The 2018 NEO Christmas Classic was loaded with talent and a three day, 18 game schedule. I attended 12 of those 18 games and in this article will be giving my breakdown of the games and some top performers from each match-up.
Elyria Catholic 61 Vs GlenOak 71
Game recap: Elyria Catholic and Glen Oak played a pretty competitive contest but it seemed like Glen Oak had control for most of the contest, and walked away with a 10 point victory in the first game I saw in the event. Jarred Logan is the Panthers most highly touted player and the 6’6 wing was impressive with his ball handling and perimeter skill. Logan’s jumper wasn’t looking too sharp, but he has solid mechanics and got to the rim often. It seemed like Logan wasn’t too comfortable going left, but I think that might’ve been a slight injury, he seemed confident when dribbling with his left hand, but on offense wasn’t as explosive going left and on defense got beat a little bit more than I would’ve expected sliding to the left. With some rest time, I think he might be back to 100% for the Panthers next game, January 2’nd at Quicken Loans arena against Fairview. Jack and David Griffin start in the back-court and both of them had their moments at the top of the Panthers press. Each player got after the Glen Oak ball handlers defensively but neither seemed confident taking three pointers, passing up many looks throughout the game. Glen Oak had a balanced scoring attack, with four players in double figures, two juniors, and two freshman. Jordan Marshall was impressive with his jumper, making two three pointers and being a reliable ball handler for the Golden Eagles. Christian Parker also had lots of success down low driving and finishing, Parker is 6’5 and seemed to take advantage of his size and used the spin move routinely to create space within the lane. He was relentless getting to the paint and was rewarded with 17 points. Freshman Josiah Harris struggled with his shot most of the game, but was so impressive with his court vision. Even when Harris wasn’t hitting his shots, he still had a solid amount of defensive attention on him and found cutting teammates for easy layups and pushed the ball up the floor in transition to let his team have an advantage. He did hit back to back three pointers in a crucial time in the second half to really separate his team from the Panthers which was promising, but still had a rough day from the field.
Ramar Pryor: Pryor was the more impressive of the two Golden Eagles highly touted freshman, and he walked away with the game MVP after his 18 point performance. Pryor impressed with his quick twitch athleticism and decisive moves to the rim. One time he caught the ball at the three point line and took only one dribble before throwing it down, showing off his vertical athleticism. Pryor also hit a couple jumpers and has solid pre shot mechanics, always ready to shoot off the catch.
Branson Taylor: The 6’7 center for Elyria Catholic gave GlenOak problems all night, Taylor used his wide frame to catch the ball around the hoop and scored a game high 22 points in the process. Taylor doesn’t have much of an outside game, and isn’t mobile on the defensive end, but he understands how to use his body to his advantage around the hoop and scored nine field goals. Taylor probably isn’t much of a college prospect, but he’s a problem for smaller high school teams because if you let him touch the ball down low and he has a size advantage, he’s likely going to score. GlenOak also fronted Taylor a couple times and had no help on the backside despite EC struggling to hit three pointers all game.
Cleveland Heights 62 Vs Cleveland Central Catholic 66
Game recap: CCC was the most impressive team of the first day of the tournament by a sizeable margin, they had seven players score and each of them contributed to this huge victory in their own way. Tevin Jackson didn’t score much, but hit the game winning layup with less than two seconds left to put CCC up two. Jackson drove to the hoop all night and found his big men around the hoop for layup opportunities all night. Jackson also threw the ball to his wings upcourt to push the ball offensively, helping the Ironmen score 39 first half points. Jaden Williams and Arthur Fayne were two of the wings who had success in the open court for CCC. Each made two three pointers for their team and their spacing allowed CCC’s bigs to score inside. Fayne was the more impressive out of the two, Fayne is just a solid basketball player, has the ability to shoot the ball from the outside, has a solid handle that allows him to get to the hoop, and makes smart basketball decisions with the ball. Despite not having a crazy stat line, he impressed me with his maturity on the floor. Rayshawn Ford and Deshaun Nettles were two of CCC’s big men who had lots of success in the paint. Nettles is a very raw prospect but is very athletic and most importantly plays hard. Nettles showed off his athleticism with a dunk and blocks, but his motor was impressive for a kid coming off the bench. Nettles understands his role on his team and did what was needed to win over a talented team. For Cleveland Heights, they struggled with Jae’Lyn Withers being in foul trouble all night. Christian Dillard, Manny Davis, and Jaelyn Davis tried to pick up the scoring without Withers but it wasn’t enough. Out of those three guys Dillard was the most impressive, he is the Tigers floor general and tried controlling his team when things got chaotic. Nigel Martin, already a 1,000 point scorer was super disappointing with his performance. Martin usually is a reliable scorer for the Tigers, being a taller wing who attacks the hoop and scores around the hoop and with mid range jumpers, but was held to four points in this contest. I’m not sure how concerned I’d be with Martin’s performance going forward because it seemed like he was just missing shots and getting frustrated with his performance, so I’d expect him to bounce back.
Jae’Lyn Withers: Withers blows you away with his size and athleticism but actually has ridiculous range for a big guy. Withers hit three pointers from different spots around the floor and had close misses from way beyond three point range. Withers had a couple thunderous dunks, but anyone who has watched a video of his highlights knows the type of dunks he is capable of, his off ball movement and shot impressed me much more. Withers struggled with foul trouble but his third foul of the first quarter was an awful call and he managed his foul trouble well, showing lots of poise of the defensive end even when CCC attacked him at the hoop.
Taryl Davis: Davis won game MVP with his 19 points and eight rebound game. Davis doesn’t have three point range, but he hit a couple mid range shots to keep the defense honest against his shot. Davis has good control of his frame and can surprise some people with how mobile he is with the ball. Davis won’t blow anyone away with his athleticism but he had a very productive game and competed defensively against Withers and Martin.
Brush 68 Vs Warrensville Heights 50
Game recap: The most hyped contest of the first game of the tournament was a total dud and noncompetitive throughout the majority of the game. Brush was simply a much better team on this night and the final score probably doesn’t even give the Arcs justice for how much better they were then Warrensville Heights. Warrensville was a team I’ve never seen this season, but I was very disappointed with their three headed guard lineup. Brandon Rush, Raymelle Arnold, and Omahn Dobbins combined for only 27 points and were shut down by the Arcs perimeter defense. The offense for Warrensville was disappointing as their guards had to work for every bucket, they didn’t push the ball in transition and use their one advantage enough. In the halfcourt everything was difficult and the three guards had to settle for jumpers too often because John Hugley commanded the paint all game on both ends of the floor. Jamal Brown was the only non guard who played well consistently offensive and actually tied for the team lead in points with 10. Brown finished well around the rim but is a pretty limited offensive player. Brush controlled the game from start to finish, despite Dj Dial having an off night scoring wise, he still got Brush into their offense and limited turnovers much better than his counterpart Rush did. Dial didn’t take a lot of shots, but didn’t really need to, he got the ball to Andre Harris who used his size and speed advantage over whoever was guarding him to score a game high 20 points. Despite his game high in points I think Harris had a pretty subpar game from his standards, he had an incredible poster dunk but missed badly on multiple three point attempts and was inefficient in the half-court setting. Corey Floyd had another solid performance, he’s not much more than a role player for Brush but he’s a crucial part of their team success. Floyd plays tough defense, rebounds, and affects the game without needing the ball.
John Hugley: Hugley was a man amongst boys for this game, without anyone who could compete with Hugley down low, the 6’9 big boy had his way in the paint and finished with 15 points and a couple powerful dunks. Hugley is fairly mobile for a big of his size and showed off his nice hands by catching passes in traffic before finishing through contact.
Elmore James IV: Elmore was a little overwhelmed with the speed of the game and the moment against Saint Edward but played much better against Warrensville. James doesn’t have an awesome three point shot yet, but he hit two wide open threes, showing that you have to at least respect his shot. What James does best right now is play perimeter defense, and going against the trio of guards for Warrensville was a perfect battle to see just where his defensive level was at and he passed that test with flying colors. James needs to get more confident offensively but he made strides on both ends of the floor in a very impressive overall performance from a freshman on one of the best teams in northeast Ohio.
Green 60 Vs Solon 65
Game recap: Green took on Solon in the final game of the first day and this game was a competitive contest throughout. Green was very resilient offensively and got good shots throughout the entire game. Kaleb Martin was the engine for the Green offense and got to the paint often to either score for himself or one of his teammates. Martin played a solid game, but his tiny frame gave him some issues on defense. For Solon Mike Bekelja struggled all night, the senior guard kept missing shots and struggled to get into a rhythm all night. Bekelja is much more than a scorer and has handled becoming a primary ball handler well, but I believe it has had an effect on his shooting, he’s simply using much more energy to bring the ball up the floor and self create than what he had to last year. Nick Close was a solid post presence for the Comets and had himself a solid game down low. Davin Miller also appeared for the Comets, the 6’8 senior center is really slow footed but blocked a shot and had a putback dunk in limited action. If Miller gets a little better defensively he can become a valuable piece for Solon but the jury is still out if he can do that.
Trent Williams: Trent Williams was the best player on the floor and he finished with a game high 25 points, four rebounds, and six assists. Williams has the ball on a string better than just about anyone I’ve seen in the area and showed off his flashy handles numerous times throughout the game. Williams got off to a slow start but because of the style that Solon plays he got enough shots to get back into a rhythm and finish with a high scoring night on about average efficiency.
Marcus Steele: Steele has been inserted to the starting lineup and is the new third guard for the Comets primarily guard oriented offense. The first time I saw Steele he finished with four points seeing limited offensive action despite playing a majority of the game, this time Steele was more aggressive offensively and better with his shots. Steele hit I believe his first four shots en route to a double digit scoring output shooting very well from the field. Steele hit two three point shots and needs to continue to hit for Solon if they want to have success going into the new year. With Sincere Carry the Comets had a huge hole offensively but if Steele can provide another consistent scoring presence the Comets can get closer to their offense that dominated teams last season.
Buchtel 67 Vs Gilmour 77
Game recap: Buchtel came in with a top five freshman in the COUNTRY in Chris Livingston and he impressed, but he had help with Jonathan King and Noah Peeples. Both King and Peeples attacked the rim using their size to score in the paint. Peeples had a much more efficient game finishing with 18 points and being relentless on the glass against a smaller Gilmour team. Buchtel just didn’t have good enough guard play to beat Gilmour and had no answer for the Lancers huge run in the late third and early fourth quarter. Without enough spacing offensively everything was difficult for the Buchtel offense and pretty much only scoring two points at a time proved costly once Gilmour got hot from the outside. Kyle Culler hit two big three pointers but provided huge floor spacing on the offensive end for Gilmour. Connor O’Toole is one of my favorite players to watch in the area and despite struggling from the field he made a huge impact on the game. O’Toole is one of the best passers I’ve seen as he sees the floor exceptionally well and can pass with his left hand when necessary. O’Toole also typically makes good decisions when faced with pressure and helped Gilmour slice up the Buchtel press when they did pick up Gilmour full court. Ian Miller also had 10 points, scoring layups on dump offs from Charleston and O’Toole.
Cj Charleston: Charleston, a three sport stud, showed why he’s an awesome basketball player against Buchtel. He ended the game with 31 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists. Charleston is so fast (all state running back and track athlete) and is a blur in the open court. Charleston isn’t huge an athlete using pure speed to have success, he hit four three-point shots including a crazy buzzer-beater before halftime. The way he pushes the ball for Gilmour along with Connor O’Toole makes them one of the best teams to watch in the area for exciting scoring offense. The Lancers push the ball off of makes, misses, and turnovers and Charleston is typically the guy with the ball taking it to the frontcourt or passing it ahead to a teammate for a transition bucket.
Chris Livingston: Livingston was very highly regarded and it’s pretty obvious to see why right when he walks in the gym. Livingston has a crazy body for a high school Freshman and could easily be mistaken for an upperclassmen on the court. Livingston used his 6’6 frame to score around the basket and he soared for multiple offensive rebounds that seemed out of his reach. In transition he’s a nightmare to defend and had multiple thunderous dunks that showed off just how insane of an athlete he is at such a young age. Gilmour had success breaking the Buchtel press, but running a 1-2-2 press with Livingston at the top is scary, if Gilmour wasn’t so well coached and had two very component guards, they would’ve had lots of trouble getting around such a long and athletic defender. With all this being said, Livingston isn’t close to a finished product, his jump-shot needs to get better, he was short on many attempts and despite looking comfortable shooting, he missed badly once or twice. Livingston has solid mechanics and a good free throw stroke so he should figure it out, but his three-point game, especially off the dribble is pretty lacking right now. Livingston is also pretty slow latterly, he got beat by Charleston every time in the fourth quarter to the hoop but even got beat to the paint by Ian Miller in the halfcourt on just a simple sweep and go after a closeout. Livingston needs to get much quicker to defend athletic wings on the outside in the future, this is right now probably his biggest weakness.
Richmond Heights 94 Vs Padua 62
Game recap: This opened up as a bloodbast with Richmond Heights basically having an in game dunk contest for the first 16 minutes of action to open up a twenty point lead with 47 points scored and six dunks by four different players. Padua, to their credit fought back well and cut the deficit to eleven points midway through the third quarter but Richmond Heights got their swagger back and opened the floodgates right back up for a thirty point blowout. It wasn’t all bad though for a very young Padua team. Dan Peterson, a Sophomore, was the only Bruin who didn’t seem rattled by the athleticism and speed of the Spartans in the first half. Peterson competed all game and drove aggressively despite getting blocked on multiple occasions to put pressure on the Spartans defense. Peterson also got his teammates some looks in these drives and hit a couple outside shots to end himself with a solid performance for a Sophomore against a talented and athletic Richmond Heights squad. Akinlana Popoola started at point for the Bruins despite being just a 5’8 Freshman! Popolla had some struggles and got blocked numerous times when trying to come inside the paint, but stayed aggressive all game. His size is certainly a weakness against better competition and he had little resistance to Richmond Heights upperclassman guard lineup, but he competes on the floor. Popolla has very nice handles for a guard of his age and seems to see the floor well when he wasn’t completely swallowed by the Spartan defenders. Sam Ehrbar was another Bruin who played well despite the blowout loss, he hit many shots from the outside and was a good floor spacer offensively. He will be a key piece for the Bruins in the future as he’s just a Sophomore. Richmond Heights was one of the most impressive teams in the entire tournament and they should be a very tough out in division IV once the playoffs begin. Seniors Curtis Houston and Bj Carter both had solid games for the Spartans. Houston played at a controlled pace and allowed some of his teammates to handle most of the scoring load. He doesn’t have a great jumper but it’s something you have to sort of respect. Carter mostly did his work on drives and down low, but he also hit one three pointer off the catch which helps their floor spacing offensively. Carter also got a couple pass deflections, reading the Bruins guards to help start the transition. Jevontae Jones and Anthony Maxie are both 6’4 Junior forwards and both players had solid performances. Each of these guys commanded the paint and used their physicality to dominate a smaller, younger, weaker front-court. Overall Richmond Heights was pushing the ball up the floor and not being afraid to use their defense to turn into offense quickly. Outside shooting is probably a weakness for the Spartans, but they showed enough outside shooting ability for me to think they could get hot against a more talented team to pull an upset.
Gbolahan Adio: Adio was the best player on the floor in this game and got a deserved game MVP because of this. He stuffed the stat sheet with 21 points, six rebounds, five assists, and four steals. Adio hit multiple three pointers and showed the ability to create for himself and find an open spot on the outside to hit a spot up three. Defensively you can’t make some great takeaways because Adio was just much quicker than his usual counterpart, but he got into passing lanes to start the break to allow him to get those four steals.
Jamar Talbert: Talbert was pretty much the only significant Spartan who didn’t have a dunk in this game, but the Sophomore wing impressed in other ways. Talbert found open space in transition and on cuts in the halfcourt to get easy buckets. Talbert also hit a spot up three and had a solid base and form so it seems like if he improves his average handle, he could eventually become a primary creator who can create for himself and others. Right now Talbert is living off of Houston and Adio making plays for him, which is fine because there’s only one ball and Richmond Heights needs guys who can contribute without the ball in his hands, but once he’s able to do more himself in the half-court he will be a problem for opponents.
Lakewood 65 Vs Massillon Washington 49
Game recap: Massillon Washington got off to a 24-9 deficit and never was able to make a serious dent in the Rangers lead in a game that was pretty uncompetitive from the tip. Washington is led by Brett Martin and he came out firing scoring seven of their nine first quarter points and looked like the only guy ready to play in the first quarter. Martin continued to score but settled for too many fadeaway jumpers that were difficult against bigger Lakewood defenders. He has decent size and a solid jump-shot but was just unable to create against a tall Lakewood defense. Jayden Ballard is a stud football athlete, and he showed off his athleticism with an amazing dunk on the breakaway but was very inefficient with his shots. Ballard got to his spots well on the court but just couldn’t hit shots all night. Lakewood showed off their size and experience and played a controlled style that led to a comfortable victory. Zion Kolodynski-Darby showed off his size and athleticism, and despite not having a big game offensively, he passed the ball well and helped command the paint. Nate Mims also had a solid game for Lakewood, the junior lefty blocked a couple shots and played competent offense.
Tommy Sala: Sala was a force down low, finishing with a double double and a very senior like performance. Sala got to the rim well and finished through contact to get his 16 points. Sala doesn’t have awesome range, but is perfectly capable of hitting a mid-range jumper, even off the bounce. Sala is a part of a trio of senior big men who are 6’6, 6’7, and 6’7 respectively and these three guys make Lakewood just so difficult to beat.
Tim Smith: Smith didn’t play his best game, his shots weren’t falling throughout the first half, but he made enough of an impact to be the second top performer. Smith threw down two impressive alley-oop dunks, including one reverse jam. Smith doesn’t have a good enough handle to play point guard in college, but he’s a serviceable high school primary ball handler. Smith has just so much size and length that it’s difficult to trap him and he can find his other big men by passing over smaller defenders. If Smith improves his spot up three-point jumper he will be an even more difficult cover, but at this point he’s still a problem for opposing defenses with his size and handle.
STVM 88 At Garfield Heights 53
Game recap: This game was one of the craziest games of the season last year, but this time was a blowout from start to finish, except for one mini run by Garfield Heights in the third quarter. Garfield was battling and hanging on by a thread and eventually that thread broke and STVM broke the game back open. Garfield struggles with depth, they only had three players score more than two points in this game. Sonny Johnson had 17 points and battled all game but whenever he got a ball screen the Irish would double him and Sonny had trouble handling the pressure. He’s still a tiny freshman and has unbelievable skill but needs to make improvements on dealing with bigger and stronger players on both ends of the floor. Meechie Johnson struggled for most of the game but everything he creates on offense is difficult. With STVM ignoring every player on Garfield instead of Sonny, Meechie, and Brison, Meechie found things difficult because the Irish defense could pressure him knowing that they had help defense if he beat them to the paint. Brison Waller played one of his better games in this contest, he seemed involved on the defensive end for most of the contest and actually finished and made five field goals in this game. Waller is still so raw offensively and is a pretty much non factor outside the paint, but has good size and athleticism that he can explode past defenders if he gets the ball in the paint. I’d love to see Waller play with more aggressiveness consistently and add a little weight and muscle because he has tools to be a very successful college basketball player but is still a long ways away from that. On the STVM side, they played a very patient style and simply dominated the Bulldogs with efficient offense and taking advantage of the turnovers that they forced. Chris Painter played a solid game offensively and gave whichever Johnson brother he was guarding problems with his quickness. Lunden McDay had a typical Lunden McDay performance, finishing with a quiet 13 points, playing good defense, moving the ball, and fitting into the offense. He wasn’t spectacular by any means, but he is a very experienced player who fits into the STVM system well. Marcus Johnson had another solid game and he’s one of my favorite bench players in the area, he has plenty of weight on his 6’5 frame but is still mobile enough to not be a huge negative on the defensive end. Typically teams also back off him when they see him but he has a really good mid-range jumper and hit at least one of those in this game.
Malaki Branham: Branham started hitting three-pointers! When I saw him in the summer he had all the athletic tools in the world and was a menace at the top of the diamond press that SVSM ran, but was still pretty raw offensively. After going 3-4 from downtown in this game I’m very excited about his potential offensive explosion coming either in 2019 or his junior season. Branham looks like he’s starting to unlock his untapped potential and if he improves even more this offseason he will be a scary piece for opposing teams to deal with on both ends of the floor.
Seth Wilson: Wilson won’t blow anyone away with physical tools, but for a Sophomore point guard, he has a tremendous feel for the game. Wilson doesn’t force shots on a STVM team that typically can find a shot within their offensive system, however when Wilson needs to create a bucket he becomes deadly off a drive where he can either take it to the hoop, shoot the floater, or step back and take a mid-range jumper. Wilson is listed at 6’3 but that seems very generous at this point, I think he’s closer to 6’1 but he has a body that is advanced physically for a kid his age. Wilson impresses me every time I watch him with his basketball IQ and his efficiency of scoring.
Lutheran East 89 Vs Shaker Heights 67
Game recap: Lutheran East took control of this one with a 31 point third quarter to put themselves up 22 points in an impressive performance over Shaker Heights. On Shaker’s side, Shammah Scott was pretty much the only guy who came to play on the offensive end, he hit shots from all three areas of the court and was a difficult cover but didn’t get enough help from his other stud teammates. Dakota Cochran played by far his worst game that I’ve ever seen him play, he seemed a step slow and sloppy on the offensive end. Lutheran East does have very long and athletic guys on the defensive end, but it’s nothing Cochran hasn’t seen before, I’m surprised with how much he struggled with his handle in this game. Danny Young Jr also finally looked like a freshman, he’s been playing fantastic basketball recently but looked very off this game. Young hit a couple shots early but couldn’t find his shot all night, he took bad shots routinely to try and get out of this funk, but it only made matters worse. Lutheran East pushed the ball up the floor all game and guards Sirr Hughes and Collin Albert had nice games dishing the ball to teammates and occasionally looking for their own shot. Davyon Adams had a good game finishing shots around the hoop well for the Falcons.
Nehemiah Benson: Benson was impressive with his combination of athleticism, size, and skill. Benson has the size to score in the post and despite not always looking fluid with the ball in the backcourt, he has a fluid jumper and creates enough space with his moves to help him get to the paint or pull up. Benson finished his night with 26 points and 11 rebounds in a dominating performance.
Ej Farmer: Farmer didn’t disappoint in this contest, but wasn’t exactly spectacular. Farmer has an incredible stroke but struggled a bit from the outside in this game. Farmer showed off his athleticism with a couple rim grazer dunks in transition and ended the game with over twenty points despite seeming to have little impact on the game. I want to watch Farmer a lot more before I make any judgements on him but this performance leaves me optimistic about his future but not sold by any means.
West Geauga 53 Vs Wadsworth 59
Game recap: Wadsworth used a strong defensive effort, holding West Geauga to only 14 total points in the second and third quarters combined to take a lead they would never surrender, despite a ferocious effort from the Wolverines. West Geauga started off the game hot from the outside, hitting three after three in the first eight minutes to take a six point lead after one quarter. West Geauga didn’t get much offense besides stud Josh Irwin and Peyton Bissler. Bissler attacked the hoop at will and scored on a large volume of shots but it wasn’t enough. For the Wolverines, nobody in particular stood out besides Jack Simmons in a game that was sloppy from both sides with turnovers and missed shots.
Jack Simmons: Simmons was the biggest bright spot for Wadsworth offensively and he finished this game with 28 points and seven boards. Simmons wasn’t guarded by Irwin for a majority of this game and took advantage of scoring over smaller defenders or going around slower opposition. I’m honestly not sure why Irwin wasn’t guarding him the entire game because it took me about three minutes to tell that he would be the go to guy for Wadsworth all game. Simmons looked smooth taking jumpers all game, hitting a spot up three pointer and icing the game with lots of success from the free throw line in the games final minutes.
Josh Irwin: Irwin disappointed me in the first time I’ve ever seen him live, but he was clearly a top player on the floor. Irwin has to tell his teammates where to go on plays and is really part of a one or two man crew offensively. This makes it very difficult to make complete judgements on his game because all of the attention is on him with his high school team and it puts added pressure that wouldn’t be on him if he had more talented teammates. In the game however Irwin didn’t use his size to his advantage as much as I would’ve liked. I know that he’s likely going to get doubled teamed but he was the biggest kid on the floor and after getting blocked just once, he didn’t step inside the paint offensively for about a quarter. Irwin has a really nice stroke, he can move off screens remarkably well for a guy his size and has great feet pre shot. Irwin struggled to hit in the second half when he was more fatigued and even airballed one three-point try from the wing. If I wanted to get a true player evaluation for Irwin I would do that in AAU because it’s too difficult to get a true picture of how good of a player he is playing with this high school team and the competition West Geauga plays in the CVC.
Lake Catholic 71 Vs Saint Ignatius 68
Game recap: Lake Catholic seemed to be preparing for a blowout win after a 30 point third quarter put the Cougars up over twenty points heading into the final quarter, but a 30 point quarter in response brought Ignatius all the way to within one possession when a desperation attempt at the buzzer was off, and Lake Catholic survived. The two stud Juniors, Luke Frazier and Luka Eller were the main reasons for this lead, but Sean Fitzgerald hit four three pointers to help Lake Catholic hold off the resilient Wildcats. The Cougars are very top heavy and rely on their top three for a majority of their scoring but Christian DeMitro hit a couple layups and jumpers in crucial moments for Cougars offense. For Saint Ignatius, Kevin Davet battled down low and finished with 12 points, but looks a little robotic on the floor. He seems to sometimes think about what he’s been told to do by his coach instead of just naturally playing basketball. I get that he doesn’t have a ton of moves and with his size he can be successful down low, but I think he needs to relax a little more and just naturally play basketball. Lukas Bielek was the best offensive player for the Wildcats, finishing with a team high 16 points, including a couple big time shots in the fourth quarter during the comeback. Bielek started to really break defenders down in the half-court and find his way to the bucket with a variety of crossovers to score or dish to a teammate. Bielek has a nice set jump-shot but can also create for himself off the bounce. Chase Toppin had a pretty average game for his standards, but still wound up with double figures in scoring with 10 points. Toppin has the ability to hang in the air and hit layups through traffic and like Bielek, can hit threes off the catch at an adequate rate.
Lukas Frazier: Frazier was dazzling in the open court and had a game high 26 points, along with six rebounds and four assists. Frazier made most of his scoring by himself, using his quick handle to get to the lane and finish with athletic moves. Frazier likes the mid-range jumper way too much, he took three contest looks in the first quarter alone and needs to improve his shot selection with this look in particular once he gets into college, but at this point he’s athletic enough to get away with it occasionally. Frazier did a great job of creating space for himself when he attacked the rim and can hang in the air better than just about anyone I saw at the tournament.
Luka Eller: The second of the dynamic duo, Eller didn’t disappoint in the first game I saw of his junior season. Eller has a great frame at 6’8 and gives defenses problems with his ability to hit shots from the outside at his size. Eller has one of the best free throw strokes I have seen from a player of his size. His free throw is so pure you can tell he put in lots of work on that shot in particular and it pays off because he got to the free throw line at least four or five times in this game and hit most of his free throws nothing but net. Eller doesn’t finish as well as you’d like and sometimes loses the ball in traffic, but he has great tools and should become a great stretch four at the next level with the ability to improve with his work ethic and improved finishing ability.
Benedictine 81 Vs Mentor 83
Game recap: The tournament saved the best for last, Benedictine Vs Mentor was the best game of the entire tournament and it probably wasn’t’ that close. Mentor plays an awesome offensive system and had a very deep team with many guys who can beat you offensively. Mason Trubisky had a solid game down low for the Cardinals, he can beat you with some post moves and despite not having good speed, he can take you to the hoop if the defender has a lazy closeout. Luke Floriea had a good game offensively as well, he hit three three-pointers and moved the ball well. Alex Edwards and Caleb Piks both had solid games, scoring ten points apiece. Edwards was quiet in the first half, but hit a couple big time shots in the fourth quarter. Chad Rodgers was disappointing, he has a really solid body and size, but failed to finish and took some questionable shots when left open from the corner. Davin Zeigler led Benedictine in scoring with 24 points but struggled from the line, going 4-9. Zeigler is an explosive athlete and threw down some powerful dunks on the fastbreak. Zeigler hit a couple three’s at the end of the game, but I’m still skeptical of his jump-shot when he transitions to the next level. Jashun Cobb had a really nice game attacking the hoop, having three layups in the first quarter alone that could’ve been and-1’s. Cobb struggled from the outside, but was relentless in getting to the rim. Andy Barba hit a bunch of jumpers this game and played much better than when I saw him against Toledo St Francis. Barba is an above average athlete, despite missing an open dunk in the first half, he threw down a couple dunks on the fastbreak. Rory Kilbane took three charges, but got called for a bad blocking foul at the crucial point in the game when he was clearly set, Kilbane doesn’t have much offensive skill, but he’s so good at drawing charges and rebonding that he provides value to the Benedictine defense.
Luke Chicone: Chicone was the most electric player of the entire weekend. The 5’8 (probably shorter than that) point guard made plays the entire game and finished with a game high 27 points to keep the Cardinals unbeaten. Chicone obviously has terrible size, but he makes up for this with quickness and skill. His handle is absurd and he can get to all the spots that he needs to. Chicone has a really solid outside game, hitting a deep three-pointer and being clutch on free-throws in crunch time. He is a better passer than the three assists lists, and pushed the ball up the floor for his wings to have success in transition.
Bj Busbee: Busbee had 22 points and was clutch for the Bengals offense all night. He has a really fluid jumper and hit three three-pointers for the Bengals, stretching the floor all night. He doesn’t have the ability to consistently create for himself, but took advantage of opportunities created by Zeigler and his other teammates.
That is my entire recap of the 2018 NEO Christmas Classic, I will be posting recaps of the play by play classics event hosted by Elyria Catholic on January 5’th and 6’th along with other standalone games that I will be attending before I return to Athens. If there are any players that I still need to see or players on these teams that I’m not giving enough love to, please tweet @mikerothou to let me know about these guys.