Events like the Jared Sullinger Ohio Scholastic Play by Play Classic for high school boys basketball teams and the Nubian Classic for girls programs provide a glimpse of what’s still to come for some of the area’s best.
If nothing else, both events, which were held Jan. 26, serve as a break from league play in neutral settings, much like the coming district tournament.
The fact that there were a couple great games along the way is an example of what’s waiting for fans beginning in late February.
The Nubian Classic at Africentric featured four games that remained close throughout before the area’s two best players, Dublin Coffman’s Jacy Sheldon and Africentric’s Jordan Horston, led their teams to double-digit victories in the final two contests.
In the Play by Play Classic at Pickerington Central, area powers such as Olentangy Liberty, Hilliard Bradley and the host Tigers, as well as teams out to open eyes like Northland and Westerville North, provided the biggest moments.
Here are five things we learned from the Play by Play Classic and Nubian Classic:
1. The Bradley boys showed why they’re a team that no one wants to play in the postseason.
Since beginning the 2019 portion of its schedule, Bradley hasn’t given up more than 46 points to any opponent.
The Jaguars’ combination of length, shooting ability and, most of all, defense was on display as they held off Newark 43-42.
Bradley, which is 15-0 and was ranked second in the state in Division I last week, got 20 points from Matt Allocco. Two of the Jaguars’ other top athletes, Chris Mayfield and Zach Hummel, played key roles defensively.
2. The Africentric girls again proved that they may be the state’s best team regardless of division.
In the finale of the Nubian Classic, Africentric pulled away for a 63-47 victory over Westerville South, a Division I regional runner-up last season, to improve to 16-0.
The Nubians, who were ranked first in the state in Division III last week, have won six state championships and are looking like heavy favorites to add to that total.
This is probably the deepest and most talented team Africentric has ever produced.
Horston, who has committed to Tennessee, had 17 points and junior Alexia Smith scored 15 against South, which has four Division I college recruits.
3. Both Olentangy Liberty and Pickerington North looked like dangerous boys teams in their matchup.
Perhaps the most intriguing game at either event featured Liberty and North in the Play by Play Classic.
In a matchup that included the area’s top sophomore in the Panthers’ Jack Sawyer and central Ohio’s top unsigned senior in the Patriots’ Ben Roderick, Liberty seized control early in the second half and went on to earn a 75-64 victory.
Both teams are 12-4 and should be among the most feared in the Division I district tournament.
Roderick had 25 points and Nick Nakasian scored 23 for Liberty while Sawyer led North with 20.
4. Sheldon added another highlight to an already historic career for the Coffman girls.
Sheldon made seven 3-pointers and finished with a program-record 52 points in an 87-45 victory over Eastmoor Academy in the Nubian Classic. Her previous career high was 40 points, which she set in a win over the Warriors last season.
An Ohio State commit, Sheldon is averaging 28.4 points for the Shamrocks, who improved to 16-1 and should be among the top seeds in the Division I district tournament along with Pickerington Central and Newark.
5. Even though the Pickerington Central boys team has a new look by necessity, the Tigers should be optimistic about their postseason hopes.
Central lost two key players at midseason because of OHSAA transfer rules and a week later lost its first game, to Pickerington North.
The Tigers bounced back to win their next four games, including beating Garfield Heights 79-60 in the finale of the Play by Play Classic.
Not only does Central have perhaps central Ohio’s top point guard in Jahvon Garcia, but sophomore Garner Wallace has helped to fill the gap.
Against Garfield Heights, which has one of the state’s top sophomores in Meechie Johnson, Wallace had 30 points and Garcia scored 20.
Central is 16-1 and remains a strong contender to make the Division I state tournament for the third consecutive season.