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Posted On: 03/2/18 2:12 PM
Deep runs in the CHSAA 5a state tournament are so often driven by the stars and stand out players. But wins are based on a collaborative effort. For every big-time scorer, we’ve seen in the state tournament, there was a great defender, great rebounder or X factor player to do the little things and boost a team’s success. This year’s Great 8 is no different. Every team left has a not only a catalyst but also a role player who could be the difference maker. Here’s a look at a X-factor on each team that’s play could help spark a trip to the Final Four.
Blake Williams, Rock Canyon
Rock Canyon might have Mr. Basketball for this year on the team in Sam Masten who’s having an incredible senior season and Tyson Gilbert has also been phenomenal, but, I honestly feel as if Rock Canyon is at their best when Blake is having one of those games. His impact on both ends of the floor is unmeasurable and he makes an already good team; great. He’s recently been in a spunk but a matchup against a talented and stubborn Overland squad to reach the Final Four is where he’ll be called upon most. Blake will have to get back to the player that we saw at the beginning of the year and just might be the most important player in the game on Saturday.
Mohammed Diallo, George Washington
“Mo Buckets” has been on a tear as of late and put together a great month of February. He’s picked that play up in the playoffs and has the Patriots ready to attempt to make it back to the championship and this time try and win it all. The Patriot bunch is a group that gets it done in a variety of ways and each night it could be a new player that leads the team and Diallo has shown that he’s consistent every game. He can shoot the mid-range, finish in traffic, block a few shots and hit the open man and his willingness to adjust as the game goes along is why he is one of the most improved players in the state that should’ve been on plenty of people’s radars. This week, his stock will grow even more and a rematch against an improved Smoky Hill squad is where the Patriots will call upon him once again,
Laolu Oke, Overland
Laolu is a six-foot-5 senior forward at Overland and a top-notch rebounder that extends plays with his motor. While all of his progressions can’t be seen on the stat sheet what has improved for him is his post moves and finishes. He’s an athletic finisher that creates mismatches with his quickness on a team that thrives under pressure. Daijon Smith and Tucson Redding may carry the team in the scoring department but Oke is a game changer and mood setter and it’ll be called upon as his Trailblazers have their most difficult task of the season in beating the top overall seed remaining in Rock Canyon. This is a test and a big game from him can be the difference.
Bailey Verk, Thunder ridge
Thunder Ridge has arguably the best overall team in the state and their No.2 seed in the playoffs along with two straight blowouts show it. With Kaison Hammonds, Tyson Cruickshank and Justin Mccaw being the focal points for opposing teams, Verk goes under the cracks but when you take a look back at games, the X-factor on a loaded Grizzlies squad is Bailey. The six-foot-four forward rebounds aggressively and isn’t going to get outworked often, he has the ability to score with his back to the basket and is always at the right spot. In a game against Doherty, where they’re so big man dominant, it’s going to take players like Berk, Austin Holt and Kevin Sax to be the difference makers and contribute in the rebounding department as well as on defense. This will be a star driven game but Verk and others will be the difference between or a loss.
Eric Williams, Smoky Hill
Eric isn’t in the starting line-up or a player that wows you with his overall stats, but what he does do is create energy. He’s a player that gets the crowd going rather it be with a dunk or steal in the open court and makes it difficult to get going on the offensive end as he has the body type to be able to guard the smaller guards as well as the strength to go inside and bang. GW has prototypical big men that can get going with their mid-range jump shot, with Williams you can offset as he has the length and athleticism to match it when giving the starters a break. When he gets his shot going, its difficult to cool him off and he makes an already long team a big bigger. His motor on the defensive end gives the Buffaloes an extra player to plug and play and you don’t get much drop off when he’s in the game.
DeMarious Carey, Doherty
With Joe Golden, Alijah Bates and Kyrele Benford manning the paint and taking on the scoring load it makes it easier for DeMarious to navigate and operate the offense. He’s a I.Q. player that understands what it takes to keep everyone happy and contribute in other ways. He leads the team in assists and in their Sweet 16 game against Cherry Creek he was the difference maker and the reason they won. His poise under pressure, leadership and willingness to make the extra pass will be called upon again against maybe the best team overall team in the state in Thunder ridge and a good game here will put him on everyone’s radar.
Tizell Lewis, Chaparral
Earlier in the week we made a post about who the best defender in the state was and the resounding answer we got was Tizell, the thing is… we already knew it. He’s an ultra-aggressive defender that knows how to use his body well and he frustrates many players he goes up against as he’s tasked with the job to defend the opposite teams best offensive weapon no matter which position. His timing is second to none and he anticipates the players movements which is contagious on this Chaparral team. They have the offensive firepower to compete with any team in the state but with a defender like Tizell setting the tone early and often it makes it easier on the guys to play with an edge. He’s that guy and it’s every coaches dream to have a player that they can put in and say “go lock him down.”
Gunner Gentry, Grandview
Gunner is a D1 football commit as he’s tenacious on the gridiron and that translates to the hardwood as well. He’s not a player that will light the scoreboard up but he does all the little things well and makes it hard for opposing big men in the paint as you know you’re going to get your all with this 6’3 two-hundred- pound big man. He plays with heart, he’s a high I.Q player and he’ll definitely be called upon as his team goes against one of the better bigs in the state in Ronnie DeGray III.