COLUMBIA, S.C. – From teams trying to find chemistry after a mass exodus last season to budding stars living up to the hype here’s what we learned at the Chick-fil-A Classic Saturday.
TRINITY CHRISTIAN STILL FINDING ITS IDENTITY
Trinity Christian School (Fayetteville, N.C.) is just scratching the surface of its potential.
Seems like an odd thing to say for a defending state championship team, but after losing 10 players – eight seniors and two transfers – from last year’s squad, the Crusaders are still trying to find their niche.
“We’ve got to find our identity and we’ve got to stop playing scared,” Trinity Christian coach Heath Vandevender said. “We lost a lot from last year, yes, but we need players to step up. It’s not about chemistry or anything like that; we just need to find that third scorer after Dennis and Zo.”
It helps to have the No. 1 point guard in the ESPN 60 Dennis Smith Jr. at the controls, especially when he’s placing the team’s struggles solely on his shoulders.
“I put everything on myself,” Smith said. “We’ll get it together; we’ve just gotta stay positive and keep working.”
DAY OFF PLANS VARY
The Chick-fil-A Classic will take Sunday off and reconvene Monday with the semifinal rounds.
The operative question is: What will the players and coaches do with a full day away from the hardwood?
Trinity Christian School (Fayetteville, N.C.) coach Heath Vandevender: “Church then hanging out with my family; probably doing a little Christmas shopping or something. Nothing’s more important than family.”
Trinity Christian School (Fayetteville, N.C.) point guard Dennis Smith Jr.: “Getting shots up! Definitely getting shots up.”
Morgan County (Madison, Ga.) point guard Tookie Brown: “We are going to brunch and we also have shoot around at South Carolina. We mostly plan to just relax and prepare for Monday.”
Westtown School (West Chester, Pa.) guard Jair Bolden: “Probably hitting a movie.”
Westtown School (West Chester, Pa.) forward Dakpe Yiljep: “Definitely gonna get some rest and ice treatment.”
CHEICK DIALLO DUNKS… A LOT
Sure, we told you coming in to the Chick-fil-A Classic that Our Savior (Centereach, N.Y.) center Cheick Diallo would be a guy to keep your eyes on and, yeah, we knew he liked to dunk but when 7 of your 9 field goals are literally rim-rocking dunks it’s, well, impressive to say the least.
Diallo, who is ranked No. 7 in the ESPN 100, finished with 18 points and seven rebounds in the Pioneers 58-48 win over Westtown (West Chester, Pa.).
“He’s definitely as good as people say,” Westtown forward Dakpe Yiljep said. “He’s real athletic and real aggressive, and he definitely likes to dunk.”
MOHAMMED BAMBA IS A STAR
Westtown (West Chester, Pa.) may have lost to Our Savior (Centereach, N.Y.) Saturday but the one player that had the gym buzzing the most was forward Mohammed Bamba, a 6-foot-10 sophomore.
Bamba scored 12 points on 6 of 7 shooting and grabbed five rebounds against Our Savior senior center Cheick Diallo, a probable All-American comes season’s end. Bamba has been putting in work for a while but Saturday’s performance proved he’s a legit star in the 2017 class.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY