GILBERT, Ariz.—Wednesday’s action in the 21st annual Nike Tournament of champions saw the winner’s side of each bracket pared down to just four remaining teams. Those results set up an exciting slate of semifinal match-ups Thursday leading ultimately to five championship contests on Friday.
To see who’s still in the hunt for the most coveted scholastic basketball prize well as complete brackets, results and schedule, follow the link below.
In yesterday’s Blue Star Media Nike TOC coverage, we took a look at some “under the radar” or emerging prospects and their Tuesday performances. To look back at on those individual’s Day One efforts, click on the following link.
Today we zero in on the stars who shined bright on the big stage. It’s easy to stand out against local opponents but it’s the elite who rise to the challenge of National competition. Kevin Lynch offers up a perspective on three teams that caught his eye while Travis Ponton and I share our views on some athletes who provided some impressive moments and strong play Wednesday in Gilbert.
Check back with Blue Star Media again tomorrow for more coverage from the 21st annual Nike Tournament of Champions.
Riverdale Baptist Head Coach Mike Bozeman is an experienced and veteran coach who has seen a lot of basketball. As a first year coach with seven new players there is a transition period of getting to know them and vice versa. To be clear, no one is offering up any sympathy as several of the players are high profile with All-American potential including 6-5 Maryland recruit Shakira Austin and 5-11 do everything Baylor bound guard Honesty Scott-Grayson. Facing a deliberate and disciplined Archbishop Wood team in round one and a five out, talent laden Sacred Heart team in round two, Riverdale managed to survive both opponent’s late rallies to advance to Thursday’s semifinals. They now must face their biggest challenge taking on St. Mary’s of Stockton California. Coach Tom Gonsalves’ team is the antithesis of any slow down style with constant full court pressure defense and transition attack at every opportunity. Preparation for these games is limited and on the fly adjustments may be the most important attribute any coach can have in this environment. – Kevin Lynch
Coach Sue Phillips’ Archbishop Mitty teams have a long and storied history. Phillips herself earned a gold medal as the winning coach of the USA Basketball 2014 U-17 team. This year’s Monarch team lost four D-I players to the college ranks yet this version may be even better. Led by versatile 2019 wing Haley Jones, this Mitty team can play with anyone in the country. Interior play is anchored by 6-2 San Diego Commit Nicole Blakes who led the team in scoring and rebounding in a great second round win over St. John’s College from DC. Karisma Ortiz, a 6-0 Penn State recruit, provides added size from the wing position while Krissy Miyahara adds three point range to this talented team. Archbishop Mitty will face Riverdale (Tennessee) in Thursday’s semis of the Joe Smith Division. – Kevin Lynch
Coach Karen Weitz has established a powerhouse program in her 18 years at Centennial while becoming Nevada’s all-time winningest coach along the way. A former D-I assistant, she’s a coach who stresses aggressive defense and team play. Despite losing four players last year to D-I she has once again reloaded her team into a formidable squad. Leading the way is UNLV recruit guard Justice Ethridge who has a deadly three point shot and has the leadership qualities coaches love. Eboni Walker, a 5-11 junior, is a powerfully built and explosive athlete who finishes everything around the rim while rebounding outside her area. Point guard Aja Phoumiphat is a 5-5 junior do everything scrappy player who holds the team together. Centennial is looking to continue their dominance in Nevada basketball but first face St. John’s College following their second round loss to Riverdale (Tennessee). – Kevin Lynch
Brooke Demetre is hardly a secret on the West Coast, or on any coast for that matter. An elite 2021 prospect, the versatile wing/forward is fun to watch, scoring in a variety of different ways at all three levels. She handles like a guard, scores inside like a post, and has the basketball IQ of a player years her senior. Not to mention, she has a nose for the ball and some active, long arms on defense. Her Mater Dei squad fell in a great back and forth overtime game Wednesday, but in front of a crowded gym of college coaches and evaluators, she certainly put on a show. – Travis Ponton
There may not be a more dynamic athlete playing on the scholastic level than St. Mary’s Aquira DeCosta. The senior forward is more than ready to move on to the next level as she’s not going to see many athletic peers down the homestretch of her high school career. DeCosta has dominated since early in her playing days and continues to do so as she and her Ram teammates move into the semifinals Thursday against Riverdale Baptist. At the same time she leaves you wanting even more and looking forward to where the college game will take her skill set. That’s not a critique but a reality of elite players like the 6-2 California native who need to be challenged to keep advancing their game. Her high school career is far from over but her dynamic play keeps you thinking about what she’ll be doing with it in the future. – Mark Lewis
St. Francis Prep made the cross-country trek from New York, and while they have faced some very good teams with legitimate talent here so far, neither of those teams has an Emily Engstler. The 6-2 senior is headed to Syracuse next year as we know, but there is plenty of business left for her to take care of in high school and she is playing like it. The strength, skill, and versatility of her game has been well-documented, but perhaps the most growth has come in her maturity and leadership. It’s one thing to know the game at an elite level, but to be able to share that knowledge with your younger teammates on the court, well that’s special. Adding that to her post scoring, ball handling and court vision as well as her tenacity, and you have a player who will lead her team into the semi-finals tomorrow Thursday. – Travis Ponton
While Centennial took one on the chin Wednesday evening at the hands of Riverdale (Tennessee), The Bulldogs still got another impressive performance from senior guard Justice Ethridge. A UNLV signee, Ethridge provides a consistent, multifaceted game in the backcourt for Coach Karen Weitz. At 5-8 she’s quick and attacking with the ball in her hands. On the catch she can get past most defenders with a lethal first step followed by an ability to pull up or take it all the way to the rim. The perimeter touch is solid with time and she elevates on any look she gets at the rim. In transition she pushes the ball with good and makes good decisions in numbers situations. Ethridge is active on the ball defensively and anticipates well from the weakside. – Mark Lewis
Hailing from Richmond, California, 2019 6-5 Post Angel Jackson is a monster down low for Salesian. She gets great position in the paint while making herself a big target. Once she catches the ball with those big, soft hands, she knows exactly what to do with it, mixing a variety of post moves with a smooth passing game. As well as she finishes on the offensive end, Jackson also protects her domain on defense as well. This kid is a problem inside and it’s grown woman business in the paint. – Travis Ponton
There are very few players who posess the size and skill set to play and excel at every position on the floor. That’s not to say that Archbishop Mitty’s junior Haley Jones doesn’t have spots where she’s more effective than others but she’s not going to let you down at any of them. The words “fluidity” should have her picture beside it in the dictionary. With the ball in her hands she can create both shots and passes while making it look almost easy. Off the drive her eyes are up and she sees the floor as well as the rim allowing her to exploit overzealous defenders. The 6-1 Jones is handling contact off the drive more efficiently with the ability pull up or take it all the way. She’s patient in her play and like true elite players show improvements in her game virtually each time out. – Mark Lewis
From time to time, you can still find a true small forward on the basketball court. Bishop O’Dowd out of Oakland, California has one such player in 5’9 senior Zakiya Mahoney. First and foremost, Mahoney is an absolute beast on the boards, fighting bigger post players for position inside. Her motor will get your attention, and this is a player who never gives up on a play. Working in the high post, you can expect her to drive to the rim and finish strong off two feet through the bigger defenders. This also leads to plenty of trips to the foul line. Her tough style of play will continue to serve her well. – Travis Ponton
The west coast is getting a taste of Roland Park’s double-double machine, 5-11 2020 prospect Mir McLean. Somehow the explosive ups have only improved more (insert appropriate OMG emoji face here). With her hang time and motor, it’s no surprise she can hang with the best of them inside. The back to the basket game is simple and effective and she continues to show the face up game. Yet another 20 point effort paired well with a bushel of boards to lead her team to tomorrow’s semi-final round in the John Anderson bracket. – Travis Ponton
While Archbishop Mitty came out on top of St’ John’s in the day’s premier match up it wasn’t exactly a complete loss. Malu Tshitenge-Mutombo is hardly an unknown commodity but she may have finally got a good foothold on all that potential that’s been on the edge of coming out. A 13 point, 20 rebound effort against an elite team on the biggest high school stage is certainly a step in the right direction. The 6-3 junior is playing a more active and assertive game making her an option Coach Jonathan Scribner and the Cadets can certainly use to keep the opposition honest against their talented roster. While the strength will still need to come, she’s beginning to initiate some contact and hold her ground on both ends of the floor. Each success also shows her evolving confidence as well, a key to continued advancement. – Mark Lewis
Over the last few seasons when you think Sacred Heart Academy (Kentucky) you think Indiana signee Grace Berger. Berger is still the big gun but 2020 point guard Erin Toller served up notice that she’s ready to make a statement of her own. Despite falling to Riverdale Baptist, Toller was a dynamic presence down the stretch in an exciting game against top tier talent. At 5-5 she has a stout and powerful build that provides some deceiving acceleration to the rim. The stroke and range force defenders to close out on the catch in turn putting a smile on the attacking Toller’s face. In traffic, she can finish among the bigs and handles contact well. As a sophomore she’s only going to add to her game and playing in a highly regarded program will only add length to the lengthy recruiting line already forming at her door. – Mark Lewis
Montverde Academy 2018 wing forward Bri Tollie is destined for big things. Long, athletic, and versatile, Tollie showed her ability to impact a game in many different ways against elite competition. The SMU signee can face up inside, drive from the wing to finish with a lay up or stop and pop in the mid range. Her perimeter prowess stretches right to the arc, and with work will only improve. The amount of ground she covers off the dribble is noticeable, and she’s very bouncy overall. Defensively, she shows promise in her ability to guard some different positions. Overall, it was a good day for her as her team picked up an exciting OT victory. – Travis Ponton
OK, so this is a “we told you so” moment. We usually wouldn’t write on the same player two days in a row but a 34 point, nine three pointer effort necessitates another inclusion in our coverage. While Mesquite came up short against St. Mary’s (Stockton) Lindsey VanAllen put on a show that had everyone in the gym wondering how the Rams kept losing track of the 5-9 junior. VanAllen plays with a confidence that allows her to be a threat any time the ball is in her hands. While the three may be her calling card, she can also improve and create looks off the dribble. Her slight build will need some more size when the Santa Clara signee moves on next year but the possibilities should have the Bronco coaching staff smiling at the possibilities. – Mark Lewis