By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The 35th Annual Bass Pro Tournament of Champions tips off on January 17th with Parkview and Springfield Catholic joining six of the nation’s top teams at JQH Arena. While this event offers the same top-end talent the last several events have, the 2019 edition may have the deepest and most balanced field ever with six teams ranked in the top 30 nationally. Here are some things to know.
James Wiseman is the major draw
The 7-footer joins R.J. Barrett, Marvin Bagley, Harry Giles and Ben Simmons as the fifth consecutive ESPN 100 No. 1 overall senior to play in the event. Yes, I’m aware Marvin Bagley reclassified but we’re talking semantics at that point. The TOC continues to do an incredible job of drawing the nation’s premier players and this run of top overall prospects is nothing short of amazing.
But, Wiseman may be one of the most entertaining of them all. He’s not quite as skilled as Bagley, but he’s bigger and more athletic with a 7-foot-5 wingspan. Also a lefty, Wiseman has a highlight reel of dunks and blocks that could be its own ESPN Top 10. He moves like a guard trapped in a 7-foot body; to label his athleticism as anything but elite would be a disservice. ESPN draft expert has Wiseman as the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2020 NBA Draft, going as far as listing him as the top pick as well. He already signed with Memphis and Bass Pro TOC coaching alum Penny Hardaway. Wiseman and Memphis East will be must-see TV.
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) December 29, 2018
Sharife Cooper is the early MVP favorite
He led McEachern to the championship of the prestigious City of Palms Classic and he’s the engine of arguably the nation’s best high school team. Cooper has been offered by nearly everyone and is nipping at the heels of R.J. Hampton and Jalen Suggs for top 2020 point guard honors. There’s nothing on the floor he can’t do. He can score at all three levels, he facilitates and he defends. He’s also extremely competitive. Don’t think that he’s not eyeing that potential semifinal match-up with Shadow Mountain guard Jaelen House. That might be as exciting as last year’s Courtney Ramey vs. Darius Garland tilt.
Isaac Okoro is one of the best game dunkers in America…
But don’t get too excited yet because if his team advances to the championship he’s unlikely to actually compete in the contest. This is similar to when Kwe Parker came to Springfield with Wesleyan Christian a few years ago. The biggest difference is that Okoro is not just an elite athlete, he’s also a hooper. The 6-foot-5 wing is Auburn bound with an advanced frame and limitless potential. Even if he’s not in the dunk contest, I would be shocked if he didn’t create a few posters throughout the weekend.
Sunrise Christian is a sleeping giant
This will be Sunrise’s first TOC experience but it won’t be their last. The upstart program from Wichita has more than a dozen D-1 prospects between its high school and post grad programs. This is the new basketball power on the block. They already have impressive wins over Duncanville (Tex.), Imhotep Charter (Penn.) and former TOC participant Findlay Prep (Nev.). Keep in mind, last year they beat the same Oak Hill team that won this event by double digits. This team has no shortage of talent either.
N’Faly Dante is the top center in the 2020 class and has a whole lot of Mo Bamba in his game. He’s an elite rim protector and extremely athletic. The offense is coming, including a face-up game with range. Kansas and Kentucky have already offered. His limitless potential and wealth of tools will make him a lottery pick.
— Matt Scott (@KUTheShiver) July 23, 2018
Grant Sherfield is a 6-foot-2 UCLA signee that is shooting 40% from deep and can play either guard position. He’s highly skilled, shoots it well and facilitates offense for others. You’ll love his high basketball IQ and the pace that he plays at; he has a very mature game.
Austin Crowley is a 6-foot-4 combo guard that has already inked a NLI with Vanderbilt. He’s an incredible athlete and also shoots it very well. The fact that he’s shooting 56% from the floor and 52% from 3 is unreal. He’s capable of going off in any given game.
2019 prospects Jordan Turner (Baylor) and Bryce Cook (SMU) are also on this squad. Sunrise has size, depth and guys that have played on major stages. It won’t be as flashy as some of the other teams, but this is your darkhorse to win it all.
MarJon Beauchamp is a buuuuuucket
Beauchamp is my other favorite to lead the event in scoring. The 6-foot-6 wing is a consensus top 20 prospect and 5-star recruit because of his ability to put the ball in the basket. His frame and game will remind you of Kevin Durant; that’s how effortless it looks for him to score. He’s another guy with 100-point club potential.
E.J. Liddell may be the most exciting player in the field
That’s high praise, but the Ohio State signee is another player with rare athleticism. Honestly, I don’t have a great comparison other than Zion Williamson. No, he’s not as jaw-dropping athletic as Williamson, but at 6-foot-7, 235lbs, Liddell has an NBA body already. Despite giving up several inches, he’s one of the best shot blockers you’ll ever see. He finishes above the rim and through contact. Liddell is a point forward with the ability to snatch a rebound and take it coast-to-coast for a dunk. He’s already put down several highlight reel dunks this season, including this one last week.
— Lob City Productions (@justlobs) January 6, 2019
Keep in mind, he and Chicago Bulls Forward Jabari Parker are the only Illinois players to be named Mr. Basketball as juniors. While Liddell is the biggest name Belleville West has, he’s hardly a one-man show.
The Maroons are undefeated with wins over powers CBC, Vashon and East St. Louis. Loaded with seniors, Keith Randolph, Lawrence Brazil and Will Shumpert offer a solid and physical supporting cast, similar to what Darius Garland and Brentwood Academy brought last year. Belleville West is good enough to win this tournament.
Jaelen House & Jovan Blacksher are Splash Brothers 2.0 with NBA ties
House is headed to Arizona State and Blacksher is headed to Grand Canyon. Both will play for mega names in the basketball community with Bobby Hurley being at ASU and “Thunder” Dan Marley being at GCU. But in the short term, these two will be a problem for opposing defenses at JQH Arena. House is lightning quick and lights up scoreboards in a hurry… much like his dad, former NBA guard Eddie House. He’s slight in frame, but he scores easily at all three levels and has that natural knack for creating space to get his shot off. He’s one of the most exciting and dynamic guards in the nation, averaging 30 PPG since Christmas and nearing 2,000 career points. Blacksher is the perfect complement to House. He shoots it extremely well, with range and hasn’t met a look he didn’t like. His 57-44-82 split may be among the best you’ll see among high school kids. Both guys play with a chip on their shoulder, much like their coach, former NBA guard Mike Bibby. Bibby is also the uncle of Jaelen House. House is the clubhouse favorite to lead this tournament in scoring. Don’t be surprised if he hits 100 points in three days.
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) December 29, 2018
Jamon Kemp has mega bounce
Honestly, this is an understatement and it should be expected. Kemp is the son of former NBA star Shawn Kemp. You know, the guy that played real life basketball like it was NBA Jam. The younger Kemp isn’t as tall, but has an impressive frame and perimeter game. He’s also an elite defender and dunks every time he has a chance. He won a dunk contest in the fall with this gem, he will be a fan favorite come Saturday afternoon.
— Al Ward (@AWProductions_) November 24, 2018
Dunk Contest sleeper: Micah Monroe, Rainier Beach
He’s maybe 6-foot-2 and he has Steve Francis-like hops. He’s one of those players that dunks like he’s 6-foot-8. This is a kid that’s done a 360 layup – in traffic – during a game. Everything he does looks even more impressive because of his size and fans will quickly get behind him. If he participates, expect some fireworks. Like this…
— Al Ward (@AWProductions_) December 13, 2018
Local players can improve their stock
Last year we saw Monty Johal and Quinn Nelson both boost their recruitment with impressive three-day showings at the TOC. This year, that opportunity will present itself to Parkview senior Tre Morrison and Springfield Catholic senior Jake Branham, as well as Parkview junior Dontae Taylor. All three are receiving heavy D-2 interest.
At 6-foot-8, Morrison has the length and athleticism to play at a high level. He’s a great rim protector and his skillset continues to expand. He’s averaging nearly four blocks a night and he’s been much better on the glass and staying out of foul trouble. Banging in the paint with James Wiseman and Malcom Dandridge will be the first of three straight battles.
Branham has been electric so far this season following an awesome summer with Team Carroll. He’s battling a foot injury and his status for the TOC is questionable, but he’s been an integral part of Catholic’s undefeated start with several 20-point performances. It would be fun to see a healthy Branham compete head-to-head against Sharife Cooper.
Taylor is known as the best perimeter defender in the Ozarks, but he’s had to shoulder a larger load offensively for the Vikings following Ty Freeman’s knee injury. Although it’s been difficult, it’s going to be a chance for him to prove he can be a scorer in addition to great defender and facilitator.
Deepest field ever?
I know, it sounds cliché and far-fetched, but that’s how much overall team talent is in this year’s event. Some people look at the bracket and wonder why it played out with Memphis East getting a local team and not one of the nationally-ranked teams, but honestly East could end up winning the tournament and I wouldn’t be shocked. All six out of area teams are capable of going 3-0 and leaving Springfield with hardware. Obviously, every game played is major, but looking at potential Friday and Saturday match-ups is a gift from the basketball Gods. James Wiseman vs. N’Faly Dante would be a meeting of the top 2019 center and top 2020 big. Both are future lottery picks. A pairing of McEachern and Shadow Mountain would see Jaelen House vs. Sharfie Cooper. Those are both potential FRIDAY games. You’re going to have at least one nationally ranked team play in the fifth-place game on Saturday, with the possibility of it being two top 20 teams. That is extremely impressive.