In game televised by ESPN2, Whitney Young (Chicago) travels to Minnesota and snaps the 35-game winning streak of Apple Valley (Minn.). Mr. Basketball USA candidate Jahlil Okafor dominates inside with 22 points and 15 rebounds in matchup against future Duke teammate Tyus Jones.
Nationally-televised high school basketball matchups are not always about the matchup. Many times they are set up to showcase top individual talent.
On Thursday night, the ESPN2 matchup between Whitney Young (Chicago) and Apple Valley (Apple Valley, Minn.) was one of those games. It pitted Jahlil Okafor’s Whitney Young team versus Apple Valley and Tyus Jones, the nation’s No. 4 ranked prospect in the class of 2014 by the Hoop Scoop and Okafor’s future Duke teammate.
As has been well-chronicled in high school and recruiting circles, Okafor and Jones are best of friends, but on this night it was Jones doing whatever he could to help Apple Valley stay competitive with a team that opened up the season ranked No. 3 in the Student Sports FAB 50. Despite a big second half from Jones, who scored 25 of his 29 total points after halftime, Whitney Young had too much inside firepower and came away with a 80-70 victory at Apple Valley’s home gym.
The win helped Whitney Young (2-1) get back on track after opening its season last Saturday with a 62-59 loss against preseason No. 15 St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.) at the Chicago Elite Classic. Apple Valley employed a 2-3 zone defense to try to slow Okafor and 6-foot-8 Georgetown commit Paul White down, but the defending Minnesota Class 4A state champs simply didn’t shoot a high enough percentage from the field in the first half for the strategy to pay off in the end.
Okafor, last year’s Student Sports National Junior of the Year and a contender for 2013-14 Mr. Basketball USA honors, got point blank looks at the basket, especially in the second half when Apple Valley (5-1) employed full court pressure in an attempt to create turnovers. Okafor finished with 22 points and 18 rebounds. White also had an excellent game with 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. White was getting the ball in the middle of the zone or on press break and usually made the correct read to one of his teammates.
The loss to the visitors from Chicago snapped a 35-game winning streak for a team that opened up the season No. 27 in the FAB 50. After only netting four points in the first half for Apple Valley, Jones finished with 29 points, six assists, six rebounds and five steals.
Whitney Young led 38-29 at halftime and by as much as 17 points in the second half. Jones, who had a four-point play late in the second half to keep Apple Valley within striking distance and the home crowd into the game, nailed another 3-pointer with 1:25 remaining in the game to pull his team within seven points (74-67). Apple Valley, however, didn’t get any closer.
Although Apple Valley was a bit overmatched, it gave a valiant effort and made the game competitive when it easily could have got out of hand. The presence of the pair of good friends and future college teammates created a made-for-TV matchup, and more importantly an experience for the players and Apple Valley faithful, that otherwise never would have happened.