GILBERT, Ariz.—The 20th annual Nike Tournament of Champions crowned five new champions Thursday afternoon and there were some new names taking home the hardware from the renowned tournament. Plenty of ranked and established programs were among the competitors making their way to the Valley of the Sun but some upstarts and upsets provided some excitement before all was said and done. Blue Star Media was on hand from start to finish with six different representatives taking in the action. Tony Bleill and Fred Kroner once again have been taking care of the “coverage” side of things and have provided tremendous insight to the daily action in Gilbert. Today they take a look back at all five championship games as well as the third place contest in the highly regarded Joe Smith Division.
Below are links to all of our coverage thus far of the 2016 Nike TOC.
The Clovis West basketball team from Fresno, Calif., had no illusions that it would take home the crown in the top division of the 20th annual Nike Tournament of Champions, arguably the premier high school event in the country.
What a difference four days can make.
Somewhat overlooked coming in – yet carrying a top-10 national ranking by most experts – the Golden Eagles pulled off what they didn’t even think was possible, cruising to the Joe Smith division title with a dominant 67-45 victory Thursday against Miami (Fla.) Country Day.
“At first we were thinking we’d be lucky to be (placed) in the top division,” said guard Madison Campbell, named the tourney’s most outstanding player. “Games went by and we kept winning and it started to get real to us. We started realizing (what we could do).”
They surpassed their own expectations.
“I thought maybe we were going to go 3-1, maybe 2-2,” Clovis West senior Bre’yanna Sanders said. “I didn’t think we would be in the championship, and (especially) beating them by that much.”
The Golden Eagles rolled through the four days, winning by an average margin of nearly 15 points, beating the teams ranked Nos. 4, 5, 9 and 14 in USA Today’s Super 25.
“This means the world,” Campbell said. “We’ve put all of our blood, heart, sweat and tears into this. We go down together, and we go up together. We’re a team, and it just feels unbelievable to be here.”
Campbell led the way Thursday, burying six three-pointers en route to 23 points. And she didn’t even start. The Golden Eagles’ starting five of committed Division I seniors did their usual part, with Sarah Bates scoring 11, Tess Admundsen 10 and Sanders nine. The Golden Eagles opened an 11-point lead in the first half, watched it shrink to two early in the fourth quarter then scored 19 of the next 20 points to put the game away.
“Coming from the (San Joaquin) valley, people are talking ‘mess’ on us all the time,” Sanders said. “This is something we really wanted to accomplish since our freshman year.”
Campbell had a big part in the final, as her perimeter shooting squelched the Spartans’ comeback hopes.
“It’s the first time in a while that I’ve gotten hot this season, and it felt good,” she said. “My teammates were giving me great passes, my coaches kept encouraging me and it just felt great. You can’t doubt yourself; you have to tell yourself it’s going in.”
Meanwhile, the Golden Eagles’ zone defense kept the Spartans’ premier guards in check. The 6-foot-1 Megan Anderson played the top of the zone, keeping tabs on Country Day sharpshooter Kelsey Marshall, who had only one field goal and finished with four points. Backcourt mate Channise Lewis had 11.
Campbell was joined on the Smith division all-tourney team by Bates, Lewis, Marshall, Archibishop Mitty’s Haley Jones, Ariel Johnson of St. Mary’s, Grandview’s Michaela Onyenwere and Alisha Davis, Seton Catholic’s Sarah Barcello, Centennial’s Samantha Thomas and Niya Beverley of St. John’s College.
There are few guarantees in life, but here’s one for the list.
The winner of the John Anderson Division in the 20th Nike Tournament of Champions girls’ basketball extravaganza won’t repeat.
Within minutes of Mesquite’s 60-50 triumph over Incarnate Word, winning coach Candice Gonzales was told by tournament directors the Wildcats would be elevated to the top bracket (Joe Smith Division) in 2017.
“Awesome,” Gonzales said, “but maybe we need to grow some more.”
Only one player on her varsity roster stands taller than 5-foot-9. That’s a varsity roster where underclassmen scored 59 of the team’s 60 points in the finals.
Lack of size hasn’t been a detriment in the past.
“These girls play on Team Arizona (coached by Gonzales and her husband) and we’ve never had a ‘big,’” Candice Gonzales said. “We run and gun and push the tempo. We’ve been able to compete in the club setting.”
And now, there is a post presence within the Mesquite program, which was one of three Arizona sites which hosted the week’s Nike tournament. In June, 6-foot-2 junior Lauren Gustin transferred from Utah.
“Now that we have a ‘big,’ that relieves some pressure on the outside game,” Candice Gonzales said.
Gustin arrived in time to play in three club tournaments with Team Arizona. In Thursday’s championship game, she was one of three double-figure scorers for the Wildcats (15-1).
She scored 17 points. Junior Shaylee Gonzales, a Brigham Young University recruit and the MVP of the John Anderson Division, hit a game-high 20 points, including 10-for-12 accuracy from the free throw line.
Another junior, Lindsey VanAllen, scored 11 points for Mesquite.
The Wildcats were in school, taking final exams, through Wednesday. Shaylee Gonzales thought that being in the normal routine was beneficial for the team.
“It probably helped, going to school, then coming to the game and not having time to mess around,” she said.
Coach Gonzales , whose squad played and won five games in seven days, kept the players on their typical Game Day schedule.
“We didn’t change our routine,” she said.
The week played out perfectly.
“Having our routine, sleeping in our own beds (instead of at a motel), plus all the fans here to cheer us on definitely helped,” Candice Gonzales said.
If there was any concern, it came on Thursday, the first day of Winter Break.
“They got to relax and sleep in,” Candice Gonzales said. “I thought they’d be well-rested. In pre-game, I saw four or five yawns.
“Some of them were Christmas shopping this morning.”
By game time, they were all business.
Incarnate Word (8-2) scored first – on a three-pointer by sophomore all-tournament pick Sonya Morris 13 seconds into the title game.
The Red Knights, from St. Louis, didn’t trail until VanAllen nailed an 18-foot shot at 6:10 of the second quarter, lifting Mesquite into a 15-13 lead.
There was never another lead change. Mesquite’s lead rose as large as 15 points before a flurry of three-pointers by Incarnate Word (five in the final 2:59) allowed the Red Knights to draw as close as eight points in the last minute.
Shaylee Gonzales, who averaged 20.3 points in four tournament games, was satisfied with the outcome, one she was uncertain about when the week began.
“Knowing the competition, I was a little nervous,” she said. “The Nike tournament is so huge. It was such an honor to be in the championship game.
“We’ve worked hard to get where we’re at.”
Incarnate Word’s lone double-digit scorer in the finals was sophomore Kiki Britzmann with 16 points, 13 in the second half.
The Red Knights’ other selection on the 11-player all-tournament team was sophomore Marisa Warren.
Candice Gonzales couldn’t make a postgame choice when asked whether she was happier as a coach or as a mom.
“Both,” she said. “I’m so happy.”
Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland is typically a team that finds itself playing the Joe Smith bracket, which is where it played as recently as 2014.
But this time the Dragons competed in the Mike Desper division, generally considered the third-best grouping in the five-bracket event. They made a good case to return to the Smith division in 2017.
With a starting lineup of one senior, one junior, one sophomore and two freshmen, the Dragons beat Highlands Ranch (Colo.) 54-47 to capture the Desper title.
So long, Desper – hello, Smith.
“I asked to be out of (the top division) this year, but next year I think we’ll be fine in it,” coach Malik McCord said. “I wanted them to continue to grow; I didn’t want them to go up there and get beat up too bad. If we can compete, we’re going to do it. So, yes, we’ll be there.”
Freshman Daylee Dunn, a Blue Star 30, scored 17 points (five three-pointers) to pace the Dragons. Zakiyah Mahoney had 13 and Kayla Hankins – another freshman – added 10. But it was point guard Jada Holland – a sophomore who scored just two points in the final – received the bracket’s Most Outstanding Player award, as determined by the Bishop O’Dowd coaches.
“The girl is consistent,” McCord said. “Probably one of the best defenders I’ve had in a long time. But now she’s running the (point) and running the team. Very effective, very fast, can get to the basket and her midrange is improving as well as her (three-point shot), so now she’s become more difficult to guard.”
After a brilliant start and 18-4 lead, O’Dowd dipped in the second quarter and Highlands Ranch crept within two. But O’Dowd was never seriously threatened in the second half.
“As a young team, we’re always going to have our ups and downs,” Holland said. “But I feel like we stayed together as a team and pushed through it.”
Tori Beck scored 13 points off the bench for the Falcons.
The Sacramento (Cal.) Dragons steamrolled their way into the Derril Kipp Division championship game at the 20th Nike Tournament of Champions.
Coach Michele Massari’s team won its first three tournament games by an average margin of more than 25 points.
In Thursday afternoon’s title game, the Dragons dispatched Woodinville (Wash.) by double digits, registering a 46-34 victory.
That’s the same Sacramento team which brought a season record of 1-4 into the 80-school field.
They head home – to the community where former NBAer Kevin Johnson has been the city’s mayor since 2008 – with a 5-4 record.
In explaining the season’s start, Massari said, “the teams we lost to were very skilled, and we had some injuries.”
Sasha Brown, a senior headed to Long Beach State, is still sidelined. As a junior, she averaged a double-double.
The Dragons’ lineup has had a youthful look.
“In a lot of games, we started five sophomores,” Massari said.
Against Woodinville, which was unbeaten until Thursday, four sophomores started, but all 46 points were scored by players in the 10th grade.
The marquee player was 5-foot-7 point guard RyAnne Walters. She scored 21 of her team’s first 32 points and drained a high school career-high seven three-pointers. Several of her shots were well in excess of the 19-foot, 9-inch three-point line.
“I’ve practiced a lot on my shooting,” Walters said. “I’ve been working to get better.”
Walters played varsity as a freshman, but her role has expanded this season.
“She has learned how to put the team on her back,” Massari said. “It’s job-training as its going. We also have her guard most of the (opposing) team’s best players.
“She is a sophomore was has really stepped up.”
In particular, Walters said this year she is “more tenacious.”
Massari , whose team is chasing a fourth consecutive Metro League championship this season, had to make sure her squad didn’t get discouraged by its 1-4 beginning.
“Part of it is me not freaking out because if I did, they would,” Massari said. “We could have had our heads down, but they did a good job believing there were better things to come.
“I told them to stay steady. They’re so young sometimes they don’t know what they’re doing wrong.”
Woodinville (8-1) held the upper hand early, scoring the first eight points thanks to a pair of three-pointers from junior Regan Schenck and a Schenck-to-Gabby Whalen pass for a layup.
The 8-0 score was at the 5:51 mark of the opening quarter.
Sacramento (5-4) went ahead to stay, 18-17, on a deep three-pointer by Walters with 1:35 left in the first half.
Her trey started a 19-0 run that extended until the 3:18 mark of the third period.
“We used that (season) start as motivation, not a downfall,” said Walters, who was chosen as the Outstanding Player in the Derril Kipp Division. “We came to this (tournament) for a reason.
“This is the first time in a long time we’ve won at the TOC.”
Walters’ prowess from the perimeter is shared by her teammates. Sacramento hit 16 field goals in the title game. Eleven were from three-point range.
Andriana Advent and Rebekah Brown each nailed two three-pointers and contributed eight points apiece.
Schenck led Woodinville with 11 points. Sophomore Madison Dubois scored nine points.
Kylie Fisher literally shows up when it’s time to play basketball.
Her first athletic love is soccer and it’s what she plays year-round. Next year, the Chaparral (Ariz.) High School senior will play soccer in college at Northwestern.
When it comes time for basketball tryouts at Chaparral, however, Fisher is one of the candidates. Coach Brian Porth doesn’t mind that she doesn’t play in the offseason.
“We’re not in the business of running anybody off,” he said.
Truth is, the 5-foot-6 point guard could have played basketball – at some level – had that been her desire for college.
“She has led our state in assists the last two years,” Porth said. “She is a special kid.”
Fisher was the unlikely hero in Chaparral’s riveting 46-42 overtime win against Desert Mountain (Ariz.) on Thursday at Mesquite High School in the Dan Wiley Division championship game in the 20th Nike Tournament of Champions.
In the final minute of OT, with the score tied at 42, Fisher drove the right side of the lane and hit a layup to put the Firebirds ahead to stay.
It was her first, and only, field goal, of the game. Fisher finished with four points, adding a free throw with 9.0 seconds left.
Though her mindset is pass-first, shoot later, Fisher took advantage of her chance.
“I knew that time no one was open and I had to finish it,” she said. “It’s exciting to help the team.”
Thursday’s game was originally scheduled earlier in the four-day tournament, but Porth requested a change in the brackets.
Chaparral and Desert Mountain are each located in Scottsdale, Ariz., a distance about 20 miles from tournament host Mesquite High School.
“We’re in the same school district,” he said. “They’re about 5 miles away.”
It’s a school that is on the Firebirds’ regular-season schedule for early January – at Chaparral – but not one he relished starting out with at the Nike event.
“We wanted to play different competition,” Porth said.
Tournament directors made the change and Chaparral faced schools from Nebraska and California before taking on its hometown rival in the title game.
Chaparral fell behind in the first minute of the finals against Desert Mountain and never collected a lead until senior Makayla Vick hit a baseline shot with 1:26 remaining in regulation, giving the Firebirds a 36-35 edge.
Desert Mountain (9-3) scored the first four points in OT before Chaparral tallied all of the last eight.
If not for 6-of-19 accuracy from the free throw line in the fourth quarter, Chaparral (13-3) could have put the game away without needing the extra 4-minute session.
“Normally, we’ve been good free throw shooters,” Porth said.
Junior Maddie Vick led Chaparral with 17 points. Makayla Vick added 13 after being scoreless until the final 2 minutes of the third stanza.
Desert Mountain, which had two players foul out in the fourth period, was led by junior Rayah Craig’s 16 points. Craig hit the shot which sent the game into OT, scoring on a drive with 4.1 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Chaparral’s improvement in the past year is reflected by the team’s finish in the tournament bracket.
“Last year, we were down two at halftime (in the finals) and lost by 20 or so,” Porth said.
On Thursday, his team trailed, 21-20, at intermission but found a way to get the job done.
“These girls love playing with each other,” Porth said. “They’re always looking to get someone else a good shot.”
Grandview of Aurora, Colo., thumped Stockton St. Mary’s 70-58 in the third-place game behind 22 points from Onyenwere and 21 from Davis. The third member of the Wolves’ dominant frontcourt, Leilah Vigil, added 10.
Both teams were coming off disappointing Wednesday losses. Grandview lost a heartbreaker at the buzzer, while St. Mary’s dropped a hard-fought, high-intensity battle against Clovis West. Grandview clearly bounced back better, as St. Mary’s appeared lethargic and uninspired.
The Wolves bolted to a 15-6 lead and never trailed, repeatedly beating the Rams down the floor for easy baskets.
St. Mary’s star Aquira DeCosta had 17 points but 12 came during a rather meaningless fourth quarter. Neenah Young added 16 and Johnson had 14.