Jaylin Hunter has spent a lot of time watching Nebraska’s men’s basketball team play in Pinnacle Bank Arena with his father, Kenya Hunter, being an assistant coach with the Huskers.
To finally play three games there and win a state championship “was unreal,” Hunter said. “I didn’t think I’d be in a position like this a year ago.”
The 6-foot-2 Creighton Prep junior point guard scored 11 points, dished out three assists and registered two steals in the Junior Jays' 56-46 Class A state boys basketball final win over Bellevue West on Saturday night. He was ineligible to play varsity basketball for 90 school days until mid-January after transferring from Lincoln High prior to the beginning of the school year. He commutes from Lincoln to Prep every day.
“I’m so blessed my parents gave me this opportunity and that coach (Josh Luedtke) took me in as a son,” Hunter said. “I look at coach as a father and Kyle (Luedtke) as a brother.”
Hunter’s father has a Jesuit school background after coaching at Georgetown and Xavier and playing his college ball at Duquesne.
“It’s a big thing for his family, and he’s (Jaylin) bought into it,” Coach Luedtke said about Jesuit education. “He has a 4.0 GPA and he’s working his butt off in the classroom. He’s thriving in the Jesuit education environment.”
Coach Luedtke is also impressed with Hunter as a player.
“He’s a ballplayer,” the coach said. “He’s a defensive stopper, he can handle it, he can get to the rim, he gets his teammates involved and he can shoot it.”
Serenading Brady: Good players often hear the sing-song chant of their names in pressure situations and it was no different for York's Brady Danielson. Late in regulation when he was at the free throw line in York's 61-56 win over Omaha Skutt in two overtimes in the Class B final, the Omaha Skutt students chanted, "Brady, Brady."
"I definitely noticed that," said Danielson, who led the Dukes to the Class B title with 25 points. "I saw after I made a free throw that our fans started chanting 'Brady' and that kind of got me going. That helped me along the way. That was a weird moment."
Drought snapped: York snapped a 74-year title drought and also became the first team to win two double-overtime games in the tournament. The Dukes outlasted Crete in two overtimes in the first round.
"We always believed. You never expect the adversity and all the overtimes and things like that," said senior Nick Weskamp. "But we believed we could do it and we just trusted each other."
Coach Scott Lamberty agreed.
"Two double overtime games, that's just an incredible feat. To be down nine with a minute, 15 seconds and just never say die," he said. "They do that for 32 minutes every night and this week they did it for 40 minutes a couple of times."
Wahoo's tradition continues: After 17 years as Wahoo’s head coach, the impact of winning another state title wasn’t lost on Kevin Scheef, who guided the Warriors to their second championship under his watch.
It all started with the 1926 Class C title when Wahoo averaged 16 points a game for four games. The Warriors won six titles (1988, ’89, ’90, ’91, ’93 and ’94) under Mick Anderson. Mark Watton guided the Warriors to championships in 1996 and 1998.
“It’s very cool what Coach Anderson started in the ’80s and into the early ’90s and what Coach Watton continued,” Scheef said. “I think we all feel a great responsibility to carry on that tradition and uphold it the best we can. We’re really proud of our town, our school and our basketball program, and we’re really pleased we could bring this title back to them.”
Nerves, what nerves? Blake Lacey fidgeted with a piece of nylon, cut from a net and destined for a special place in his high school memory collection, probably somewhere close to the gold medal draped around his neck.
The Wahoo junior wasn’t used to a room full of tape recorders and cameras, not to mention inquisitive reporters asking questions. The first one came from the back of the room after Wahoo's 70-66 overtime win over Winnebago in the Class C-1 final.
“How were you feeling shooting those free throws?”
“I was nervous, just like I am now,” Lacey answered while managing a smile.
His free throws came with 17 seconds left in overtime and gave the Warriors a four-point lead. The shots were perfect and brought an animated jump in the air from his older brother, Brendan, on the bench after fouling out of the game midway through the final period.
Brendan, who scored 21 and 22 points in Wahoo’s first two wins at state, stood as his little brother toed the line. Before the first free throw, Brendan stretched his jersey over his head but quickly removed it before the ball passed through the net.
While Blake settled in for the second attempt, Brendan took a seat with his head bowed. The jump followed as the second shot was true.
Ponca hangs 10: Ponca's coaches, cheerleaders and many fans wore Hawaiian shirts, the players laughed.
"We got to get some of those shirts on for school every day," joked Ponca center Max Masin.
Ponca coach Adam Poulosky explained he chose the Hawaiian shirts, "because that's the way our kids roll in (in) school. We wanted our team to be loose and they were loose all tournament."
Masin said the team kept relaxed because of players like Gage McGill and Brandon Kneifl.
"McGill is 'Antoyneq' with a silent "q' and Kneifl is 'B Baarger,' for no apparent reason."
Other players said Masin is the team joker.
"He keeps everybody loose and laughing because he simply enjoys his teammates and he really enjoys the game," said Poulosky.
Journey still special for Kenesaw: It was a season to remember for the Blue Devils, even if it ended with a loss.
Kenesaw rode all the way to Saturday's championship undefeated before dropping its final game to two-time defending champions, Lourdes Central Catholic. The loss certainly wasn't how they wanted their first title appearance since 1920 to go but, given some time, they feel like they'll look back on their most successful season in program history fondly.
"It was a big (accomplishment)," Kenesaw coach Jack Einrem said. "We never talked about it, we just took it one game at a time. Sounds cliché, but we approached every game that way. We'll reflect back on this some day."
Kenesaw all-class center William Gallagher concurred.
"We knew we were going to have a good team this season so we wanted to make it," he said. "It's hard now but realize how great this season was later."
They finished 28-1.
Big time Rohrer: Theo Rohrer entered Saturday's Class D-2 state final having totaled three points through Falls City Sacred Heart's first two games. Now some of that was a result of big first-round win.
Saturday against Riverside, Rohrer quadrupled that total with 12 points, while adding five rebounds and two assists in the Irish's 59-42 win.
"It was just a big time game," Rohrer said simply.
Rohrer said coach Doug Goltz told the Irish they needed a team effort on the boards with the Chargers featuring the 6-foot-6 Joseph Bloom. Rohrer is Sacred Heart's tallest player at 6-3 and the Irish finished with a 29-23 edge in rebounds. But it was his shot with 3.7 seconds left in the first half that gave the Irish a seven-point lead going into the locker room.
Riverside was never closer than that the rest of the way.
As one of five seniors on team whose top two leading scorers return next year, Rohrer took pride in having a leadership role.
"Since freshman year, I've always looked up to my seniors, too," Rohrer said. "So I kind of took lessons from them.
"These guys look up to me as a leader and I appreciate that. I have high expectations for these guys."
Attendance: Attendance for Saturday's final session at Pinnacle Bank Arena was 20,536. Three-day attendance at the boys state tournament was 106,008.