World-Herald correspondent Jacob Padilla is at the Iowa West Fieldhouse in Council Bluffs for Midwest Live Omaha this weekend.
Among the local club teams participating in the tournament during the second live recruiting period of the spring are Thunder Elite, Team Nebraska Express, Nebraska Select, Hoffman’s Hoops Academy, Omaha Sports Academy Regional teams, Team Factory and Omaha EYCE. Bracket play continues on Sunday for the 15U division and begins for the 16U and 17U divisions. Check out Saturday’s recap to see who stood out on Day 1.
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>> TNE 16U 62, Omaha EYCE 15U 59: Led by eighth grader Chucky Hepburn, EYCE gave a valiant effort playing up a grade level, but TNE managed to hold on for a 3-point win. Hepburn led the way with a game-high 28 points on 11-for-18 shooting (4-for-7 from deep) with five assists and three steals. With TNE trailing 61-53 and under a minute to play, Hepburn converted a four-point play, then scored again after a stop to pull EYCE within two with less than 15 seconds to play. Omaha South’s Amauri Pesek-Hickson (team-high 13 points) split a pair of bonus free throws to pull within three points, but EYCE could not get off a clean look from deep at the buzzer. John Tonje (Omaha Central) added 12 points for TNE, which moves on to the 16U semifinals at 11:15 a.m.
>> Thunder Elite Platinum 16U 73, Iowa Cornsharks Select 40: Thunder Elite made short work of its semifinal opponent as the Cornsharks never threatened at the tip. Thunder got a balanced effort with all 12 players on the roster making an impact, and moves on to the semifinals at 10:10 a.m.
>> Hoffman’s Hoops Academy 69, Iowa Mavericks 59: Zach Rust (Elmwood-Murdock) hit seven first-half 3s and finished with 23 points while Chance Sterling (Gretna) added 16 points and eight assists.
>> TNE 17U 67, KC Elite 2018 63: The Omaha Northwest duo of Isaiah Jones and Esahia Nyiwe led TNE with 16 and 11 points, respectively. Sammy Richardson (Lincoln High) added 10 points.
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>> Team Factory 15U 69, KC Team Rush 40: Team Factory looked to be in midseason form despite this being its first tournament of the spring with another blowout win Sunday. Tyson Gordon (Omaha Skutt) again led the way with 18 points, including 15 in the first half. Shane Orr (Omaha Roncalli) added another 10 points as all nine players scored. Team Factory earned a berth into the championship game at 1:25 p.m.
>> Thunder Elite Platinum 16U 81, Team Iowa Red 37: Thunder Elite continued to roll toward the 16U championship game with another dominant victory. It will play the winner of the matchup between TNE 16U and Iowa Pump N Run Black.
>> TNE 17U 64, Iowa Pump N Run 43: Nyiwe continued his strong first weekend with TNE as he and Omaha Concordia’s Ty Johnson led the team with 16 points and six rebounds apiece in a game that TNE controlled throughout.
>> HHA 17U 79, KC Magic Basketball 71: Hoffman’s rediscovered its shooting touch from its first game of the tournament to knock off a tough and skilled KC Magic that handed TNE its loss in pool play. Zach Rust (Elmwood-Murdock) dazzled with his shot-making ability, hitting from everywhere on the court including a good seven feet behind the 3-point line. He finished with four triples and 12 points while Lincoln East’s Hayden Barrett led the team with 21 points, 12 rebounds and four assists. Three others finished in double figures as well in a strong team effort.
>> TNE 16U 66, Iowa Pump N Run Black 40: Just like the 17s, the TNE 16s had no trouble dispatching Pump N Run in the semifinals to set up an all-Nebraska final with Thunder Elite Platinum.
16U Championship — Thunder Elite Platinum 76, TNE 48
Thunder Elite picked up its second straight Midwest Live tournament title, sweeping this year’s events in Des Moines and Omaha.
On Sunday, Thunder scored 51 points in the first half alone, shooting 55 percent from the field and dishing out 10 assists with just three turnovers. On the other end, they held TNE to 27 points, 9-of-28 shooting and 11 turnovers in the first half.
TNE never threatened in the second half as Thunder Elite cruised to the title.
“We’re feeling pretty good,” Thunder Elite coach Terrence O’Donnell said. “I was proud; they played the game the right way on both ends of the floor. They came out and they had a great effort defensively, a lot of scrambling and putting ourselves in positions where we had to communicate and help each other out, and we did that. Offensively, even though we have a lot of firepower and a lot of guys who can do things individually, they resisted that temptation and we moved the ball, we moved without the ball. We’re starting to click.”
Also for the second straight weekend, 6-foot-6 forward Shiloh Robinson (Kearney) was the best player on the floor in the championship, finishing with 16 points, 12 rebounds, two assists and a block with 7-of-9 shooting. In last week’s Midwest Live final in Des Moines, Robinson had 20 points and 13 rebounds.
“He’s just got ‘it,’ whatever ‘it’ is … He impacts the game in a number of ways,” O’Donnell said about Robinson. “I don’t know how many points he had, but the guy bothers every shot, gobbles up every rebound, bails us out when we do have bad possessions because a lot of times they end up in offensive rebounds and put-backs. He’s a special kid.”
TJ Skradski (Omaha Skutt) gave Thunder a strong 1-2 punch inside with 10 points and four rebounds off the bench. Malcolm Whitlow (Lincoln Northeast) chipped in 10 points as well.
John Tonje (Omaha Central) capped a strong weekend with 11 points to lead the way for TNE. De’Shon Thompon (Omaha South) was perfect from the field and foul line to finish with 10 points while Chris Hickman (Omaha Burke) added seven points, eight rebounds and two steals.
Thunder Elite will ride a 10-game winning streak into a tournament in Fort Wayne, Indiana, next weekend.
17U Championship — TNE 17U 63, HHA 17U 49
Esahia Nyiwe (Omaha Northwest) was an absolute force in the championship game, putting up 23 points on 11-of-17 shooting, seven rebounds, five assists, four blocks and two steals. Ty Johnson (Omaha Concordia) and Sammy Richardson (Lincoln High) scored 10 points apiece.
Hoffman’s had to play without a key piece as Chance Sterling (Gretna) rolled his ankle badly in the semifinal and was not able to play in the championship. Rust knocked down another four 3-pointers for 12 points while Anthony Marfisi (Lincoln East) added 11 points.
15U Championship — Team Factory 70, Iowa Mavericks Purple 63
Team Factory finally ran into a team that could hang with it in the championship, but in the end it ended in the same way the previous four games had — a Team Factory victory.
Tyson Gordon (Omaha Skutt), who averaged just under 20 points per game in Team Factory’s first four wins, picked up two early fouls and a third prior to halftime. However, Factory is much more than a one-man squad and several others stepped up to help shoulder the load including Bradley Paragas (Omaha Creighton Prep), who drilled two huge 3-pointers down the stretch that allowed Team Factory to hold on to its lead. Gordon still managed to finish with 14 points despite his foul trouble.
Final thoughts on Midwest Live
Nebraska represented well at Midwest Live on Sunday as five of the six finalists and all three champions were local teams. Kansas and Iowa were also well represented in this year’s field.
Shiloh Robinson and Malcolm Whitlow have garnered plenty of attention for Thunder Elite Platinum 16U, but Javen Udofia (Omaha Bryan) deserves praise for the role he has accepted. Udofia is a talented scorer in his own right (he scored 38 points in a game during this past high school season), but with the addition of Whitlow, Omaha Burke’s Mason Jung and Omaha Northwest’s Kristion Johnson, Thunder Elite doesn’t need him to be a primary scorer every game. He only had four points in the championship blowout over TNE, but he supplemented that with six assists, five rebounds and two steals. Udofia is a tremendous athlete with a great feel for the game and there is no doubt that he is one of the top local players in the Class of 2019.
Speaking of top players, Tyson Gordon will be a big part of the discussion for the No. 1 spot when it comes time to rank the Class of 2020. At 6-foot-2, Gordon is long and athletic and has the ball skills to get wherever he wants on the floor. He has a good feel for the game and makes an impact in more ways than just scoring. It’s not hard to see why Omaha Skutt coach Kyle Jurgens made Gordon his starting point guard as a freshman.
Unsigned seniors playing AAU during the spring and/or reclassifying is becoming more and more popular in Nebraska, and Esahia Nyiwe showed why in this tournament. Nyiwe had a relatively nondescript high school career at Omaha Northwest with flashes of brilliance throughout, but he was the driving force behind TNEs 17U championship. Omaha Burke’s Wanjang Tut had a strong season at The Skills Factory in Atlanta and will be playing at Arkansas-Little Rock next season. Nyiwe is similar to Tut as a long, athletic forward with guard skills and could follow the same path Tut did.
Bonus Coverage: Chicago Live
While Omaha Sports Academy’s Adidas teams competed in Atlanta and its regional teams stayed close to home, the National Teams traveled to Chicago for Chicago Live.
The 15U squad took home the championship with a 62-47 win in a chippy game against 515 Elite on Sunday afternoon. Zach LaFave (Elkhorn South) and Trey Knudsen (Gretna) finished with 16 points apiece to lead the Crusaders.
The 17U squad also made it to the championship game and led Team Basketball (Michigan) by nine at halftime, but the Crusaders could not hold on to the lead and lost to finish with a 4-1 record.
The 16s went 3-2 in Chicago.