SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – The high school hoops action in Springfield College’s Blake Arena Monday figured to be some of the very best of the season, anywhere.
And it proved to be every bit of that – and then some.
Three games that included a collective six 2017 McDonald’s All-Americans – and, no doubt, a few of the 2018 variety, too – gave those in the packed facility a close-up look at some of the very best teams and players in the country during the final day of the 16th Spalding HoopHall Classic.
The last tilt in that trio of contests may have pitted two of the three most gifted teams in the country, as Southern California’s Chatsworth Sierra Canyon overcame a nine-point deficit late in the third quarter to overtake, and then hold off, previously unbeaten and top-ranked La Lumiere of La Porte, IN, 76-74. The victory came just days after the Trailblazers convincing win over Memphis East in the title game of the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions in Springfield, MO.
Coach Ty Nichols’ Trailblazers (whose only loss was to Seattle Nathan Hale – more on that club later) got strong fourth-quarter efforts from seniors Remy Martin and Cody Riley, as well as junior Marvin Bagley III, to outlast a team led by McDonald’s All-Americans in center Jaren Jackson and swingman Brian Bowen.
The Arizona State-bound Martin (who scored 10 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter) put his team up to stay, at 61-60, on a nifty left-handed finish while being fouled and ensuing free throw with 3:55 to go. The advantage actually grew to seven points (at 71-64), with about a minute to go, after consecutive transition dunks by the left-handed Bagley (who finished with 20 points and seven rebounds while battling a tall and physical frontline).
But Sierra Canyon needed five free throws (three by Martin and two by Riley) to hold on down the stretch as the Michigan State-bound Jackson (21 points and eight rebounds) hit a couple of 3s and Bowen (18 points, 14 rebounds and five assists) another in the frantic final 30 seconds.
Depending on what happens with unbeaten and defending California State champion Chino Hills down the stretch, Sierra Canyon almost assuredly will be no worse than one of the top two seeds when the CIF Southern Section Open Division bracket is assembled next month.
Two of the other games played Monday featured the two best players in the national senior class (in my humble opinion).
No. 1 is 6-foot-9 Michael Porter Jr. of the aforementioned (and still unbeaten) Nathan Hale squad, which toppled a talented Mouth of Wilson (VA) Oak Hill Academy squad paced by its own 2017 McDonald’s All-American, Billy Preston, 80-77.
Porter (who signed with the University of Washington in November), scored 20 points in the first half while finishing 37 points (14 of 26 from the field including four threes), four rebounds, an assist, three steals and two turnovers. A healthy portion of those 14 buckets were of the spectacular variety, several while being defended by the 6-9 Preston.
Porter’s 6-9 younger brother, Jontay Porter, added nine points, five rebounds and five blocked shots as Nathan Hale (coached by former UW and NBA standout Brandon Roy) remained unbeaten and in reasonable position to a “mythical” national champion at the conclusion of the season.
Preston (who previously attended Bellflower St. John Bosco and Redondo Union in Southern California) scored 15 points – despite missing 11 of 17 shots – while grabbing 11 rebounds and dishing three assists.