Great weekend of basketball in Grand Island

This week has been full of basketball. It is that time of the season where you start taking note of who is playing well, what teams are struggling and making a list of the teams that maybe you don’t want to face early in a sub-district tournament or maybe face at all if that is a possible solution to finishing the year at a big tournament. 

Some of those situations you have no control over as you might be matched up geographically with a team or two that fits the above categories or all of a sudden the flu hits everyone breathing and you just hope they recover and get some strength back as quickly as possible.

Last week, 14 of Nebraska schools took their talents to Grand Island to participate in the Heartland Hoops Classic. 

If you have a team involved in at the Heartland Events Center on this weekend, you have chosen to play a team that hopefully, win or lose, will make you a better team late in the season. 

This day of matched outstanding teams started in 2008 and in my opinion, has been an outstanding day of basketball ever since. It has a state tournament feel with all the games being the final day of some class championship and then, since 2013 you have had a game thrown in with a National High School Championship feeling when the director of this event, Tino Martinez, started matching out-of-state power teams with a Nebraska team, and then this year matched two out-of-state powerhouse teams against each other. 

The first year, Martinez, the head basketball coach at Grand Island Central Catholic, got his first national powerhouse team, Oak Hill Academy out of Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, to come to Grand Island and they were matched with the best Class A team in Nebraska that year, Omaha Central. 

The Warriors found out that year that Nebraska has some pretty good teams also as they lost to Central 70-63. I never thought I would ever see Oak Hill play again in Nebraska but they have made the trip two more times and are 1-2 in those three games. 

In 2015 they came back and defeated Omaha South 59-54 and then this past weekend, they played another national powerhouse, Sunrise Christian Academy from Wichita, Kansas and they lost 76-65. 

These are not normal high school teams. 

These are select teams and Oak Hill was rated No. 2 in the nation and Sunrise was rated No. 5. Oak Hill was undefeated at 36-0 and Sunrise 20-2. Sunrise had been getting better throughout the season and had defeated the fourth and fifth rated teams in the nation last weekend in a tournament. 

Sunrise Christian’s roster had more height than most college teams with 10 players 6-4 to 7-0. Oak Hill had 10 players from 6-3 to 6-10. 

I visited with the Oak Hill coach, Steve Smith, before the game and he stated they had not been playing well of late and Sunrise had been improving. 

Coach Smith and I know each other. I can’t say we are close friends but he was a student who had classes taught at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky by my sister. I had met him about 14 years ago when he and my sis were inducted into the Asbury Athletic Hall of Fame. 

He voiced concerns about his team and they were well founded. The boys from Kansas played harder, smarter and played more like a team than Oak Hill. 

Both teams I might add had some power dunker available and they got an opportunity to show their skills in the game. Both teams have a number of players committed to schools like Kentucky, Kansas, Oregon, Florida and other Division I schools.

  The Nebraska schools had some good games also. I was impressed with Hastings St. Cecilia in their game with O’Neill. They have a number of good players and were a physical team and I would say a favorite in C1 this year. 

Yutan and South Loup had a good contest. Yutan won 57-48,  but I would say South Loup is a better team now than they were before they played. 

You don’t like to get beaten by anyone, but South Loup is a power that will cause any team problems. 

One surprise to me anyway was Ponca beating Gretna. It was a low scoring game and Ponca won on a free throw late in the contest 34-33. 

This one had a lot of people talking about officiating. Have you ever heard of that before, a close game, a call at the end that was a little questionable and people thinking that was the reason one team was defeated? 

Wait, yes, I have heard that before. Some things never change. I might say I would have been upset if I was coaching also.

It was a super day of basketball. I gave up my tickets to the Huskers game to stay at Grand Island the entire day but it was OK. 

The Huskers won another one and we will have seen the Maryland game by the time this goes to print. 

I hope the Huskers can continue their winning ways and make this a great season just by going to the NCAA tournament. That would maybe move the program up some and help in years to come.

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