Posted On: 03/15/18 9:20 PM
For locals this was a much anticipated matchup between King and UofD, with two defensive oriented teams taking center stage for the Class A Regional Final Championship. UofD came in with a ton of momentum, winners of 12 straight games. The Crusaders have been steady all year, with a 14-6 record and 5 of the losses coming by 5 points or less. From the opening tip only one word is fitting when describing this game………..war. The opening minutes were extremely physical and hard fought, with King hard-pressed to get clean shots against the superior size of the Cubs. UofD faired a bit better, as they were able to take advantage of that size by getting putbacks on the offensive glass to size a narrow 15-9 lead halfway through the second quarter. The Cub defense simply locked in during the final 4 minutes of the 2nd, allowing King to score a single free throw behind Jalen Thomas’ rim protection and shotblocking as they took a 19-10 lead at the half. Jalen continued his stellar performance in the third quarter, as he converted on a few jumphooks in the paint with nice touch while continuing to anchor the UofD defense. The Cubs took a 30-15 lead halfway through the third quarter and it appeared a blowout might be in the works. Not so fast. The Crusaders came out early in the fourth with some fire, applying full court ball pressure and switched everything on screens, forcing a few turnovers to cut the deficit to 38-31 with 5 minutes left in the game. Roughly 1 minute later, King came up with a timely steal but failed to convert the transition layup. UofD would gather the rebound and race down the court for a transition layup of their own to extend the lead to 40-31 and effectively close the door. Hard fought W for coach Pat Donnely and the Cubs.
Here are five items that stick out in the aftermath:
The 2019 center pops out at you with prototype height/length for a center at a legit 6’9 with a wingspan approaching 7′. While his physical dimensions have always been superb, Jalen is starting to turn his immense potential into production. Thomas’ greatest asset is the ability to alter and block shots, and he was superb against King in that regard. The junior big-man blocked six shots and altered a ton more, controlling the paint making it nearly impossible for the Crusaders to convert at the rim. Offensively, Jalen has made some noticeable strides. His touch was absolutely great, as he converted on multiple jumphooks with both the right and left hand with fluidity and ease and it looks like a weapon that will translate at the next level. On the wing Thomas was strong with the ball, as he pivoted with authority to avoid getting the ball stolen and made good passes while avoiding turnovers. He still needs to add 25 pounds of muscle mass, but his motor has improved as Jalen made multiple jumps when rebounding the ball in traffic. Thursday was the most vocal and engaged I’ve seen Thomas to date. With his offensive game rounding into form and assuming his body adds 25 pounds of muscle mass, Jalen is just scratching the surface of his potential.
The junior floor general for King isn’t a well-known prospect at this point, but that should change. Jordan was the only Crusader that consistently created shots and got to his spots off the bounce. Whitford displayed a good handle, with change of direction dribbles while playing at multiple speeds to keep his defender off-balance. As a shooter, his pull-up jumper from midrange is a very effective weapon and he’s a crafty finisher as well. Defensively Jordan applied non-stop ball pressure, using good lateral movement and straight line speed to make life tough for UofD ballhandlers. Perhaps more than anything, Whitford is tough as nails and plays a physical brand of basketball with non-stop effort on both ends of the floor. He is the epitome of a leader in every sense. While he’s 5’10, Jordan plays with the heart of a 6’6 wing. Small college should give him a hard look this Summer with the Michigan Playmakers.
Cubs head man Pat Donnely has a reputation as hard-nosed coach that demands effort and attention to detail on the defensive end. That approach is reflected through his players, as nothing comes easy against a stingy Cub defense that has only allowed the opposition to exceed 60 points one time during their last 21 games. Since Jalen Thomas returned to the UofD lineup the Cubs have simply stifled their opponents. It all starts with Jalen in the middle, as his size/length is the great equalizer. Thomas’s impact on the defensive end goes much further than tangible blocked shots, as his mere presence discourages the opposition from even attempting shots at the rim. On the perimeter, Jordan Montgomery is extremely quick and is often able to beat ballhandlers to the spot despite giving up size. Michigan State football commit Elijah Collins has a tremendous combination of size, strength and lateral agility that allows him to greatly limit the opponent’s best wing. Throw in the super athletic Daniel Friday as a versatile defender that can check opposing post-players while having the flexibility to guard perimeter wings and life is tough for the coach on the other side.
Can’t say enough about the Detroit King head man, as his Crusader squad was once again a top 15-20 team in Class A. Take a look at the remainder of top ten teams in Class A and nearly all of them have a Division I prospect on the roster. While Coach Ward has a plethora of hard-nosed players that bring a hardhat every game, he does not have a single player on his roster that currently holds a Division I offer. King is also working with a severe size disadvantage, with only 1 player on the roster at least 6’4. But none of that matters because KC is a well-oiled machine capable of winning games against top flight competition by simply outworking the opponent with lock-down, in your face defense. And it all starts with the leadership from the top.
As discussed in detail above, the defense is certainly operating at a high level and is championship worthy. There are some questions on the offensive end though, as the Cubs don’t really have an elite scorer that dominates late in games. Daniel Friday is probably the best pure scorer on the UDJ roster, but he’s not necessarily your typical ball-dominant prospect that can knock down contested jumpers off the bounce. But perhaps that isn’t such a bad thing, as the opposition has to prepare equally for all 5 players on the court, as the Cubs are well balanced. Jalen Thomas provides scoring in the paint, Zach Winston is a very good shooter off the catch, Eli Collins is a great slasher that can finish through contact and Jordan Montgomery is a clutch shotmaker from distance. The High School game generally favors the team with the best guard play and a shotblocking big, but there’s something about the grit and balance of the Cubs that wouldn’t shock me to see them hoist the Class A championship.