The 32nd edition of the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions kicks off on Jan. 14 at JQH Arena with another elite field, including four nationally-ranked teams and nearly two dozen players ranked in the top 150 in their respective class. Below is the 2016 bracket, as well as a quick preview of who will be at this year's event.
I won’t lie to you, this Bass Pro Tournament of Champions doesn’t not have the same individual elite talent of the last two years, but this field is still insanely good and that is putting it lightly. Four of the eight teams are ranked by either MaxPreps or USA Today (Oak Hill 2/5, Chaminade 24/13, Sierra Canyon 5/15, and Bishop Gorman NR/18) the two local teams (Kickapoo and Bolivar) are a combined 19-0 and coming off of Blue and Gold Tournament titles and the two “other” teams (Christ the King and Rainer Beach) have two of the best programs in America. So yes, it will be another three fantastic days of basketball at JQH Arena, including the second ever dunk contest on Saturday evening at 6 p.m.
Here’s what you should know:
The Champs are here…
Oak Hill won it all last year, beating Paul VI and Wesleyan Christian by a combined 50 points in the semifinals and championship respectively. Dwayne Bacon and Terrence Phillips are gone, stepping into starting roles at Florida State and Mizzou respectively, but you can make a case for this Oak Hill team having as much talent as last year. Not having Duke commit Harry Giles is tough, but Steve Smith still has a four elite seniors in 6-foot-6 returner Joe Hampton (Penn State/ No. 98). Hampton was OHA's second-leading scorer last year, averaging 11.7 PPG and 6.3 RPG, shooting 58% from the field. He is the lone returning starter, but will be joined by 6-foot-7 forward Mario Kegler (Mississippi State/No. 29), 6-foot-7 forward Braxton Key (Alabama/ No. 66) and 6-foot-11 forward Rodney Miller (Miami/ No. 114). Khadim Sy (Virginia Tech) will provide some rim protection, a role vacated by Ohio State freshman Daniel Giddens. The underclassmen are even more highly-touted than the seniors with junior guards Matt Coleman (No. 29 by Rivals) and Devontae Shuler (No. 38 by Rivals) holding offers from basically every major college power. Classmates Ty-Shon Alexander and Lindell Wiggington have also garnered top 100 status from Rivals. The player with the most upside is 6-foot-9 sophomore Kenneth Nwuba, who is currently ranked No. 18 in his class by Rivals. This team will be the favorites going into the tournament, even without Giles. Oak Hill was the national runner-up last year.
Watch the Throne
This year’s field includes the top two players in the Class of 2016. That is slightly misleading because a torn ACL will keep Giles (Duke) from making his second consecutive appearance in the TOC but fear not, Chaminade’s Jayson Tatum is here to save the day. Depending on the day and the scouting service, Giles and Tatum will flip flop between No. 1 and No. 2, along with Josh Jackson, but both are elite talents. Tatum is headed to Duke next year, but has hardly put it in cruise control for his farewell tour. The 6-foot-8 wing dropped 46 points on No. 18 Huntington Prep in an 84-83 win last week. Tatum is averaging 30.3 PPG with three 40-point games already and is shooting a ridiculous 52% from the field. The best NBA comparison for him is Kevin Durant because of how effortlessly he can score, as well as his length on the perimeter. It may not be a stretch to say that he will go down as one of the best scorers to ever play in the tournament.
But, Chaminade is hardly a one-man show. Tyler Cook (Iowa), Mike Lewis (Duquesne) and Will Gladson (Princeton) are all more than capable players and understand what their role is on this team. Chaminade is 11-3 right now with those three losses coming by a combined 13 points against nationally-ranked competition, including a 69-61 loss to Oak Hill on Dec. 3.
The Wild, Wild West
It’s been awhile since the tournament welcomed three west coast teams, but all three are more than deserving. Starting with Sierra Canyon, these three will bring more than a dozen D-1 prospects combined. The Trailblazers lost their season-opener to Moreau Catholic and have been nearly untouchable since then. Junior Cody Riley (No. 25 by Rivals) will be one of the tournament’s most physically imposing players at 6-foot-7, 250lbs. Kansas, UCLA, UCONN and Arizona have all offered. Classmate Remy Martin is one of the top guards in the nation (No. 96 by Rivals) and backcourt sidekick Devearl Ramsey (No. 106 in 2016 by Rivals) turned down USC, Washington and Cal to link-up with guard guru Eric Musselman and Nevada. Sierra Canyon lost Ira Lee, one of the nation’s top bigs in the Class of 2017, but has added arguably the best high school basketball player in the nation in 6-foot-10 sophomore Marvin Bagley III. Bagley is the highest rated player in the nation according to ESPN, regardless of class, and is currently ranked No. 1 in the Class of 2018 by ESPN and Rivals, the only unanimous No. 1 player in the nation. It is unknown if he will be eligible for the TOC, but if he is that greatly changes everything. SC was the CIF Div. V state champ last year.
Bishop Gorman has a familiar name to basketball fans in Charles O’Bannon Jr. ESPN ranks him as the No. 27 junior in the nation. His father, Charles, and his uncle, Ed, were stars for UCLA in the mid-90s and both spent some time in the NBA before heading overseas. The youngest O'Bannon has Gorman off to a hot start and he has plenty of help. His classmate and combo guard Christian PoPoola Jr., son of former UNLV G/F Christian PoPoola, is the No. 93 player in the class. Gonzaga commit Zach Collins (6-foot-11) is the top player in Nevada and turned down offers from Arizona, UCLA, USC and Washington. The Gaels were state champs last year.
Rainier Beach has won four state championships since 2008 and is coming off of a Class 3A runner-up finish. Longtime head coach Mike Bethea also has a pair of steady seniors in Sam Cunliffe and Keith Smith. The 6-foot-6 Cunliffe is the No. 38 player in the nation accord to ESPN and signed with Arizona State in the early signing period. The two are teammates now but will become rivals next year with Smith heading to Oregon.
The Kings are back…
Christ the King will be making its 15th trip to Springfield and its six titles are the most in the history of the tournament. Last year they were the Class AA runner-up. Although they don’t have top 10 prospect Rawle Alkins as they did two years ago, the Royals do have 6-foot junior guard Jose Alvardado, who has offers from St. John’s, Indiana and Georgia Tech. Seniors David Cole (Robert Morris) and Tyrone Cohen (Holy Cross) don't have the exceptional potential of some of the other D-1 commits, but they are extremely solid kids. Cohen was on the 2014 team that finished fourth.
Kickapoo is the best local team in terms of overall talent since 2013 when Nixa was in the field and lost to Montverde in the semifinals. The Chiefs are led by senior guards Isaac Johnson and Niekie Thomas, both of whom could have D-1 futures and are about as athletic as guards can come. Same is true for junior Jared Ridder and Cam Davis. Ridder is the most sought-after recruit on the team. The 6-foot-6 forward holds offers from Missouri State and SLU, among others, and should continue to receive high-level interest playing for MoKan Elite. Davis is a 6-foot-1 combo guard, also plays for MoKan, and is also receiving interest from various D-1s. Junior Travis Vokolek will likely go D-1, but as a football player. But being 6-foot-5 and athletic never hurt anyone on a basketball court… Bolivar doesn’t have a ton of size, but 6-foot-6 junior Brandon Emmert has been unstoppable in his three years as a Liberator. He’s receiving FBS interest as a tight end. Bolivar surrounds him with standout guards Johnny Scott, Bryce Kruger and Conley Garrison. All can score at all three levels, all can defend and all three have extremely high basketball IQs. The Liberators have won at a high level of the last two years because of defense and selflessness… Both teams are in a similar boat. There are certain matchups that can see them be competitive or even win, which hasn’t been done by a local team against an out of area team since 2013. But neither team has much size, which could hurt in this field.