Mater Dei takes Tarkanian Classic

College basketball coaching icon Jerry Tarkanian shows off a commemorative towel with a logo that shows him biting one as he did every game on the bench. Tarkanian witnessed Mater Dei's victories over Bishop Gorman (La Vegas) and Morgan Park (Chicago). Photo by Nick Koza

College basketball coaching icon Jerry Tarkanian shows off commemorative towel with logo showing him biting one as he did every game on the bench. Tarkanian witnessed Mater Dei’s victories over Bishop Gorman and Morgan Park. Photo by Nick Koza

State’s No. 4 ranked team outlasts strong field to capture crown at first ever Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas. No. 7 Bishop O’Dowd takes fifth place. Long Beach Poly takes third place at big-time Florida tourney while Gardena Serra and De La Salle scramble after another Florida tournament is cancelled. By Ronnie Flores. 

Las Vegas — Despite a strong California contingent of state-ranked teams that included Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland, Compton, Fairfax of Los Angeles, Modesto Christian, and Sheldon of Sacramento, only one California team made it to the semifinal round of the inaugural Tarkanian Classic.

Nine-time CIF state champion Mater Dei of Santa Ana used team-oriented ball and its championship experience to advance to the Platinum Division championship, where the Monarchs defeated host Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) 76-60 on Saturday evening to capture the tournament crown.

The victory over Bishop Gorman stretched Mater Dei’s winning streak to 31 games, dating back to last January when the Monarchs lost by three points to Gill St. Bernard’s (Gladstone, N.J.) at the Cancer Research Classic in Wheeling, W.V.

Mater Dei jumped all over Bishop Gorman (11-1) right away and led 14-0. The Gaels didn’t score until 9:51 remained in the first half (two halves were used as opposed to regular eight-minute quarters) on a dunk by senior Rashad Muhammad. The Monarchs grew their lead to 15 points (18-3) before Bishop Gorman’s backcourt settled down. Bishop Gorman trailed 29-23 on a Muhammad layup, but the Gaels’ momentum was short-lived as Mater Dei’s Stanley Johnson found Bishop Gorman’s Obim Okeke draped all over him at half court, only to duck under his arm and heave in a 45-foot bank shot at the halftime buzzer to give Mater Dei a 35-23 lead.

“At the beginning of the game, we thought we were down 15-0 to start and we wanted to punch them first,” said Johnson, the tournament’s MVP. “In pre-game, we talked about not letting Stephen Zimmerman get a shot over his right shoulder. We also talked about not letting Rashad (Muhammad) get hot because he’s playing with so much confidence.”

At the start of the second half, Mater Dei had all the momentum. In the final four minutes of the first half and the first four of the second, Mater Dei stretched a six-point lead to 21. The Monarchs eventually grew their lead to 50-26 with just under 12 minutes remaining in the game and Bishop Gorman never seriously threatened again.

Johnson, one of the nation’s top juniors, finished with 23 points (on 10-of-16 shooting) and 13 rebounds, both game highs. Mater Dei senior guard Elijah Brown made timely jumpers in both halves and finished with 22 points and nine rebounds.

The 6-foot-11 Zimmerman attempted only four field goals, making one, and finished with seven points. Muhammad was one of three Bishop Gorman players in double figures. He finished with 10 points on 4-of-15 shooting. Senior guard Tre Kennedy led the Gaels with 15 points.

“It starts with our coaching staff,” Brown said. “They have proved over the years they can win with any type of personnel.”

Added Mater Dei senior Mario Soto, who finished with eight points and six rebounds: “We knew they were coming out in a zone and we wanted to exploit that. Honestly, our Xs and Os are probably better than any team in the country.”

In the championship semifinals, Mater Dei (10-0) defeated a young but talented Our Savior New American (Centereach, N.Y.) team, 55-39. Johnson led the way with 15 points and seven rebounds. Brown was the only other Monarch in double figures with 13 points.

In the second semifinal, Bishop Gorman (a bonafide contender for the mythical national title in 2014 and 2015) defeated Morgan Park (Chicago) in overtime 83-80. Gorman rallied after trailing by eight points (68-60) with 3:12 left in regulation, as the Gaels’ Muhammad and Zimmerman came up big down the stretch to lead the comeback win. The 6-foot-11 Zimmerman, arguably the nation’s top 2015 prospect, finished with 24 points. Muhammad, a senior wing and the younger brother of 2012 Mr. Basketball USA Shabazz Muhammad (UCLA), scored 18 second half points en route to a 27-point performance.

Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland, which came into the tournament ranked No. 7 in the state, finished in fifth place courtesy of its 50-46 victory over Pinnacle (Phoenix, Ariz.). The only loss for O’Dowd (6-1) was a 67-46 quarterfinal setback to Mater Dei.

No. 6 Sheldon finished the tournament 2-2 as San Diego State recruit Dakari Allen joined O’Dowd sophomore forward Ivan Rabb on the all-tourney squad.

Jerry Tarkanian honored

There are a plethora of high school and college tournaments right before and after the Christmas holiday. For fans, scouts and journalists alike, sometimes it’s hard to decipher one from the other.

Jerry Tarkanian is one of college basketball’s most respected coaches ever, with the fourth highest winning percentage (778-202) all-time among Division I coaches. Tarkanian coached 30 seasons at Long Beach State, UNLV and Fresno State and is best known for leading the Runnin’ Rebels to four NCAA Final Fours and making Las Vegas known for something besides entertainment.

Co-tournament directors Dinos Trigonis (head coach of the Belmont Shore AAU club) and Grant Rice (Bishop Gorman head coach) wanted to distinguish the new tournament from others and honor a local basketball icon at the same time. Since Rice’s brother Dave (the current UNLV coach) played for Tarkanian, honoring him at a local high school basketball tournament was a perfect marriage.

In between Friday’s semifinal games, Tarkanian was honored during a short ceremony attended by many current and former UNLV players. Video highlights of Tarkanian’s career were shown on a large projector and longtime talent scout Van Coleman of talked about Tarkanian’s legacy before Dave Rice introduced the legendary coach on behalf of all his former players.

“I was very pleased when I found out they were having this in my honor,” Tarkanian said.

“We’ve been talking about it for a year,” Trigonis said. “We thought it was fitting to honor Tarkanian in Vegas since his name in this town is synonymous with top teams and players.”

Even though Tarkanian is an Ohio native and best known for his UNLV teams, he has deep California roots. He coached at his alma mater, San Joaquin Memorial of Fresno (1956-57), in addition to Antelope Valley of Lancaster (1958) and Redlands (1960) prior to leaving for the junior college ranks. A master defensive tactician, Tarkanian won four consecutive junior college state titles at Riverside City and Pasadena City before leaving his mark on Division I by heavily recruiting the junior college ranks and rehabilitating the careers of players other coaches often considered trouble makers.

City of Palms: Long Beach Poly takes third

Long Beach Poly, California’s top-ranked team, entered the prestigious City of Palms Classic in Ft. Myers, Fla., and advanced to the semifinals before falling to national No. 1 and eventual tournament champion Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.). Poly couldn’t handle 6-foot-10 Dakari Johnson inside, as the 2013 post finished with 17 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocked shots. All-American candidate Roschon Prince led Poly in a losing effort with 22 points.

Poly rebounded to defeat No. 9 Southwind (Memphis, Tenn.) 64-57 in the third-place game as All-State forward Jordan Bell dominated the interior, and impressed national scouts, with 20 points, 14 rebounds and seven blocks.

“I think we represented Poly basketball well,” Poly coach Sharrief Metoyer said. “We played tough defensively in our wins and did a great job bouncing back after last night’s loss.

“Similar to last year’s (Southern Section) final against Mater Dei, we got beat up on the offensive glass against Montverde Academy.”

In the quarterfinals, Poly (8-1) defeated No. 19 Omaha Central (Omaha, Neb.) 52-49 on a 3-pointer at the buzzer by guard Ke’jhan Feagin. Bell finished with 14 points, 17 rebounds and eight blocked shots to help snap Omaha Central’s 41-game winning streak.

In its tournament opener, Poly defeated Tift County (Tifton, Ga.) 62-55 as Prince netted 19 points and Bell finished with 17 points and six blocks.

Serra, De La Salle out in cold

Two of the state’s better programs, De La Salle of Concord and Serra of Gardena, were supposed to participate in the Gulfshore Invitational in Naples, Fla., December 27-31. The intention of tournament director Alexander Getta was to scrap local Florida teams and have a national tournament for the first time.

De La Salle and Serra were supposed to join teams such as national No. 1 Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.), St. Benedict’s (Newark, N.J.) and DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.) in a loaded field, but on Friday Dec. 14 word spread throughout the basketball community that the tournament was officially cancelled.

Getta told the Naples Daily News the tournament was unable to secure a major sponsor that could cover teams’ travel costs. According to the newspaper, Getta wouldn’t disclose the names of any potential sponsors.

For Serra’s Dwan Hurt and other coaches, the sudden cancellation is not only a missed opportunity to play good competition, but a huge hit to the wallet for agreeing to play in a tournament, pay travel costs upfront and get reimbursed later.

It’s a reimbursement unlikely to happen.

Hurt personally paid travel accommodations for 15 players and three coaches. Because of standard policy with a majority of airline companies, the veteran Serra coach won’t get fully reimbursed for the cost of the tickets.

“My athletic director was in constant contact with the tournament director, then we found it kind of strange because ever since we sent him our purchase receipts from the airline, we stopped hearing from him,” Hurt told Cal-Hi Sports. “At first, we were supposed to be sent $10,000 and we had to fundraise whatever the difference was. Then we got the message last Thursday (about the cancellation).

“This is not the way to treat kids.”

According to the Naples Daily News, Olympic (Charlotte, N.C.) coach Ty Baumgardner purchased 20 airline tickets on his personal credit card at a cost of approximately $8,200.

Getta told the Naples Daily News he made an honest effort to execute the event. The big aspirations to make the Gulfshore Invitational a national tournament ended up a negative holiday experience for student-athletes of the invited teams and an expensive learning experience for its coaches.

According to Hurt, the Cavaliers and De La Salle scrambled to get in other tournaments after the Christmas Holiday. The Spartans reportedly will enter the MaxPreps Holiday Classic in Palm Springs and Serra will play locally at the San Pedro Tournament.

“This took me for a loop…it’s so disappointing,” Hurt said. “Talk about the Grinch That Stole Christmas.”

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  1. […] but ineligibility and injury kept Sheldon from playing up to its potential at last week’s Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas. Coach Joe Rollings’ club limped to a 2-2 […]

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