FORT MYERS, Fla. — Long Beach (Calif.) Poly will be the highest-ranked team a Nebraska school ever has faced in boys basketball — No. 2 by MaxPreps and No. 8 by ESPN and USA Today.
The Jackrabbits have two future Pac-12 players: 6-7 shot-blocker Jordan Bell, whom Dana Altman has coming to Oregon, and 6-5 Roschon Price (Southern California). Ranked in the top 50 of the junior class is 6-6 small forward Kameron Chatman.
Omaha Central, which plays the Jackrabbits at 5 p.m. CST Wednesday in the first of the quarterfinals in the City of Palms Classic, watched the first half of Polly's 62-55 win over Tifton (Ga.) Tift County before its 62-37 win over McDonough (Ga.) Eagle's Landing.
“We'll have our work cut out for us,” Central coach Eric Behrens said. “Bell and Price are outstanding and the rest of their team is really, really good. Their ranking indicates the level they play at, but our goal is to win the game.”
Central senior Akoy Agau was more direct — and confident — when interviewed by a local writer.
“We plan on beating them,” Agau said.
Later, Agau added, “We're going to have to come out with the same intensity as we did today and play even harder, because they're a great team and well-coached.”
Win or lose, no breathers
The Central-Poly winner advances to Friday's 8:30 p.m. CST semifinal, with the loser going to a fifth-place semifinal at 4:15 p.m. Friday.
The possible Friday opponents include a pair of tournament heavyweights. Montverde (Fla.) Academy, a team that was ranked eighth nationally when it thumped Central in the 2007 Omaha Shootout, is the City of Palms top seed. Chicago Whitney Young, which received a bye into the quarterfinals, is favored to win that city's public-school title.
If Central beats Poly, it is assured of a fourth game in the tournament on Saturday. If the Eagles lose, they would have to win their fifth-place semifinal in order to play on Saturday.
Winning streak ties 63-year-old record
Tuesday's win, the 41st in a row for Central, pulled the Eagles into a tie for the longest winning streak by a Class A team. Grand Island's streak ran from 1947 to '49.
“We didn't know if we were sacrificing that when we switched our schedule around for this tournament,” Behrens said. “If we would have played in the OPS tournament, we could have had six wins under our belt already (for a 42-game streak). It was one of the concessions we had to make to come here.
“If we're ever going to have a group to (play in an elite tournament), this is the one. The reward and the memories the kids get from this trip will stay with them the rest of their lives. It was an opportunity not to pass up because of some record. We should be happy about tying the record, and we are, but we would have come here anyway.”
Too-tight taping affects Hollins
Tra-Deon Hollins shook off his first-half horse-collar — 0 of 6 shooting — by making six of his final seven attempts to help Central turn a five-point game into a blowout.
“Everybody was feeding me to my sweet spots and nothing was going in,” the Eagles senior said. “I had to rebound, play defense, do other things to help.”
Behrens said Hollins “had some pretty good looks” at the basket. “We'll chalk that up to a new trainer,” the coach said. “Tra-Deon said he couldn't feel his feet (after they were taped) but I don't know how that makes you miss a layup necessarily.”
Homework done by both teams
Central and Eagle's Landing are hundreds of miles apart, but both coaches said this week that they had good scouting reports.
“We knew their personnel well, we knew most of their zone quick-hitters,” Eagle's Landing coach Clay Crump said. “They knew us well. We were calling out each other's plays from the sidelines. They just made more plays.”
His team was the last of the 16 invited into the championship bracket. His Eagles were in the four-team Signature Bracket before changing places with Dallas Prime Prep — a new charter school that ex-Dallas Cowboy Deion Sanders founded. Prime Prep had four basketball players declared ineligible by its state association, then the school withdrew from the association late last month.
MaxPrep rankings include Central
Central is one of eight tournament teams ranked in the top 25 by MaxPreps, with the Eagles checking in at No. 13 in the ratings released on Monday.
MaxPreps' top five is in the field — No. 1 Highland (Utah) Lone Peak, No. 2 Long Beach (Calif.) Poly, No. 3 Chester (Pa.), No. 4 Chicago Whitney Young and No. 5 Memphis Southland. Fairfax (Va.) Paul VI is 10th and Tifton (Ga.) Tift County is 12th.
Bits and pieces
Seen in the stands was former Bellevue West assistant basketball coach Steve Willett, who lives in the area. He said he and his wife moved to Fort Myers to take care of his father, now deceased, and liked it so much that they now are building a home. He continues to follow the Thunderbirds on Omaha.com. ... A last-second basket ended 37 years of tournament frustration for Bishop Verot, the host school. The reward for its 48-47 bunny-bracket win over Fort Lauderdale Aquinas is a first-round game against Montverde.
— Stu Pospisil