PREVIEW: Basketball Looks to Return to Lincoln


Brendan Preisman, CP Sports Network

The 2020-21 season was very likely the most impressive season in Creighton Prep basketball history.  The Junior Jays finished the season ranked 30th in the nation after a season that involved 23 wins, including one over a team finishing in the national top 15.  However, there was one opponent in their way they simply couldn’t overcome.  The Bellevue West Thunderbirds, led by Wisconsin point guard Chucky Hepburn and UNO forward Frankie Fidler, were always slightly better than Prep when they needed to be.  A 79-77 overtime victory for the Thunderbirds in the Heider Center was bad enough, but that game was followed 6 weeks later by an instant classic, triple overtime bonanza in the state semifinals that resulted in Bellevue West going back to the state title game and Prep going back home.

That game is not easily forgotten.  Not by Josh Luedtke, the 3 time state champion coach who had a team more than talented enough to win a fourth come up just short last March.  Not by Luke Jungers, the 6’8” forward who led the team in scoring last year.  And certainly not by the students at Creighton Prep, who felt that Prep not only could have, but should have beaten the Thunderbirds and played for the state title.  

This year, Prep has another title winning team, and while the road is easier, there are still plenty of obstacles.  While Hepburn and Fidler are gone, the boogeyman from Bellevue is still one of the title favorites, thanks to junior Josiah Dotzler, senior William Kyle, and transfer John Mitchell.  There’s also other challengers, like the Westside Warriors (led by Chandler Meeks, Tate Odvody, and Payson Gillespie) and the Lincoln Pius Thunderbolts (led by Brady Christiansen and the Hatsreiter brothers).  And that’s not to mention the great individual players like Jasen Green of Millard North and Isaac Traudt of Grand Island, who could lift their teams to the title as well.

However, the Junior Jays will likely be just as competitive as last year.  Jungers appears to have worked on his ball handling and finishing ability, and could even run some point guard in an offense based on transition and off-ball movement.  Aside from Jungers, the key to this team may be fellow senior Martel Evans, who was a bench player for the team last year.  Evans is both a spectacular defender and a silky-smooth scorer, and his two way impact and intangibles (especially the way his off-ball movement impacts the offense) will help Prep beat a lot of teams.

Aside from Jungers and Evans, there are a lot of other players who will help the team this year.  Casey O’Malley is back and will provide instant offense once again, and Joe Sudbeck is the best shooter on the team-with a green light at all times.  Shawn Ramachandran took last year off, but has returned and should be a key wing player in the rotation.  As for the underclassmen, Joey Rieschl may already be the best passing guard on the team and might be able to crack the starting lineup.  PJ Newbill and Eddie Hubner should also be key rotational pieces.  

While there will be a lot of new faces, especially in the starting lineup, the style of play for the Junior Jays should look quite similar.  The offense is once again egalitarian and based on movement, and every player on the floor should be able to pass and shoot well for the offense to work best.  One new wrinkle is that with AJ Rollins having graduated, there will be more spacing for drive and kick action that should lead to Prep’s offense scoring even more last year.  As for defense, it will be marked once again by aggressive perimeter defense and lots of on ball pressure.  

After having watched practice, I can confidently say that (despite having graduated 7 seniors) the Junior Jays will be fine.  Losing Marquis Tolliver and maybe Owen Shotkoski as well due to offseason injuries will hurt the team, but players like Ashton Zabka and Josh Townley-Thomas should be able to step up and fill those roles.  Looking at the schedule, there’s a real chance that Prep makes it out of the regular season with 3 or fewer losses.  Expect them to get back to Lincoln, and expect a much better end to the season than last year.