Byline: Josh Loftin
The Wasatch Academy boys basketball team enters the second half of “finals week” with tests against four elite basketball programs, including a contender for the MaxPreps national title.
For the second time in three weeks, the Tigers are in Las Vegas. This time they are playing in the Prep Division of the Tarkanian Classic. While other divisions are bracket affairs, the Prep teams play more of a showcase against other teams.
Game 1: Findlay Prep
The Tigers opened on Wednesday night against Findlay Prep, the #3 team in the country in MaxPreps most recent rankings. The Pilots may be the best team the Tigers play all season.
The Pilots entered the game 10–0 and averaging more than 100 points per game. They are led by the 6’8″ Justin Jackson, a junior from Canada, senior Allonzo Trier (who will play for Arizona next year), and junior Derryck Thornton. Those three are averaging nearly 70 points a game combined.
With those gaudy numbers in mind, Wasatch Academy came out strong and played Findlay Prep extremely well for 20 minutes. Throughout the first half, they limited the expected runs by Findlay and reached halftime down 39-30, a lead they cut to seven early in the second half.
And then, Trier and Horace Spencer, a 6’8″ senior going to Auburn next year, took over the game. Once again, the lack of size for Wasatch Academy became an issue as the Pilots significantly won the battle of the boards. During the final 12 minutes, the Pilots used a 20-2 run to push their singe-digit advantage to an eventual 80-52 victory.
Also hurting the Tigers was poor shooting. While they never stopped fighting, they shot only 30 percent from field, including 5 for 25 from behind the arc. Against a team as good as Findlay Prep, that will not work.
The loss, however, proved just how far the Tigers basketball team has come in a few years. They played on a big stage — more than two dozen college assistant and head coaches watched the game, including Louisville’s Rick Pitino — and the upstart team from Utah held its own against the best of the best.
Game 2: National Prep
In their second game, against National Prep out of Georgia, the Tigers played a solid game from start to finish. The Rebels are led by 6’6″ Osa Wilson and 5’10” Darius Simmons and has a veteran team, by Wasatch Academy forced them into a lot of missed shots. At the same time, the Tigers got back on track offensively, shooting 50 percent from the field.
The win snapped the Tigers three-game losing streak, and seemed to restore the players confidence. The game was streamed on High School Cube and can be watched on replay.
Game 3: Future Prep, 11 a.m. @ Orleans Arena
The three-year-old Future Prep (California) does have the marquee player of some of the other teams Wasatch Academy faced, but they have a very deep bench with 10-plus players who will likely play college basketball at some level.
Wasatch Academy came out as hot as they have been all season, forcing turnovers and hitting shots. Midway through the first half, they held a 26-8 lead and seemed cruising.
The problem, however, was that they went on cruise control. Sloppy play and mental mistakes gave Future Prep a lot of opportunities to get back in the game, and they did cut the lead into single digits midway through the second half. But they also failed to hit shots, which meant the Tigers were able to hang on for a decent-looking final, 60-47.
Game 4: vs Mainland Eagles (New Zealand)
The Tigers closed out the tournament with a match-up against the New Zealand-based Mainland Eagles. As they did in their previous two wins, the Tigers came out strong and built an early lead of more than 20 points. They shot well in the first half and had minimal errors.
Their play in the second half got sloppy, however, and the Eagles started to creep back into the game. But the Eagles poor shooting and a renewed late focus by Wasatch Academy pushed the lead back to 20. The Tigers won 80-60.
Josip Vranik led the Tigers with 19 points, 13 rebounds, and 7 assists. Cody John had the high scoring night 22 points. You can watch highlights on High School Cube.
All games will be streamed on High School Cube. The full schedule for the Tigers (all times Pacific):
- Wednesday, Dec. 17: vs. Findlay Prep (Las Vegas), 7:10 p.m., Bishop Gorman High School.
- Thursday, Dec. 18: vs. National Prep (Atlanta): 5:50 p.m., Heinrich YMCA Friday,
- Friday, Dec. 19: vs. Future Prep (California): 11 a.m., Orleans Arena
- Saturday, Dec. 20: vs. Mainland Eagles (New Zealand): 7:40 p.m., Bishop Gorman High School