Johnnie Vassar takes home dunk title at MaxPreps Holiday Classic


Johnnie Vassar stood behind the top of the arc in the gymnasium at Rancho Mirage High School, the sea of thousands quietly watching his every move, anticipating what he planned to do next.

“The truth is, I didn’t really know,” said Vassar, a senior guard on the basketball team at JSerra Catholic in San Juan Capistrano.

“I just kind of came up with it all on the spot,” he said.

(RAW VIDEO: MaxPreps Holiday Classic dunk contest)

After a moment to conjure up his latest crowd pleasing dunk late Saturday night, Vassar then threw the ball high off the wall behind the basket, narrowly missing the clock that hung more than 10 feet in the air.

As the ball then sprung back off of the court, the 6-footer scooped it up and, in one smooth motion in mid air, brought it back for a two-handed tomahawk dunk. The crowd erupted in disbelief.

The dunk earned Vassar, a Northwestern commit, the latest slam dunk title at the annual MaxPreps Holiday Classic, which took over the valley this weekend. Several of the 119 teams in the tournament remained Saturday evening, and attended the festivities. Thousands of locals and out-of-town visitors also packed the gym.

(PDF: Monday’s complete schedule)

Slated to begin at 9 p.m., the start time was delayed about a half an hour as the crowd was treated to the second overtime game in as many nights.

In that matchup, Jackson (Wash.) defeated Long Beach Poly on a 3-point buzzer beater to advance to the Open Division Final. The Timberwolves will face Capital Christian from Sacramento at 8:40 p.m. Monday on the main court at Rancho Mirage.

When the dunk contest finally got underway, the judges gave the 20 competitors five minutes to take turns showing off some of their best dunks. Among those competing were two locals, 6-foot-3 Anthony Murdica and 6-3 Wes Coffey — both juniors at Palm Desert High School.

After a brief deliberation by the five judges, six of the best dunkers were selected to advance. But before the final showdown, tournament officials proceeded with the 3-point contest, saving the best for last.

Calvin Hoffman, coming all the way from Anchorage Christian in Alaska, nailed 21 of 25 3-pointers for the best round of the night to claim the boys’ title. Abby Conklin of San Juan Hills won on the girls’ side.

“My best in a row is like, 27,” said Hoffman, who said he put up at least 10,000 shots a day last summer. “But that’s just in practice. It’s a lot different having all these people staring down on you.”

For the second consecutive year, a player smaller than 6-1 took home the dunk crown, besting a field of players that included a pair of 6-8 Division I signees.

Last year’s winner was 5-foot-8. Vassar, a 6-foot, again represented the small guys in style.

“Exactly,” Vassar said. “I said I was going to do that when I first got out here tonight. I was just trying to get creative. The crowd was definitely into it, so that gave me a bit of a boost.”

Tournament action concludes Monday with 66 boys’ and girls’ games being played at eight sites around the valley. Games begin as early as 9 a.m. at sites.

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