This past weekend, I attended the GSA President's Day Tournament, which featured some great team match-ups and rosters with next level prospects. The event featured divisions ranging from 14u up to Varsity for both boys and girls teams. The focus for this article is on the Varsity East Division, which was the top division for the Boys. Furthermore, this article provides a recap of the event, and highlights the players that performed best over the weekend. The tournament concluded with a great game between 1 Dream (St. Joseph of Santa Maria) and Panthers Elite (San Joaquin Memorial), as 1 Dream won the championship game with a score of 53-48.
The Boys Varsity East Division kicked-off with a premier match-up between Panthers Elite (SJM) and the Cyclones (Bakersfield Christian). Both teams won the Valley Championship last season in their respective divisions, so there was a lot of anticipation for this match-up. The game was close throughout, with lead changes and a down to the wire finish. The Panthers were led by senior guard, Jalen Douglas, and arguably the Central Sections top 2023 prospect, Mike Davis Jr. Douglas finished with 14 points, connecting on three 3 pointers and opened up the paint, allowing Davis to avoid being doubled and enforce his will in the key. Davis had a game high 20 points and 10 plus rebounds, as he showed improved footwork and a nice touch around the rim. Despite the valiant effort by the Panthers, the Cyclones, on a buzzer beater from senior Lendl Henderson Jr., edged out with a win. The Cyclones had it going from beyond the arc, as this was critical in keeping them close. Junior Erick Chaney finished with a team high 18 points, knocking down six 3’s and did an excellent job of getting to his spots for the catch and shoot opportunities. Junior Jackson Tucker chipped in 10 points, and senior Lendl Henderson Jr. had 12 points, including the buzzer beater and 3 threes, as the Cyclones won 55-54.
Bracket play started Sunday morning, as Panthers Elite and 1Dream won their opening games and advanced to the semifinals, which featured two quality match-ups, on paper. The first semifinals match-up, between Panthers Elite and SC Elite (Santa Clarita Christian), was a low scoring affair, as neither team really got it going on the offensive end. The Panthers, missing their top player in junior Joseph Hunter (currently playing on the Grind Session in Arizona), had moments throughout the weekend where they missed having that player that can go get a bucket when it is desperately needed. Nevertheless, the verteran leadership and play of seniors Jaden Geron (Rice University commit) and Jalen Douglas, both are 3 time Valley Champions, as well as the newcomer James Prescott III, provided the composure and defensive grit needed to pull out the win over SC Elite, 31-23.
The 2nd semifinal match-up was between 1Dream and the Cyclones. The Cyclones were fighting an uphill battle before the game even started, as they would be without senior lead guard, Seth Marantos, due to a severe ankle sprain the day before. In what should have been one of the best games of the weekend, the significance of Marantos’ absence in the Cyclones game plan was evident within the first few minutes of the game. 1Dream came out and asserted their style of play on both ends of the court. Seniors Jincho Rivera (Chicago State commit) and Samuel Bazunga controlled the glass, ran the floor in transition, and had some monster dunks to open up a big lead. Senior Steven Vasquez added to the party, as he connected on 4 threes in the 2nd half to finish with 12 points. Bazunga chipped in 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Rivera led the way with a game high 22 points as 1Dream defeated the Cyclones and earned a spot in the championship game. The lone bright spot for the Cyclones in the tough semifinals loss was junior Jackson Tucker, finishing with a team high 10 points and playing with a toughness I loved to see added to his game.
The Cyclones regrouped, as they were set to play SC Elite in the 3rd Place Game. The Cyclones jumped out to an early lead over SC Elite behind the red hot start from junior Erick Chaney. Junior Zach Hiebert also stepped up his level of play, looking to be more aggressive off the dribble and facilitating the ball. Despite a great 1st half of play, SC Elite got it going in the 2nd half behind the play of senior Tiago Soares, junior Tejan Slater, and sophomore Maurice Wright Jr. Defensively, SC Elite locked in, Soares and Slater controlled the rebounds, and they were able to score efficiency around the basket. SC Elite’s strong 2nd half showing gave them the push they needed to grab the lead and come away with the victory, 54-49. Tiago Soares led SC Elite with a game high 19 points, along with 15 points from Tejan Slater and 10 points from lead guard Maurice Wright Jr. Erick Chaney had a team high 16 points, with 3 threes, and Zach Hiebert added 11 points for the Cyclones. Regardless of the loss, it was great to see the Cyclones bounce back after a rough semifinal loss and compete in this 3rd Place Game.
The stage was set for a great match-up between two teams that are amongst the tops in the Central Section, and have rosters filled with talent. Early in the game, the battle for buckets was being held in the paint, as Panthers Elite sophomore standout 6’7” Mike Davis Jr. would be tested by the physical and athletic 6’7” Samuel Bazunga of 1Dream. The 1st couple of baskets on both ends were handed out by both forwards, but it would not be long before the high level guard play of both squads took over the bulk of the scoring the remainder of the game. James Prescott III, of Panthers Elite, had it going from deep, connecting on a pair of threes. This opened up driving lanes, and Prescott used his elite athleticism, skill and burst of speed to get into the paint for finishes at the rim. 1Dream’s guard trio, led by Jincho Rivera (along with Andres Roman and Anyel Ortiz), brought the intensity on the defensive end, creating turnovers and leading to easy transition points. Rivera got in his bag and went to work, as he hit 3 threes, some pretty mid-range jumpers, and creative finishes at the rim. Ortiz used his blazing court speed and point guard skill to weave through traffic, find open teammates, or create his own offense. The game was close at the half and it would remain that way to the end. Jalen Douglas, for Panthers Elite, had a pair of threes and played his intense style of defense, leading to turnovers and easy points for his team. The difference in the 2nd half was the play of Dre Roman. Roman had 8 of his 10 points in the 2nd half, and was active on the glass, allowing him to push the tempo off the rebound. 1Dream built a double digit lead with less than 5 minutes left, and although Panthers Elite made it interesting, 1Dream got the win and the championship, by a score of 53-48. Jincho Rivera had a game high 18 points, and was Most Outstanding Player for the Boys Varsity East Division. Anyel Ortiz had 12 points and, as mentioned, Dre Roman had 10 points for the champs. James Prescott had a team high 16 points, and Jalen Douglas had 10 for Panthers Elite.
Overall, the event featured some solid match-ups, some high level prospects, and a quality finish in the championship game. Below is a list of my top performers, Most Outstanding Player, and 1st and 2nd All Tournament Teams.
(MOP) 2021 6’5 Jincho Rivera (St. Joseph/Santa Maria)
1st Team All Tournament
2021 6’1 Jalen Douglas (San Joaquin Memorial)
2021 6’7 Samuel Bazunga (St. Joseph/Santa Maria)
2022 5’11 Erick Chaney (Bakersfield Christian)
2023 6’7 Mike Davis Jr. (San Joaquin Memorial)
2021 6’5 Tiago Soares (Santa Clarita Chrsistian)
2nd Team All Tournament
2021 5’10 Ayel Ortiz (St. Joseph/Santa Maria)
2021 6’1 James Prescott III (San Joaquin Memorial)
2022 6’3 Andres Roman (St. Joseph/Santa Maria)
2022 6’7 Tejan Slater (Santa Clarita Christian)
2022 6’3 Jackson Tucker (Bakersfield Christian)