By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
I’ll never forget my first Bass Pro Tournament of Champions experience as a reporter back in 2013, which included Kevin Dorsey buzzer-beater, which continue to be some of the biggest shots in tournament history.
If you’ve been at each of the last seven TOCs, you’ve seen no less than two dozen NBA players, including six top-5 picks in the NBA draft. That number will grow with James Wiseman, Isaac Okoro and Isaiah Stewart all being projected as first-round picks in the 2020 NBA Draft.
The 2020 TOC offers a unique field.
There’s still elite top end talent with MaxPreps Top 25 Oak Hill Academy (3) and Paul VI (13) being on opposite sides of the bracket.
But – in addition to elite individual talent – there are also some intriguing storylines that make this year’s tournament yet another must-see event.
Here are the things you should know by the numbers
Oak Hill Academy has NEVER LOST A GAME in the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions. Their three previous trips to Springfield have resulted in three championships with each one packing some punch. In 2015 the Warriors three wins came by a combined 59 points. Two of those wins came against Lonzo Ball’s Chino Hills team and Harry Giles’ Wesleyan Christian team in the championship. Oak Hill returned the next very next year and won a championship on a Ty-Shon Alexander buzzer-beater. After taking a year off, Oak Hill again won it all again in 2018, beating a loaded and nationally-ranked La Lumiere team in the title game.
This year’s Oak Hill group is more of the same. Steve Smith has four players in the ESPN 100 for the 2020 class, headlined by LSU signee Cam Thomas (No. 20), Georgetown commit Jamari Sibley (No. 85), Arkansas pledge K.K. Robinson (No. 89) and Virginia Tech signee Darius Maddox (No. 94). Bradley Ezewiro has signed with LSU, Emmanuel Okpomo has signed with South Florida, Darrick Jones Jr. has signed with Towson and junior wing Jalen Ricks is a 4-star prospect.
Oak Hill isn’t lacking on talent and will be the favorite entering the event. Maintaining that unblemished record will be something to keep an eye on.
Cam’Ron Fletcher probably won’t compete in the dunk contest, but if he did, he’d get a lot of 10s. The Kentucky signee is ESPN’s No. 46 player in the 2020 class and the 6-foot-6 wing has an abundance of bounce in his game. It’s not just the fact that he gets up, but he dunks with a ferocity rarely seen in high school kids. He’s a high-level two-way player that will make you want to pay attention anytime he’s on the floor.
Vashon is still loaded. SEMO commit Phillip Russell is a do-it-all guard and 2020 wing Kobe Clark will be one of the best available players in the field. He holds a Missouri State offer, but Power 5’s are now getting involved. Don’t be surprised to see some familiar faces courtside watching Clark and Vashon.
Nobody has a tougher road to a championship than Vashon, but there also isn’t another team in the field that players with a bigger chip or likes that pressure more than the Wolverines. Vashon is built to go back-to-back with Oak Hill and Paul VI on Friday and Saturday for a tournament championship.
As in Big 12, which is exactly where Booker T. Washington dynamic duo Bryce Thompson and Trey Phipps will spend their college days, at Kansas and Oklahoma respectively. Thompson (No. 26 in ESPN 100) averaged nearly 20 points and five assists as a junior, while Phipps added 18.3 points. They led Booker T. Washington to the 6A title last year where Phipps exploded for 42 points in the title game. They are both extremely skilled and can score it from anywhere. There may not be a better scoring backcourt in this year’s field. The Hornets will be a sleeper to advance to the championship game between this high-powered duo.
33 points on a 13 of 18 shooting performance, Bryce Thompson showed why he's the best player in Oklahoma, a 5 Star nationwide, headed to Kansas and is likely a McDonald's All American.
Want an example of what @B3thompson__ can do? Just look here. pic.twitter.com/qmNeFcD3ml
— OKHoops Report (@OKHoopsReport) December 28, 2019
Greenwood’s Aminu Mohamed will go down as one of the most productive and decorated players in Missouri history. He’s currently averaging 37.5 points and 17.3 rebounds. He’s scored more than 1,500 points in a Greenwood uniform and it took him less than 50 games to do so. But, his career started at Archbishop Carroll back in the DMV. And, as a freshman, he posted a 21-point, 15-rebound double-double against a really good Paul VI team. Mohamed would go on to earn all-conference honors in arguably the best prep conference in America. He has surpassed 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in his high school career overall.
Now, Mohamed gets his shot at redemption, leading his undefeated and reigning Class 2 state champion Blue Jays into the nation’s biggest event. The Jays have already upset their way through the Blue and Gold and no team in this tournament has played more games at JQH Arena over the last two years.
Greenwood vs. Paul VI will be one of the most interesting pairings. Paul VI is led by Duke signee Jeremy Roach, a five-star point guard who is one of the best in the nation. He scored 13 points in that game back in February 2018. The Jays are more than just Aminu, but he is an incredibly big part of what they do. The 21-15 stat line was impressive back in 2018, expect him to post accept an even bigger challenge on a national stage against elite competition.
Oak Hill’s Cam Thomas is a certified bucket. He was averaging 33.4 points through his first seven games, shooting a blistering 57 percent from the field, 44 percent from 3 and 88 percent from the line. He gets it at all three levels with limitless range and an NBA feel to his game. He’s already to put up multiple 40-point games, meaning you could see him make a run at becoming the fifth player to score 100 points in a single tournament. Oak Hill alum Dwayne Bacon (currently of the Charlotte Hornets) came close in 2015 with his 95 points. Thomas’ game has a lot of Bacon in it.
NOTE: Thomas and Aminu Mohamed were teammates last summer with Boo Williams on the EYBL circuit.
Okay, earlier I said Thompson and Phipps may be the best scoring backcourt in the field. That’s still true. But the best actual backcourt belongs to Paul VI with 5-star Duke signee Jeremy Roach and 4-star 2021 guard Trevor Keels. They both went over the 1,000-point mark this week and both have games that basketball junkies love. They’re highly skilled with all those fundamentals that coaches love. They are also big-time shot makers with major range.
Paul VI is no stranger to churning out high level players or this event. Furthermore, coach Glenn Farello is no stranger to giant killing. Keep in mind, he was the guy that help orchestrate that massive upset of Montverde Academy in 2015. Matching up with fellow DMV power Oak Hill in the championship would offer another opportunity to do just that. And I’m sure the Panthers are looking for all the smoke. There’s also some history there. Back in 2012, Paul VI ended Oak Hill’s 56-game winning streak.
Kickapoo’s last three trips to the TOC have ended in the Chiefs playing the other local team in the 7th place game. But, back in 2010, the Poo beat United Faith Christian Academy 71-67 in the opening round. The Chiefs would lose to Christ the King in the third-place game. So, the Chiefs have some motivation. Not only are they trying to be the first team in a decade to win a game over an out-of-state opponent. But, assuming the first round of the 2020 event is chalk, they’ll have an opportunity to get that win over the very same Christ the King program.
Another thing to track in this event will be the play of Anton Brookshire. He’s undeniably a Division One talent, the question now is what level. Is he a high-major or mid-major guy? Mizzou and Iowa State continue to be among the Power 5s that are lurking. Don’t be shocked to see them in Springfield this weekend. Brookshire went for 23 against nationally-heralded Guyer (Texas) last month. He will now get matchups with fellow Division One recruits like K.K. Robinson, Ryan Myers and Camren Hayes. Brookshire won’t be intimidated. He’s played in high-level events and against high-level competition for the better part of a decade. This will be yet another opportunity for him to validate why more Power 5s should be involved.