LAS VEGAS, NV - The annual Wildcats basketball trip took them to Las Vegas, NV, to compete in the famed Tarkanian Classic. The Tarkanian Classic is well known as one of the best high school basketball showcases and has had many NBA players play in the showcase. It attracts some of the top teams in the country and the Wildcats were one of the teams with the chance to showcase their skill on the big stage.
But before the Wildcats could reach Las Vegas, they had the opportunity to play in the Play-by-Play Classic in Columbus, Ohio. The Wildcats took on Africentric in Nationwide Arena. This was a tight matchup, but the Wildcats pulled through with a 68-60 victory. Ace Bucker was awarded game MVP. He posted 18 points, three rebounds, four assists, three steals and a block.
After this game, the Cats caught a flight to Las Vegas and rested to prepare for their first game in the Tarkanian Classic. The team had a chance to bond and build chemistry while at team meals, racing go-karts in the desert and exploring all Las Vegas had to offer. Then it was time for the games to begin.
The first challenge in this showcase was Coronado (NV) from Henderson. Coronado was a nationally ranked team and boasted multiple high-profile recruits. The games in the Tarkanian Classic consisted of two 16-minute halves. The Wildcats hounded Coronado on defense and went to the half with a narrow 25-24 lead. The game stayed close until the final seconds, where senior Braydn Szczepaniak hit a game-winning layup to finish off Coronado and give the Cats a 1-0 start in the showcase. Ace Buckner again posted 18 points, while Reece Robinson had 13 points and three steals.
Next up was Faith Family (TX). They had the tallest player the Wildcats will potentially face this year, standing at 6'11. This didn't bother the Wildcats, as they still won the rebounding battle. However, the Cats couldn't complete their late comeback attempts, dropping their first showcase game 76-68. Robinson and Bucker continued to impress, combining for 30 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists.
After the loss, the Cats had a chance to practice and review film to prepare for St. Augustine (CL). Unfortunately for the Wildcats, travel and three games in four days made them exhausted and a little bit tired on the court. The offense could never find its groove in this game and the Cats lost 62-54. Braydn Szczepaniak had a team-high 13 points and eight boards.
The Wildcats' final Tarkanian Classic game never happened as the coaches worked to get the team home safely due to weather conditions back in Northeast Ohio. Thankfully, the Wildcats found their way back home safe for the holidays. A big shoutout to the coaching staff for organizing the trip and working tirelessly to get the team home safely.
Also, I would like to thank Head Basketball Coach Cam Joyce for the opportunity to bring some of the SIBN to come along on the trip and broadcast their showcase games.
The Wildcats' next game will be Monday, January 2. In their first game of the new year, 2023, coach Joyce will play against his father's St. Vincent-St. Mary's team. Tip-off will be at 4 p.m. The SIBN will have live coverage from the Sullivan Gym.