Donovan Williams has a message to basketball fans across the state as a new high school boys season tips off on Thursday.
“People shouldn’t miss this,” said the 6-foot-5 Lincoln North Star junior who committed this past summer to play at Nebraska. “I think this year is going to be exciting to watch. There’s talent that this state probably hasn’t seen in a while, not just the four players who have been offered by Nebraska, but the other Division I recruits who haven’t been offered (by NU).”
Williams joins 6-6 first-team Super-Stater Akol Arop as the two Husker commits in the state right now. Two more have offers — Bellevue West sophomore point guard Chucky Hepburn and Millard North sophomore wing Hunter Sallis.
And there will be plenty of talent on the court Thursday night when preseason Class A No. 8 North Star travels to No. 6 Omaha Westside for a 7:15 p.m. first-round game of the Early Bird Classic. Westside features standout junior guard Jadin Booth, who has an Omaha scholarship offer, as well as 6-6 senior Chase Thompson, who has Division II scholarship interest.
“I think we’re pretty good, but this will be a real telling point of where we’re at,” North Star coach Tony Quattrocchi said. “It will be a major challenge for us on the road.”
It’s the kind of challenge Williams is looking forward to. After averaging 19 points per game as a sophomore, he took his game to another level during the offseason playing for the Iowa Barnstormers 16s AAU team. He was able to raise his national profile to a four-star recruit by impressing coaches with his ability to attack the basket and finish in transition, but also to knock down the long three-pointer.
Williams knows, however, he’ll need to contribute more than just lofty offensive numbers for North Star to reach its team goals this season.
“I need to be playing hard the whole game and be a leader on the court,” Williams said. “We have talent on this team, I need to make sure my teammates are involved. If I consistently defend, rebound, get a high number of assists and score in the 20s every game, I think we can win a lot of games.”
Williams, the younger brother of Wisconsin freshman defensive lineman Bryson Williams, is learning how to deal with the pressure and attention that goes with being a Husker recruit. He’s getting accustomed to total strangers greeting him on the streets and kids asking for autographs.
“There’s a lot of pressure, but this is what I work out for,” Donovan Williams said. “This is why I’m in the gym every day trying to get better. The work I’ve put in has prepared me for this, to prove to people that I’m more than hype, that I’m the real deal.”
Opponents will have to deal with the Navigators’ overall height. North Star complements Williams with 6-6 senior Josiah Allick and 6-3 junior Jared Lopez, a returning starter who averaged six points and four rebounds per game as a sophomore.
Team (’17-18 record) | RS
1. Bellevue West (20-7) | 3
2. Creighton Prep (26-1) | 2
3. Millard North (12-12) | 4
4. Kearney (18-7) | 2
5. Omaha Central (24-3) | 3
6. Omaha Westside (11-13) | 3
7. Omaha Bryan (20-6) | 3
8. Lincoln North Star (12-13) | 2
9. Lincoln East (24-2) | 1
10. Elkhorn South (12-13) | 1
RS -- Returning starters
Contenders: Lincoln Southwest, Omaha Burke, Omaha South, Gretna, Millard West, Papillion-La Vista, Papillion-La Vista South.
Case for No. 1: Bellevue West brings back a number of key players from last year’s state runner-up team, including one of the best backcourts in the state in sophomore Chucky Hepburn and senior Nico Felici. Hepburn, a multi-talented point guard, has a Nebraska scholarship offer in hand. The Thunderbirds also have size inside with 6-foot-8 junior John Shanklin, a returning starter, and 6-8 senior Deng Jal.
Prep still a force: Creighton Prep will make a run for a repeat title behind 6-6 Super-Stater and Nebraska recruit Akol Arop and 6-3 senior off-guard Thomas Faber, who missed the last part of last season because of injury. The Junior Jays lost standout senior point guard Jaylin Hunter when his father, Kenya Hunter, left his Nebraska assistant coaching job last spring to take a similar position at Connecticut.
Back from injury: Kearney senior Shiloh Robinson will be playing his first high school basketball this weekend since his sophomore year because of a wrist injury that sidelined him for his entire junior season. The 6-8 Robinson, a Liberty recruit, averaged 13 points and eight rebounds as a sophomore.
Right off the bat: The annual Class A four-team pods to start the season kick things off Thursday with a number of high-powered matchups on opening night — Bellevue West at Kearney, Omaha Bryan at Omaha Central, Lincoln North Star at Omaha Westside and Millard North at Lincoln Southwest.
Akol Arop, Creighton Prep, 6-6, sr., 16.0 (ppg), 9.7 (rpg)
Wes Dreamer*, Lincoln East, 6-6, sr., 22.2, 10.5
* C-2 all-stater at Elmwood-Murdock
Team (’17-18 record) | RS
1. Omaha Skutt (25-4) | 3
2. York (27-1) | 4
3. Lincoln Pius X (16-9) | 2
4. Bennington (24-4) | 2
5. Seward (14-9) | 5
6. Aurora (22-5) | 2
7. Omaha Roncalli (19-6) | 4
8. Scottsbluff (18-9) | 2
9. Mount Michael (17-8) | 4
10. Blair (12-11) | 4
Contenders: Alliance, Lexington, Hastings, Norris.
Case for No. 1: The SkyHawks return three starters from a team that was on the cusp of winning a state title, holding a nine-point lead with just over a minute to play in regulation against eventual champion York in the finals. Junior guard Tyson Gordon and 6-6 senior post TJ Skradski, mainstays on Skutt’s football state championship squad, are returning starters for the SkyHawks.
Pius X takes a step back to Class B: Lincoln Pius X is in the Class A scheduling matrix and just moved into the Class A Heartland Athletic Conference this year. But instead of opting up to Class A to fit their new profile, the Thunderbolts elected to stay in Class B where the NSAA placed them this boys basketball season based on their boys enrollment. The Bolts, who have been in Class A the past three seasons, will get two bonus wildcard points for every game they play against Class A schools. Pius X will start the season with at least 40 more wildcard points than the rest of the schools in Class B, who are locked out of the A scheduling matrix. Pius X becomes the first Heartland Conference school to play boys basketball in Class B. Lincoln East was slated to be in Class B in the mid-1990s, but chose to opt up to Class A in every sport.
Football injuries: A broken bone in his lower leg will sideline Nebraska football recruit and York senior Garrett Snodgrass until later in December. Among the four starters back for the defending state champion Dukes is all-state senior guard Brady Danielson, a Northern State commit. Roncalli senior quarterback/guard Jack Dotzler broke his arm earlier this month in a quarterfinal playoff game at Scottsbluff and will miss the beginning of basketball season as well.
Right off the bat: Aurora, fresh off its C-1 state basketball title, will open on the road at C-1 No. 2 Adams Central on Thursday and at C-1 No. 4 Wahoo on Friday. Mount Michael is at Omaha Skutt on Thursday.
Brady Danielson, York, 6-3, sr., 17.0, 5.3
Baylor Scheierman, Aurora, 6-6, sr., 16.1, 6.0
Cooper Prososki, Bennington, 6-2, sr., 16.1, 4.2
Team (’17-18 record) | RS
1. Lincoln Christian (20-8) | 3
2. Adams Central (15-10) | 4
3. Bishop Neumann (14-10) | 3
4. Wahoo (27-2) | 0
5. North Bend Central (22-4) | 4
6. Boys Town (15-9) | 3
7. Grand Island CC (20-7) | 3
8. Cozad (18-6) | 5
9. Syracuse (17-10) | 3
10. Auburn (16-10) | 3
Contenders: Ogallala, Winnebago, Kearney Catholic, Milford, Broken Bow, Boone Central/Newman Grove, Aquinas, St. Paul.
Case for No. 1: Christian returns two of its main scorers from last year’s team that finished third at the state tournament — first-team all-state junior Justin Bubak and senior Caleb Canfield. A tough regular-season schedule should prepare the Crusaders for postseason play in February and March, just like it did last season.
Wahoo still in the mix: The defending state champion Warriors graduated every starter, but they’ll reload with Nebraska-Kearney recruit and 6-5 senior Winston Cook, and senior guard Blake Lacey, the younger brother of graduated all-stater Brendan Lacey.
Right off the bat: Wahoo is not easing into the season at all, playing at B No. 4 Bennington on Thursday before returning home to host B No. 6 Aurora on Friday. Lincoln Christian is at C-2 No. 5 Freeman on Saturday before hosting B No. 5 Seward this next Tuesday.
Justin Bubak, Lincoln Christian, 6-5, jr., 16.6, 6.5
Ben Nannen, Syracuse, 6-2, sr., 17.5, 5.6
Team (’17-18 record) | RS
1. Ponca (30-1) | 1
2. BRLD (26-3) | 3
3. Centennial (22-4) | 3
4. Sutton (16-8) | 2
5. Freeman (19-7) | 3
6. Centura (12-11) | 3
7. Hastings SC (24-4) | 1
8. Tri County (18-7) | 4
9. Oakland-Craig (16-10) | 3
10. Laurel-C-C (14-10) | 4
Contenders: Arcadia/Loup City, Hartington Cedar Catholic, Lutheran High Northeast, Omaha Nation, Yutan, South Loup, Cambridge, Wisner-Pilger, Wakefield, Battle Creek.
Case for No. 1: Ponca is the defending two-time state champion and the Indians will remain No. 1 until someone knocks them off. Just one starter returns, but Carter Kingsbury is one of the top players in Class C-2, so he provides a solid base to build on.
Jackson Hirschfeld, Centennial, 6-0, sr., 17.2, 6.3
Noah Schutte, Laurel-C-C, 6-4, jr., 23.0, 11.0
Team (’17-18 record) | RS
1. Fullerton (20-5) | 5
2. Kenesaw (28-1) | 2
3. Archbishop Bergan (11-13) | 3
4. Clearwater-Orchard (16-8) | 4
5. Overton (19-5) | 4
6. Lourdes CC (21-8) | 0
7. Paxton (22-2) | 1
8. North Central (15-8) | 4
9. Elm Creek (16-9) | 2
10. Humphrey/LHF (14-11) | 3
Contenders: Deshler, Wilcox-Hildreth, Ansley-Litchfield, Heartland, Arapahoe.
Case for No. 1: The Warriors had just one senior on last year’s state tournament team and return all five starters, a group led by junior guards Brandon Rasmussen and TJ Dubas. Inside, Fullerton features 6-foot-4 state track champion Brent Wetovick, who led the Warriors in rebounds, steals and blocked shots a year ago.
Going for four: Three-time defending state champion Lourdes Central Catholic will have a completely different look this season after graduating seven seniors and its six leading scorers from a year ago, including 6-8 all-stater Quinten Vasa. Coach Joe Tynon says, however, that the cupboard is not bare and that the Knights could once again be a contender by the end of the season.
Braden Kizer, Overton, 6-2, sr., 20.6, 7.7
Blake Brewster, Paxton, 6-9, jr., 16.4, 8.1
Sam Mailloux, Pender, 6-5, sr., 16.4, 12.9
Team (’17-18 record) | RS
1. Johnson-Brock (24-6) | 3
2. Falls City SH (25-3) | 2
3. Riverside (25-3) | 4
4. Osmond (22-4) | 3
5. Humphrey SF (18-8) | 1
6. Mullen (21-6) | 3
7. Parkview Christian (13-10) | 2
8. Wynot (14-10) | 2
9. Loomis (18-6) | 4
10. Mead (11-13) | 2
Contenders: Exeter-Milligan, Stuart, Hay Springs, Randolph, Giltner.
Case for No. 1: Johnson-Brock, the D-2 state football champion last week, is just as formidable on a basketball court. Junior Ty Hahn is a returning all-stater and sophomore Kaden Glynn (15.4 ppg as a freshman) is another all-state caliber player. Last year’s third-leading scorer, senior Cole Fossenbarger (11.4 ppg) is also back. The Eagles took third at last year’s Class D-1 state tournament.
Not far behind: Defending state champion Falls City Sacred Heart brings back a pair of all-staters in Drew Bippes and Tyler Witt, as does last year’s state runner-up, Riverside, which has Tredyn Prososki and Joseph Bloom returning.
Right off the bat: Riverside hosts Humphrey St. Francis in a matchup of rated teams Dec. 6. This Friday, D-1 No. 5 Overton is at Loomis.
Ty Hahn*, Johnson-Brock, 6-2, sr., 17.0, 5.5
Keaton Timmerman*, Osmond, 6-4, jr., 18.2, 10.5
Drew Bippes, Falls City SH, 6-0, dr., 11.6, 3.8
Tredyn Prososki, Riverside, 5-10, jr., 19.3, 2.3
Joseph Bloom, Riverside, 6-6, dr., 16.5, 8.4
Tyler Witt, Falls Cith SH, 6-1, jr., 12.9, 6.9
Rashad Wood, Parkview Christian, 5-10, dr., 15.1, 3.8
* D-1 all-staters last season
Coach: Gary Nunnally. Last season’s record: 20-8, C-1 state tournament third place, No. 4 final ranking.
Returning letterwinners: Justin Bubak, 6-5, jr.; Caleb Canfield, 6-3, sr.; Creighton Kuszak, 6-2, sr.; Jackson Hueser, 6-0, sr.; Ashton Carlson, 6-3, jr.; Gavin McGerr, 5-10, so. Others to watch: Luke Langenburg, 6-0, sr.; Jake Bowman, 6-1, sr.; Drew Beukelman, 6-4, so.
Outlook: The Crusaders will start the season ranked No. 1 in C-1, returning three starters from a year ago. Bubak, a returning first-team all-stater after averaging 17 points and seven rebounds per game, is an inside-outside threat who is getting Division I college recruiting attention. Canfield averaged 13 points per game, while Kuszak and Carlson combined to score almost 10 points and grab four rebounds a contest.
Coach: Ben Origas. Last season’s record: 7-14.
Returning letterwinners: Derek Bock, 6-2, sr.; Daniel Klein, 6-1, sr.; Joseph Lee, 5-10, sr.; Dustin Ahrens, 5-10, sr.; Matthan Sigowa, 6-0, jr.; Andrew Schwartz, 5-10, sr.; Austin Conrad, 6-0, sr. Others to watch: Garret Fortney.
Outlook: Bock and Klein are both three-year starters, joining Lee and Ahrens as returning starters from a year ago. Bock averaged 10.4 points and 4.2 rebounds a year ago, earning first-team Frontier Conference honors.
Coach: Jeff Campbell. Last season’s record: 24-2, Class A state quarterfinals, No. 7 final ranking.
Returning letterwinners: Connor Riekenberg, 6-1, sr. Others to watch: Wes Dreamer, 6-6, sr.; Changkouth Deng, 6-1, sr.; Teny Gakdeng, 6-4, sr.; Peyton Stoppel, 6-2, sr.; Sam Vernon, 6-3, sr.; Danny Witherby, 5-10, sr.; Jett Janssen, 6-4, jr.; Carter Glenn, 5-10, so.
Outlook: Graduation hit the Spartans hard last spring as they lost four starters, including first-team Super-Stater Sam Griesel (now playing at North Dakota State) and all-stater Jordan Janssen (now at Wayne State). Riekenberg, a Nebraska Wesleyan recruit, is the lone returning starter after averaging 8.5 points per game and hitting a school-record 53 three-pointers. Dreamer, a C-1 first-team all-stater the past two seasons, averaged 22.2 points and 10.5 rebounds per game last season at Elmwood-Murdock.
Coach: Dan Noble. Last season’s record: 13-12.
Returning letterwinners: Keyshawn Jenkins, 6-1, sr.; Jaden Horton, 6-1, sr.; Buomkuoth Jock, 6-6, sr.; LeeAaron Berks, 6-1, sr.; Reat Chuol, 6-2, sr.; Zay Parks, 6-2, sr. Others to watch: Javon Picquette, 5-9, sr.; Tre Dixon, 5-11, jr.; Elvis Hallowanger, 5-11, sr.; Jaxson Barber, 6-3, jr.; Yashua Bradley, 5-11, sr.; Graham Newton, 6-6, sr.
Outlook: Three starters are back — Jenkins, Horton and Jock. Horton, who averaged 10.8 points and 6.1 rebounds, will be looking to continue the momentum of a strong AAU season in July and a standout football season as the Links’ go-to wide receiver. Jenkins averaged 8.8 points and 4.3 boards a contest as a junior. An ankle injury from football is preventing another starter last season, Morgan Perry, from playing this season.
Coach: Jason Glines. Last season’s record: 9-14.
Returning letterwinners: Isaac McCoy, 5-10, sr.; Grant Donovan, 6-1, sr.; Luke Volin, 6-2, jr. Others to watch: Ryan Hlavaty, 6-8, sr.; Jackson Oerman, 6-3, sr.; Cayden Bergt, 5-11, sr.; Joshua Puelz, 6-3, so.; Tice Jenkins, 6-0, jr.; Ethan Zager, 6-0, jr.
Outlook: No starters return from last season, so even though the Warriors will field a team made up mostly of juniors and seniors, they will be inexperienced.
Coach: Monte Ritchie. Last season’s record: 0-24.
Returning letterwinners: Tobin Vocasek, 6-4, sr.; Jake Bard, 5-8, jr.; Carson Busch, 5-10, jr.; Reece Fuchs, 6-7, jr.; Kobe Schejbal, 5-10, jr.; Zachary Moerer, 6-0, so. Others to watch: Isaiah Stephens, 6-2, sr.; Wutnuer Gatnoor, 5-11, jr.; Pierce Bazil, 5-11, so.; Connor Renard, 6-6, so.; JR Gatnoor, 5-11, so.; Zander Beard, 5-10, fr.
Outlook: All of the returning letterwinners saw extensive playing time a year ago, so the Rockets look to be more competitive this season under Ritchie, the first-year head coach.
Lincoln North Star
Coach: Tony Quattrocchi. Last season’s record: 12-13.
Returning letterwinners: Donovan Williams, 6-5, jr.; Jared Lopez, 6-3, jr.; Josiah Allick, 6-6, sr.; Luke Juracek, 6-0, jr.; Kwat Abdelkarim, 6-2, so.; Owen Baker, 6-0, sr.; Julian Best, 6-5, sr. Others to watch: Noah Hudson, 6-2, sr.; Josh Brown, 6-0, sr.; Aaron Sadler, 6-1, sr.; Tristan Stroup, 6-5, sr.
Outlook: With Nebraska recruit Donovan Williams leading the way, the Navigators have the potential to be one of the top teams in the state.
Coach: Nathan Godwin. Last season’s record: 13-10, D-2 No. 7 final ranking.
Returning letterwinners: Rashad Woods, 5-9, sr.; Logan Page, 6-2, jr.; Josh Platter, 6-0, so.; Alex Morey, 6-0, sr.; Zack Stoll, 5-10, sr.; Matthew Case, 5-9, sr.; Connor Brooks, 6-0, jr.; Jamal Smith, 5-5, jr. Others to watch: Davion Helmstadter, 5-11, sr.; Tevin Godwin, 5-10, so.; Ethan Schneider, 6-0, sr.
Outlook: Woods and Page are returning starters who will lead an up-tempo attack that should put the Patriots up among the top teams in Class D-2. Woods averaged 15.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.
Lincoln Pius X
Coach: Brian Spicka. Last season’s record: 16-9, Class A state quarterfinals, No. 3 final ranking (in Class B this season).
Returning letterwinners: Charlie Easley, 6-2, sr.; Austin Jablonski, 6-3, sr.; Kolbe Rada, 6-2, jr.; Holton Harman, 6-4, sr.; Mitchell Sebek, 6-2, jr. Others to watch: Noah Unger, 6-4, sr.; Tayden Gentrup, 6-3, jr.; Dominic Pelan, 5-10, sr.; Kyle Kluthe, 6-4, sr.
Outlook: The Thunderbolts should be a strong Class B contender with three starters back in Easley, Jablonski and Rada. Easley is getting some Division I college recruiting attention after averaging 17.6 points and 6.1 rebounds per game in earning first-team all-city honors last season.
Coach: Jonah Bradley. Last season’s record: 4-20.
Returning letterwinners: Michael Anderson, 6-2, sr.; Devin Trumbley, 6-0, sr.; Isaac Appleget, 6-2, jr.; Max Renn, 6-2, jr.; Gage Johnson, 6-4, jr.; McGuiness Schneider, 6-1, so.; Ajantae Hogan, 6-3, so.; Maddox Burton, 6-4, so.
Outlook: After a successful football season as a wide receiver, Anderson will lead the Knights on the hardwood after averaging 13.6 points per game and earning second-team all-city honors. Schneider averaged 7.4 points per game starting as a freshman last season, while Johnson was a starting post. Isaac Gifford, a 6-1 junior who started and averaged 6.9 points per game a year ago, is out with a knee injury suffered in football.
Coach: Alex Bahe. Last season’s record: 14-10.
Returning letterwinners: Cameron Frederick, 5-11, sr.; TaeVyn Grixby, 6-2, sr.; Caden McCormack, 6-3, sr.; Mayuom Buom, 6-9, sr.; Nick Leader, 6-3, sr. Others to watch: Frazzie Wynn, 5-9, sr.; Brody Austin, 5-11, sr.; Jackson Decker, 6-2, so.; Jayson Wakefield, 6-2, jr.; Chris Chuol, 6-5, sr.; Jesse Lewis, 6-1, sr.; Brayton Christensen, 6-5, jr.; Zach Jarosz, 6-5, sr.; Gage Heithold, 6-7, sr.
Outlook: Southwest graduated its two leading scorers from a year ago — third-team Super-Stater JaQuaylon Mays and Collin Kohl. Frederick, a Creighton baseball recruit, is the lone returning starter, averaging 7.4 points per game.