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Posted On: 01/1/18 9:30 AM
The second annual Classic at Damien was vastly different than the first.
The 2016 edition didn’t leave room for many surprises. The top two seeds, Mater Dei and host Damien, didn’t have much resistance on their way to a championship showdown with the Monarchs taking the inaugural crown.
This year provided a couple of things most weren’t expecting to happen. First, a youth-laden St. Bernard squad upended the experienced Damien side in the opening round and kept on winning right into Saturday’s championship game against Etiwanda, which is one of the surprise teams of the season thus far.
Etiwanda pulled away from the Vikings late Saturday night to take a 65-54 victory in the Platinum Division championship, with Eagles senior Elijah Harkless taking home the Most Outstanding Player award.
With so many great games and great teams participating at The Classic, there were a ton of eye-opening situations, and here’s a few things that stood out.
Etiwanda established itself as a legitimate Open Division contender
The Eagles came in to the season a bit under-the-radar as they don’t play in many, if any, fall league events, and now we know why. Coach Dave Kleckner was hiding a gem of a team complete with depth, athletes, offensive skill, toughness, physicality and a suffocating perimeter defense. Kessler Edwards is a budding star at the next level, Elijah Harkless should be getting looks from tons of Division I schools in need of a guard, Dylan Gaines is one of the most versatile defenders in Southern California and Krystian Wilson and Toby Okwuokei do all the dirty work. When Kleckner can bring guys like sophomore Camren Pierce and seniors Xavier Scott and Matthew Essien off the bench, you know they are primed for a deep playoff run and that could very well be in the Open Division.
Elijah Harkless has point guard feel and Division I’s should be on notice
Back in the spring, I tweeted about Harkless being an underrated player in the 2018 class and he took issue with the part where I called him a small forward when he felt he was best at the point guard position. At the time, Harkless was playing off the ball for his club team and making things happen as a slasher and finisher. So far this season, Harkless has proven me wrong. The hyper-athletic 6-foot-2 senior showcased his vision and passing ability all tournament long. He doesn’t over-handle, he has speed to blow-by on the perimeter, and he picks his scoring opportunities well.
Amani “Mook” Harris is much improved
Amani Harris made it clear that he has been in the gym working on every aspect of his game. The 6-foot-2 junior was especially improved with his perimeter shooting a from 3-point range, but he was also more patient with the basketball both in transition and half-court situations. Harris made exceptional reads and decisions on the break and in pick-and-roll action and rarely forced the issue that resulted in a bad shot or turnover.
Ryan Evans is starting to get into a flow
Ever since Santa Margarita lost point guard Pearson Parker to a hip injury, that position has been a “by committee” experiment for coach Jeff Reinert. The Eagles have tried Ryan Evans and Brenden Cormie, but neither are natural at the one. Reinert has now put a lot of the ball handling duties on 6-foot-8 junior Max Agbonkpolo, and with that pressure relieved from Evans, he lit up the nets on the week. Evans set his career-high Tuesday with 22 points and blew that out of the water with a 35-point, seven 3-pointer effort Saturday in the Platinum Division third-place game.
Bosco coach Matt Dunn finally has his kind of guys and it’s paying off
The kind of players who succeed under the tutelage of Matt Dunn are those with high basketball IQ’s, are coachable and play hard. Dunn took over at Bosco in the 2015-16 season, and while he had plenty of early success in the wins column, it wasn’t always easy. He had to deal with players who didn’t always play hard and defend and couldn’t quite grasp his offensive principles. The Braves are off to a 12-2 start this season with their only losses coming at The Classic to Etiwanda (by 8) and Santa Margarita (by 2). Senior wing Alpha Okoli has been great for the Braves as have juniors Josh Adoh, Fernando Gomez, Chris James, Jalen Manson and Nick Ainsworth.