This article was reprinted with permission from Hoopville.com
From December 18-21, Portland served host to the Les Schwab Invitational, a high school tournament featuring the top Oregon basketball programs as well as top teams from all over the United States and even the world. Now in its seventh year, the event has become one of the best holiday tournaments in the nation. This year's tournament was held on the campus of the University of Portland at the Chiles Center.
Last year's champion was Oak Hill Academy, which finished the season ranked #2 in USA Today's poll of high school programs and featured one of this year's top freshmen in college, Carmelo Anthony of Syracuse, RivalsHoops.com's number 3 player in the class of 2002.
This year's tournament would be no different in terms of top teams and players. Three teams, Bishop O'Connell (Arlington, VA), Westbury Christian (Houston, TX), and Jefferson (Portland, OR) were ranked in someone's pre-season Top 25. And as far as players go, there was plenty of future Division I talent that would have college coaches and recruiting evaluators salivating while they were watching.
The games lived up to all the billing as well. Nine games had a final margin of four points or less, including the last game of the tournament. Bishop O'Connell and Westbury Christian faced off in the LSI championship game, the first LSI that didn't feature at least one Oregon school in the finals. It was a game that eventually went to the wire. It didn't start out that way however, as Bishop O'Connell ran off to an early 12-1 lead, threatening to blow Westbury Christian out of the building like they had done to everyone else in the tournament. The Knights held a 34-22 lead at the half.
But behind star forward Ndudi Ebi (above right), the Wildcats scratched and clawed their way back into the game. Ebi put the team on his back in the third quarter, and his layup with 3:30 left in the period gave Westbury Christian its first lead of the ballgame, 37-36. The game was a back and forth affair from that point on, and with 1:07 remaining in the game a basket off a goaltending call on Ebi tied the game at 57. After missed opportunities by both teams - including two missed free throws by Westbury Christian with 0:26 left on the clock - Bishop O'Connell had one more chance with 13 second remaining. The final play called for sophomore guard Marcus Ginyard to drive to the basket, but although he missed the layup attempt, Knights forward Dave Neal put in the offensive putback as the clock ran out on the 59-57 Bishop O'Connell victory. A great end to what was a great tournament.
Point guard Erik Smith led the Knights with 18 points, while Neal chipped in with 13 points and nine rebounds. Ebi led the Wildcats with 32 points, 12 rebounds, and six blocks, on his way to earning MVP honors for the tournament.
Here's a recap of how the teams fared in the tournament.
1. Bishop O'Connell Knights (Arlington, VA) (4-0 in the tournament)
- defeated Rex Putnam (OR), 66-48
- defeated Westview (OR), 56-41
- defeated Redmond (OR), 53-35
- defeated Westbury Christian (TX), 59-57
Bishop O'Connell was clearly the most well-coached team in the LSI. What else would you expect from a team coached by Joey Wootten, the son of legendary head coach Morgan Wooten? Led by star juniors Brian Johnson, Erik Smith, and sophomore Marcus Ginyard, the Knights methodically ran their offense, dictated game tempo, and played in-your-face defense on every possession. Whether they faced zone or man defenses, it didn't matter - the Knights found the open shot and hit it. Also blessed with great size inside, the Knights had a distinct advantage in the paint and on the glass, and they weren't seriously challenged until the tournament's final game. In the finals, they had trouble handling Ebi (like everyone else), but held on to capture the championship at week's end. If there was a slight knock on this team, it was they didn't have great team speed or athleticism, but that hardly mattered as they ran roughshod over most of the competition and will likely hold on to their national Top Ten ranking. And, with only one senior on the team - who doesn't even start - the Knights will certainly be a team that will challenge for national championship honors next season, if not this year.
2. Westbury Christian Wildcats (Houston, TX) (3-1)
- defeated Tigard (OR), 44-28
- defeated Bendigo Secondary (AUS), 56-47
- defeated Jefferson (OR), 71-65
- lost to Bishop O'Connell (VA), 59-57
Westbury Christian is a known powerhouse in the Texas Association for Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) but has recently become known on the national scene. Led by consensus top five recruit Ndudi Ebi, the Wildcats were ranked in the national top 20 at the beginning of the season before dropping a game in a recent tournament. And with Ebi, they almost atoned for that loss in the LSI before losing a heartbreaker in the finals to Bishop O'Connell. True, Ebi is the main man for the Wildcats and he was the best player on the floor in every game that he played. But head coach Greg Glenn also got solid performances from his other seniors as well as from some of his younger players, which will bode well for future seasons after Ebi has graduated. Look for the Wildcats to continue to be on the national radar as they will face more nationally ranked competition in games and tournaments to come this season.
3. Redmond Panthers (Redmond, OR) (3-1)
- defeated Sunset (OR), 62-47
- defeated Southern Lab (LA), 59-57
- lost to Bishop O'Connell (VA), 53-35
- defeated Jefferson (OR), 61-57
Out of all the twelve Oregon schools that participated in this year's LSI, Redmond came out looking the prettiest. In defeating Sunset and Jefferson, the Panthers beat the state's top two ranked schools, and by week's end many were proclaiming them the state's new top team. Redmond did fairly well against out-of-state competition as well, picking up a nice victory over visiting Southern Lab, and even though they were never close to powerhouse Bishop O'Connell, they did as well as just about everyone else in the tournament in that regard. While the tournament was definitely a coming out party for star junior forward Maarty Leunen - who probably would have been the tournament MVP if it weren't for Ndudi Ebi - the Panthers got solid contributions from several of their other players. Head coach Kelly Bokn's squad will definitely a team to watch out for in the Oregon state tournament come March.
4. Jefferson Democrats (Portland, OR) (2-2)
- defeated Churchill (OR), 50-43
- defeated Jesuit (OR), 84-81 (OT)
- lost to Westbury Christian (TX), 71-65
- lost to Redmond (OR), 61-57
Jefferson in recent years has been considered Oregon's top high school program, and thus, the team hometown fans put their hopes on to keep the LSI title in-state. The Demos have come close in recent years, but unfortunately fell short again in this year's tourney. In fact, it was a rather disappointing tournament for head coach Marshall Haskins and his team, coming out of the LSI with a 2-3 overall record (after a season-opening setback to Springfield (MO) Kickapoo in the KMOX Shootout in St. Louis). However, the Demos were involved in three of the most exciting games in the tournament, which enthralled many fans despite the tough outcomes. While it's clear that as Thomas Gardner goes the team goes, this year's edition of the Democrats are very deep as every game Gardner got support from a different person off of the Jefferson bench. Haskins' roster goes as far as twelve deep, and he felt confident with almost any of them getting significant playing time on the floor, including time in clutch situations. This will certainly help out Jefferson, who traditionally likes to run and full court press, and they now look forwards to play in their rough-and-tumble conference, the Portland Interscholastic League (PIL).
5. Southern Lab Baby Jags (Baton Rouge, LA) (3-1)
- defeated Hillsboro (OR), 82-72
- lost to Redmond (OR), 72-62
- defeated Westview (OR), 88-78
- defeated Jesuit (OR), 60-51
The undersized (no starter taller than 6-4) and understaffed (only nine players) Baby Jags couldn't handle the size of Redmond in the second round, but otherwise played impressively in the LSI. The Baby Jags were missing two of their top players, which also happened to be their two tallest players, but they were able to do well even without them. Without their inside players, the team counted on their three guards and they were able to deliver in the team's three wins. While the team could no doubt run with the best of them, they concentrated on slowing the pace down and methodically working their offense for open shots. But they did do plenty of fast breaking when given the opportunity. There's no question that the Baby Jags head back to Louisiana - where they are nine-time state champions - with a positive feeling from what they learned in Portland.
6. Jesuit Crusaders (Portland, OR) (2-2)
- defeated Lake Oswego (OR), 58-47
- lost to Jefferson (OR), 84-81 (OT)
- defeated Bendigo Secondary (AUS), 48-44
- lost to Southern Lab (LA), 60-51
Not much was expected out of this year's young Jesuit squad prior to the LSI, but after their performance you can bet that Oregon high schools will need to prepare for this group of Crusaders. Led by the famous Tarver brother trio (sophomore point guard Josh, freshman shooting guard Seth and junior small forward Zach), the Crusaders showed they could compete with just about anybody in the tournament. They were able to push Jefferson to the limit in an overtime loss (one of the top games of the tourney) and although they finished with a record of 2-2, they can go home feeling good about how they performed. For the most part, Jesuit preferred the up-tempo game and could effectively full-court press when they needed to. Ball-handling, outside shooting, and converting free throws were items which they struggled with at times, but that was to be expected out of a young squad. Expect them to make noise - if not challenge for the top this season in the always-tough Metro League in the Portland area.
Some other tidbits from the tournament:
The tournament final between Bishop O'Connell and Westbury Christian gave fans almost everything they wanted in a high school basketball game, including the fantastic finish.
In Westbury Christian's semi-final win over Jefferson, a block of Thomas Gardner's driving layup by Ndudi Ebi in the waning seconds helped preserve the slim Wildcat lead. Ebi leaped up in the sky to block Gardner's shot, pinning the basketball on the glass near the top of the square above the rim, in a play that drew gasps from everyone in the crowd.
Tournament All-Name Team
Sam Huston, Redmond
Ugo Ihekweazu, Westbury Christian
Nike Johnson, Redmond
Rockwell Moody, Bishop O'Connell
Terrence Two Two, Jefferson
In all, the Les Schwab Invitational was a fantastic, fun-filled four day event which not only showcased the top talent in the area - and nationwide - but also raised over $30,000 for all of the participating school's athletic programs, thanks to the generous support of the many sponsors involved.
Jed Tai is a Senior Writer with Hoopville.com