This Saturday is one of my favorite days of the year: the annual Heartland Hoops Classic at the Heartland Events Center in Grand Island.
The all-day high school hoops extravaganza showcases some of the best players and teams in Nebraska while also bringing some of the best teams in the country to play within Nebraska’s borders.
I’ll be there on Saturday covering the action like I have for the last seven years. If you’re looking to make the trip out to Grand Island to watch some of the games or want to watch via stream, here’s everything you need to know.
Need to Know
The Heartland Events Center will be open to up to 75% capacity — 3500-4000 people — per session. This year’s event has been split into two sessions, four games in the morning starting at 8 a.m. and four games in the afternoon and night starting at 3:45 p.m.
Tickets are on sale for $12 per session or $20 for a two-session bundle, and children ages 4 and under are free. For those who can’t make it, Striv will be providing a purchasable streaming option for all of the games.
- 8 a.m. — Mullen (16-3) vs. Loomis (17-3)
- 9:40 a.m. — Elkhorn North (7-10) vs. St. Paul (18-1)
- 11:20 a.m. — Logan View/Scribner-Snyder (15-3) vs. Grand Island Northwest (11-6)
- 1 p.m. — Elkhorn Mt. Michael (16-2) vs. Grand Island (10-9)
- 3:45 p.m. — BRLD (13-3) vs. Auburn (17-0)
- 5:30 p.m. — Grand Island Central Catholic (16-3) vs. Lincoln Pius X (13-2)
- 7:15 p.m. — Bellevue West (19-1) vs. Sunrise Christian Academy (Bel Aire, Kansas)
- 9 p.m. — Millard North (19-1) vs. Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Virginia)
Event organizer Tino Martinez always does a great job bringing in some incredibly talented teams to compete either against each other or against Nebraska’s best, and this year is no different.
Sunrise Christian Academy returns for the fifth straight year. The Buffaloes are 3-1 with wins over Papillion-La Vista in 2017, Oak Hill Academy in 2018 and Bishop Walsh in 2020 and a loss to Wasatch Academy in 2019.
Sunrise (17-2) is ranked third in the country behind the two teams it lost to in Montverde Academy and AZ Compass Prep, but the Buffaloes avenged that first loss last Friday by beating Montverde 69-66 in overtime, snapping a 46-game winning streak for the Eagles.
Kennedy Chandler, one of the best point guards in the country and a Tennessee commit, is ranked 13th overall in the 247Sports 2021 Composite and runs the show for the Buffaloes. Baylor commit Kendall Brown (a 6-foot-8 senior ranked 15th in 2021) and 2022 4-star Gradey Dick fill the wings while Kansas commit Zach Clemence (No. 39) and Minnesota commit Kenny Pohto (No. 145) both have the ability to play inside and step out and shoot from the perimeter.
Jaylon McDaniel, an East Tennessee State commit, and Willie Lightfoot, a 2022 point guard with offers from Marquette, Alabama and Oregon, are two others to keep any eye on.
Sunrise will take on No. 22 (and No. 1 in Nebraska) Bellevue West — led by Wisconsin commit Chucky Hepburn at the point and Omaha commit Frankie Fidler on the wing — in the penultimate game of the day.
The nightcap includes No. 16 Oak Hill Academy (14-6), who is 1-2 at the Heartland Hoops Classic. The Warriors beat Omaha South in 2015 but lost to Omaha Central in 2013 and Sunrise Christian in 2018.
MJ Rice, a 6-foot-5 junior is ranked 22nd overall in the 2022 class and holds offers from Louisville, Pittsburgh, NC State, Ole Miss and Boston College. Seniors Camryn Carter (6-foot-3, No. 127 in 2021) and Jalen Ricks (6-foot-6, No. 195 in 2021) both hold several Division I offers as well.
Oak Hill will face No. 24 Millard North led by 5-star guard Hunter Sallis, uncommitted senior wing Saint Thomas, Old Dominion commit Jadin Johnson and junior Jasen Green, who holds several high-major offers. Millard North put up a good fight before falling to IMG Academy 74-69 in last year’s Classic.
However, before all of Saturday’s festivities, Oak Hill and Sunrise Christian are going to face off against each other on Friday night at 7 p.m. at Hastings College. That game will be streamed as well and tickets are on sale. The Buffaloes beat the Warriors 84-66 last Thursday.
The first game of the day features two of the best teams in Nebraska’s smallest class, D2. Loomis features one of the best shooters in the state in junior guard Quinn Johnson who is averaging better than 23 points and seven rebounds while shooting better than 40% from 3 on high volume.
Game two includes the newest Class B school Elkhorn North — in its inaugural year — against one of the top teams in Class C1. Elkhorn North junior guard Brandon Orgilbold is one of the top scorers in Class B and a terrific athlete. St. Paul senior Tommy Wroblewski, a Wyoming football commit, is a pretty darn good basketball player as well.
Ashland-Greenwood was scheduled to take part in the event, but COVID-19 issues popped up and Logan View/Scribner-Snyder filled the open spot to take on the Grand Island Northwest Vikings. Senior big man Garrett Kriete is a double-double machine for Logan View/Scribner-Snyder.
The final game of the session pits one of the top teams in Class B in Elkhorn Mt. Michael against a Class A team in Grand Island. The Knights lost at Omaha Concordia on Tuesday — their first loss of the season to a Nebraska team — but has a strong core of seniors led by big man Kaleb Brink and guards Brad Bennett (a Concordia-Nebraska commit) and Joe Chouinard (a University of Dallas commit). On Monday, Grand Island junior Isaac Traudt set a school record with 57 points, tying the Class A single-game scoring record. Traudt holds offers from Nebraska, Creighton and a whole host of others including Kansas and Virginia.
The first game of the afternoon session pits two two-time reigning state champions against each other. BRLD has won the last two Class C2 titles while Auburn has won the last two C1 titles and is riding a 53-game winning streak. BRLD stud senior point guard Lucas Vogt and Auburn senior Cam Binder (a UNK commit) played together this summer and are two of the best guards in the state. Vogt is a dynamic athlete with great vision while Binder is one of the best 3-point shooters to come around in a while. The game also features a pair of talented forwards in BRLD’s Dylan Beutler and Auburn’s Dan Frary.
The second game of the second sessions features 2020 Class C2 runner-up Grand Island Central Catholic, coached by Tino Martinez, and the best team in Lincoln in the Pius X Thunderbolts. The Crusaders returned almost their entire roster from last year and have terrific balance led by 6-foot-9 senior center Dei Jengmer. Fred Hoiberg’s senior win sons Sam and Charlie Hoiberg are the top scorers while junior forward Sam Hastreiter is a Division I prospect.
The two showcase games will close out the day’s action.
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.