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Posted On: 06/2/18 8:16 AM
Players, parents, friends, family, and a plethora of division three coaches all pushed their way into the six gyms of Champlin Park High School on Friday night. What did they see? A whole lot of Defense, a whole lot of James Sommer, and a whole lot of Malik Willingham.
The Star of the Show
The unquestioned star of the Friday night show was Waseca guard Malik Willingham, a fill it up type of player that led Minnesota Select Leafblad to a ten point win over a Minnesota Magic team that was playing with a lot of older, veteran guys. Looking on in the stands? Everybody at the division three level. Willingham has the type of scoring punch that definitely could lead to a scholarship somewhere. But he could also head to the D3 level and become an instant impact standout and that is why so many schools were there watching on Friday hoping that Malik gives their program a look.
Malik is a winner and all you have to do is look back at the three loss season Waseca had for proof (the Jays played above the expectations of everyone, maybe even their own). Malik’s also been putting up fantastic numbers for a Minnesota Select team that has faced a daunting schedule of Ny2La Basketball League and SPTS teams. That experience poured out on Friday night when Malik opened the game up with four bombs at the arc early and ultimately scoring 25 points to push Select Leafblad into the next round of play.
Select is hoping to make a statement this weekend. Their overall record is not where they would like it to be but their schedule has been a lot more demanding than all but about six teams at the 17u level (D1, Pulley, Sizzle, Comets Lewis, WOTN, Fury Wilde). Willingham led Select pass the Magic – a team that got 24 points from 6-foot-8 2017 Edina graduate Matt Hofrenning who is now an unsigned senior from a prep school – and next up for Select is a Mentality Minnesota group that has been playing outstanding basketball. That game is this afternoon at 4pm at Champlin Park.
Next Up! James Sommer
Everybody has their time to step into the spotlight and grabbed the state’s attention with their play. I feel strongly that the time of James Sommer, a point guard from Cristo Rey and Mentality Minnesota, is coming quick. That time may even be this weekend at the NHR State Tournament. Let’s go back for a moment. As a freshman people first took notice of Sommer when he was sending lobs smoothly to Jericho Sims: the now Texas Longhorn big who is being slated as a first round draft pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. With Sims gone the Cristo Rey team was forgotten, for a moment. But Sommer scored 19.5 points per game as a sophomore and led the program to 19 wins.
Sommer is playing up at the 17u level this year despite being a 2020 and so far the experience has been rewarding. Mentality Minnesota plays an aggressive brand of team basketball complete with defensive man to man principles that has led the team to a 19-10 record. That defense that Mentality Minnesota so proudly plays forces more turnovers than a west metro snotty bakery. From there the fast break is on and Sommer is often the leader at about 6-foot-2 coming down hill at scared retreating defenders. The efficiency rate? About 90 plus percent.
James has at times shown that he can make the flashy play but those flashy plays often come out of necessity. For example, the ball fake that tweaked a player’s lower left ankle or the no-look pass that the on-ball defender nor the help defender could deal with. His feel for the game at PG is something that has grabbed our attention because James seemingly makes the right read of attack or be patient and grind the defense on almost every play. The Sommer demeanor on the court rubs off in his teammates and the confident shot with feet set or touching in scores despite contesting arms might be my favorite part of his game.
James Sommer is rising up the already stacked charts of 2020 talented basketball players in Minnesota and people better get to know his name.
Defense. Defense. Defense.
Usually when I sit down and watch three games in a hot gym on a Friday night I really don’t want to see running time blowouts. Friday night was different though, an encouraging thing happened. You see, I spent last weekend watching about 8 EYBL games which was 16 teams playing zone defense, most in a lazy way. Yeah, the brand of hoops with many of the top players in the country played zone game after game after game after game and it zapped a lot of the excitement out of enjoying these talented players. So it was refreshing to watch Heat MacDonald, Mentality Minnesota, and Heat Walljasper overwhelm their opponents with good old team defense which is of course what championship basketball at every level uses.
Heat Walljasper used a barrage of threes to come back from double figures down against Twin Cities Finest but it was their defense that forced their opponents into a 17 of 54 shooting day (31.4 percent). TC Finest has a strong guard combo in Isaiah Robinson and Jovan Christian and Walljasper held them to 10 of 29 shooting combined which is how the score got to 73-46 in favor of Heat Wallj. Isaac Tessier (White Bear Lake) seemed to collect all boards (9) and lead the break, Dan Walljasper (Maple Grove) hit three treys and was great on the ball, Kyle Dreyer (Maple Grove) was great defensively and scored 13, and Lucas Larson (Blaine) scored 11 with three treys. Inside Tyson Hansen (Chanhassen), Brady Garcia (Andover), and Charlie Ash (Chanhassen) led a plus eight rebounding edge with Garcia grabbing nine and Ash totaling 11 points and 8 boards.
Heat MacDonald is one of the 17u favorites this weekend and their poise against an aggressive offensive push from Minnesota Pressure was commendable. Pressure was aggressive with the Heat team and it gave them an early chance. However, Heat MacDonald stayed calm and eventually forced Minnesota Pressure into a 21 of 57 shooting game (36.8 percent) with 16 turnovers. Jarvis Wright went at the Heat hard but Leighton Glodek (Irondale) did a great job on Wright keeping him to 11 points (5 of 15 shooting) with quality help from Logan Benson (Ellsworth, WI) and Noah Chamberlain (St. Thomas). Leighton Glodek has to be one of the hardest working defenders I’ve seen this 17u season as I continue to enjoy the effort the 6-foot-4 wing brings. The Heat defense built the team up and then Malik Spearman-Tschida (Henry Sibley) scored a dozen in the paint and Reilly O’Neill (Norwood-Young America) caught fire at 6-foot-5 sinking three triples and two more scores for 13 points.
We spoke of James Sommer earlier but really the Mentality Minnesota win over Heat Ismail was a dominating defensive performance. Heat Ismail shot only 11 of 40 from the field (27.5 percent) and I gave up marking off the Heat Ismail turnovers. Let’s just say that nearly everyone of them turned into a Mentality break for their 55-32 victory. Julian Hutchinson (Burnsville), Kameron Givens (DeLaSalle), Zac Centers (Mahtomedi), Curtis Jones (Minneapolis South), and Marcus Shepley (Burnsville) completely hounded the Heat defensively. It was like every Heat ball screen was an open invitation for Mentality players to pounce aggressively with more excited defense. It seemed like the Mentality players were begging for a ball screen so they could jump at the ball and force problems. Sommer had his 14, Hutchinson scored ten, and Givens and Jones had three field goals each and nearly all of them seemed to be in transition off of Heat mistakes.
Maple Grove 6-foot-4 wing Tyler Born is a prospect that caught my eye. He’s 6-foot-4 and took ONLY good shots within the offense. Scored a pair of threes and moved off the ball to score the rest of his team high 14 points with seven rebounds. There were five guys on Heat Walljasper who took more shots than Born, but Tyler was the most efficient offensive player plus he was a part of that great team defense.
Simley guard Isaiah Robinson has had a nice spring playing with TC Finest. After scoring 19 a game this winter Robinson has helped Finest to a .500 year thus far including game high 17 points in a loss to Heat Walljasper. Isaiah was at times frustrated with his team’s loss but the improvements in his game as a shooter at the arc, and a corner turning playmaker were clear.