The 38th annual William Jewell Holiday Classic high school basketball tournament tips off Wednesday, and it will conclude with the championship matchups on Dec. 30. Every game will be played at the Mabee Center in Liberty.
As always, the tournament is separated into three eight-team brackets. A breakdown of each...
The bracket has ample Division I talent spread across its rosters. Grandview, the No. 1 seed, has a pair of Division I signees in point guard Jordan Lathon (Northwestern) and guard Mason Taylor (Air Force). Taylor is averaging 21.3 points per game, but Lathon has been bothered by an injury and is unlikely to appear.
Oak Park senior Ochai Agbaji is scoring nearly 30 points per game in the non-conference portion of the schedule, and the Northmen, No. 2 in the division, are unbeaten at 6-0. Agbaji has not yet picked his college destination, but UMKC is among his handful of offers.
Park Hill South, No. 3 in the bracket, is led by guard Lamel Robinson, who does his best work as a slasher getting to the basket. He topped the 30-point mark in a game earlier this month.
Seven of the eight teams in the bracket have records of .500 or better.
In the initial three weeks of the season, Lee’s Summit West has established itself as the must-see team in Kansas City. The Titans (5-0) have athleticism at every position. Although they are most dangerous in the post, with Division I signees Yor Anei (Oklahoma State) and Christian Bishop (Creighton), the guards propelled a recent five-point victory against Blue Valley Northwest, their most tightly-contested game this season. Simply put: There aren’t many weaknesses across the roster.
But the Cardinal Division is a deep one, with No. 2 Liberty sitting on the opposite side of the bracket. Liberty senior Jalen Lewis broke a school record with 10 three-pointers in a win earlier this month. Blue Springs South, seeded third, has also shown to have an improved team this winter, and Raytown and Staley will form perhaps the best first-round matchup the tournament has to offer.
North Kansas City was one of the area’s most pleasant surprises in 2016-17, winning a share of the Suburban White Conference championship one year after posting a losing record.
The Hornets aren’t a surprise this year. Their wins come expectedly. The top-seed in the Nelson Division is a perfect 8-0 heading into the tournament. Seven of those eight wins have come by double-digit margins.
The competition will improve next week, with an athletic Park Hill team seeded second and a deep Rockhurst team seeded third.