The William Jewell High School Holiday Classic has always been a showcase of some of Kansas City’s best basketball talent.
During the 38th edition of the tournament last week, most of that talent came from north of the river.
Of the six teams that played in the three division finals during the 24-team tournament at William Jewell’s Mabee Center, all but one were from the Northland. And two of them — North Kansas City and Oak Park — came away with titles.
“Particularly here in there in the Northland, there’s some really, really good basketball being played,” said Liberty coach Roger Stirtz, whose Blue Jays lost to Lee’s Summit West in the Cardinal Division final. “I think citywide it’s really good. We were just talking last night about when there’s been this many quality teams in the city.”
North Kansas City (11-0) proved its prowess in the Nelson Division with a 58-33 victory against Park Hill in the first of three title games Dec. 30 in front of an overflow crowd.
T.J. Babikir, a 6-foot-2 senior, averaged 19 points during three games for the Hornets, and Deng Bol, a 6-3 senior, pumped in 27 points including a 40-foot game-winner at the buzzer during a semifinal victory against Blue Springs.
Oak Park also remained perfect at 9-0 after downing Liberty North 49-36 in the Patterson Division final.
The Northmen feature one of the top scorers in the Northland and the city in 6-4 senior swingman Ochai Agbaji, who came into the tournament averaging 29 points a game.
Agbaji scored 28 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the final, capping a three-game stretch in which he averaged 26 points and 11 rebounds and claimed the division’s Most Valuable Player award.
Liberty also had a good run, including a gutty 64-61 win versus Blue Springs South in the Cardinal Division semifinals.
The Blue Jays (8-2) hung tough with Lee’s Summit West most of the way during the final, but they couldn’t overcome the Titans’ size inside and a 28-point performance by guard Rich Johnson in a 66-60 loss.
“It just so happened we faced a really good team south of the river tonight,” Stirtz said.
Liberty got big games from senior guard Jalen Lewis, who made six three-pointers and scored 24 points, and 6-5 senior forward Tavis Turner, who scored 16 points and grabbed 10 boards for his second double-double of the tournament.
Against Blue Springs South, senior guard Brock Matson had a stellar outing, scoring 21 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in a 64-61 victory. Matson also went 8 for 8 from the free-throw line during the fourth quarter to help secure the victory.
Park Hill South, behind guard Lamel Robinson, strung together two impressive wins to snag fifth place in the Patterson Division, while Staley did the same in the Cardinal Division, holding off Kearney 57-55 in overtime in its fifth-place game.
“Tons of teams could have won any of the brackets,” Stirtz said. “It goes to show you there’s a lot of good teams up here.”