore season. Senior Carson Schwarz is steady at the point guard position, but the Bearcats, coached by former Husker Drake Beranek, will need someone to emerge on the wing to help replace the 22.6 points per game that Kanon Koster took with him when he graduated.
If Omaha Westside can develop a supporting cast around its core of seniors and juniors, the Warriors will be a tough out this season. Junior guard Jadin Booth is one of the best pure scorers in the state and holds an offer from Omaha while senior forward Chase Thompson transformed his body over the offseason and is poised for a big final season at Westside. PJ Ngambi is another talented junior at the point guard position who is looking to have a breakout year. Freshman guard Chandler Meeks is a player to watch in the 2021 class and should either be Westside’s fifth starter or sixth man right away.
Omaha South is led by a deep and dynamic backcourt and is coached by Bruce Chubick Sr. with his son, former Husker Bruce Chubick Jr., also on the bench. Senior Ta’Vion Anderson and junior Ty Griggs are both electric athletes while junior Jay Saunders is a skilled offensive player who stuffs the stat sheet at the point guard position. Millard North transfer Skyler Wilson and former home school student John Forget add depth in the backcourt while RaShawn McNeal-Lee is a terrific rebounder in the middle at 6-foot-4.
Lincoln Southwest has a well-rounded roster with size, athleticism, toughness and skill with Alex Bahe leading the charge from the bench. Mayuom Buom, a 6-foot-9 center, is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential and should have a breakout year. Creighton baseball commit Cameron Fredrick is a heady player at the point guard position and a group of football players including Nebraska walk-on target Nick Leader, TaeVyn Grixby and Caden McCormack provide physicality and athleticism to the lineup.
Other Players to Watch:
>> Elkhorn South: 2019 guard Jace Piatkowski (son of former Husker and NBA player Eric Piatkowski) and 2021 point guard Preston Murphy Jr. (son of Creighton assistant coach Preston Murphy Sr. who holds offers from Buffalo and UNLV)
>> Lincoln East: 2019 forward Wes Dreamer (Northwest Missouri State signee)
>> Papillion La-Vista South: 2019 forward Lok Wur; 2020 guard Jared Mattley
>> Omaha Burke: 2020 guard Xavier Watts (Nebraska football target); 2021 guard Jaren Marshall
>> Omaha North: 2020 guard Wal Chuol
>> Norfolk: Luke Kluver (Nebraska golf commit)
Traditional powers Elkhorn South and Gretna have moved up to Class A, but Class B still looks to be strong at the top, especially with Lincoln Pius X dropping back down.
The Thunderbolts suffered a tough blow when point guard Joe Dworak tore his ACL early in the football season, but there is still a lot of talent on that roster led by do-it-all senior guard Charlie Easley. Easley is a three-level scorer who can make plays for others. Junior sharp-shooter Kolbe Rada will be counted on to fill in for Dworak at the point guard spot alongside Easley. Austin Jablonski, a terrific dual-threat quarterback on the giridiron, is undersized inside but still finds a way to produce.
York won the Class B title last season and brings a lot back from that squad led by Northern State basketball commit Brady Danielson (who also holds a Nebraska football walk-on offer). Point guard Jeb Lucas and swing Reid Hoffmann both played significant roles on last season’s title team and are back for their senior season. However, Nebraska football commit Garrett Snodgrass is a huge part of York’s success and his status is up in the air because of a football injury.
Omaha Skutt had a fourth-quarter lead over York in the championship game last season before the Dukes pulled off the comeback, but the SkyHawks have the pieces to make it back to that game once again this season. Junior Tyson Gordon is a dynamic athlete at the point guard position, senior Jake Kudron is capable of lighting it up from deep and senior TJ Skradski offers size inside at 6-foot-6.
Best of the Rest
Bennington lost some key pieces from last year’s final four team including basically its whole frontcourt, but the Badgers have a deep group of guards including one of the better one-two punches in Class B in seniors Karson Gansebom, a sharp-shooter, and Cooper Prososki, a versatile southpaw.
Omaha Roncalli is another guard-heavy team led by multi-sport senior stud Alex Rodgers who holds a baseball offer from Nebraska. Junior Taiden Red can catch fire in a hurry and has deep range and junior Shane Orr is tough around the basket. Junior point guard Jack Dotzler tied Rodgers for the team lead in scoring last season while also dishing out almost six assist per game but he will miss the first month or so after breaking his arm during the football playoffs.
Elkhorn Mt. Michael will start five talented sophomores in guards Brad Bennett, Joe Chouinard and Airan Lopez (a transfer from Omaha Gross), skilled 6-foot-4 center Kaleb Brink and glue guy Parker Hottovy. The Knights should be a factor this season but have an even brighter future looking ahead to next season.
Seward is one of the tallest teams in the state, starting four guys 6-foot-4 or taller. Longwood signee Nate Lliteras is the team’s best player, a 6-foot-7 forward who can shoot from deep as well as play above the rim.
Fresh off a record-setting season on the gridiron, South Dakota State signee Baylor Scheierman is back on the basketball court and will look to lead the Huskies back to state without running mate Henry Penner. Scheierman is a 6-foot-6 point guard who averaged almost seven assists per game as a junior but will have to take on a larger scoring role this season. Concordia commit Cade Reichardt should be Aurora’s second option after putting up almost 10 points per game playing off of Penner and Scheierman last season.
Other Players to Know
>> 2019 Wahoo forward Winston Cook (Nebraska-Kearney commit)
>> 2020 Hastings point guard Connor Creech
>> 2020 Scottsbluff guard Jasiya DeOllos
>> 2020 Ponca wing Carter Kingsbury
>> 2020 Riverside guard Tredyn Prososki
>> 2020 Johnson-Brock wing Ty Hahn
>> 2020 Lincoln Christian forward Justin Bubak
>> 2021 Johnson-Brock guard Kaden Glynn
>> 2021 Auburn guard Cameron Binder
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.