By Bob Corwin
Archbishop Mitty High School of San Jose, California, won the Joe Smith (top) Division of the 2017 Nike Tournament of Champions (TOC) defeating St. Mary's High School of Stockton, California, 57-50 in a final's battle of nationally ranked teams according the latest MaxPreps Xcellent 25. The John Anderson Division (see part 2) saw Roland Park Country School of Baltimore, Maryland, defeat Omaha (Nebraska) Westside High School by a score of 60-58. Gilbert (Arizona) High School defeated Clovis West High School of Fresno, California, by a score of 70-62 to win the Mike Desper Division (see part 3). Each division was comprised of 16 teams playing four games. The event was held at multiple sites in Gilbert, Arizona, from December 19-22, 2017.
In its twenty-first annual addition, Nike’s TOC annually showcases top flight high school basketball action. In subsequent articles, play from the Anderson (second division of 16 teams) and Desper (third division of 16 teams) will be featured. There were also two additional divisions (Derril Kipp and Dan Wiley) of 16 teams (thus 80 total) which manpower limitations did not allow us to cover. Approximately 93 colleges (mostly NCAA Division 1) from all over the country attended one or more days of the event.
Looking at the action from the Smith Division semi-finals and finals…
Archbishop Mitty (San Jose, California) 64-50 Riverdale (Murfreesboro, Tennessee)
The first half was all about the Mitty defense which held high powered Riverdale to 18 points leading 26-18 at half. Mitty’s biggest trump might have been size with three versatile star players at least six-feet tall while Riverdale’s starting five were all listed under six foot. Riverdale never threatened in the second half trailing 46-33 after three quarters and never getting within five in the last six minutes. Key player in this contest was Mitty’s Karisma Ortiz (6-0, senior, guard, committed to Penn State) who led her team with 18 points but also handled the ball much of the time with Haley Jones (see below) in foul trouble much of the game. Riverdale was led by Alasia Hayes (5-7, sophomore, shooting guard) with 15 points.
St. Mary’s (Stockton, California) 69-53 Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Maryland)
Things started out well for Riverdale Baptist leading 15-11 after one quarter. A change to a box and one from their normal press and trap helped pull St. Mary’s ahead 32-31 at half. The third quarter spelled doom for the team from Maryland trailing 53-37. Here, St. Mary’s Ariel Johnson (see below) hit multiple three’s to help create the separation. One play in the second half typified this contest as Johnson, while falling down, assisted on an Aquira DeCosta (see below) basket. DeCosta controlled the lower paint for most of the game finishing with 29 points. Riverdale Baptist never threatened the lead in the last stanza. Elizabeth Martino (5-11, sophomore, small forward) led Riverdale Baptist with 14 points.
Archbishop Mitty 57-50 St. Mary’s
On paper coming in, the game pitted Mitty’s team ball offense versus superior athleticism of St. Mary’s. There was not much separation throughout the first three quarters. The score was tied at 25 at half and 37 after three quarters. For much of the contest, Mitty’s Nicole Blakes (see below) kept her team in the game scoring in the paint countering DeCosta’s efforts (game high 24 points) around the basket. With just over two minutes left, the game was tied at 46. During the final few minutes Mitty’s Haley Jones took the game over scoring her team’s last 12 points thus earning MVP status. Jones finished with 22 points and Blakes 20 for Mitty which last won the TOC in 1999. Do not be surprised to see these two teams in a NorCal finals re-match in March!
Post-game, Mitty coach Sue Phillips commented “each team deserved a trophy. It was not a seven-point game.”
Choosing the all-tournament team members
There were 11 total (10 plus MVP) picked based on individual performance combined with team success (finalists generally getting two selected). This year one team reached the semi-final (usually good for one selectee) but its two best players did not have good games and due to injury, neither played in the final the next day. With no other player having a consistently strong TOC performance, no player from this squad was selected for the honor.
Another team had two players (four strong outings versus three) with good TOC resumes. As the team did not do well, only one was selected. Conversely, in another case, one player had three very strong outings for her team and then missed the fourth game due to injury and was selected. Bottom line, there were a lot of quality players at the Nike TOC (particularly in the Smith Division). High quality play in more than half of the event is generally what it took to be recognized below and yes, an arguably worthy candidate can get left off given the guidelines for selection.
Below in alphabetical order (with listed height, graduation year and school) is the All-Tournament Team of the Joe Smith Division.
Nike Tournament of Champions 2017
Joe Smith Division All-Tournament Team
Brinae Alexander 5-9, 2018, Riverdale High School (Murfreesboro, Tennessee)
A Vanderbilt signee, Alexander works the area baseline to basket. A physical player, she scores in the key and from the perimeter and performed consistently at the event.
Nicole Blakes 6-2, 2018, Archbishop Mitty High School (San Jose, California)
A San Diego signee, Blakes was Mitty’s primary inside threat. She has a nice mid-range face-up shot and will post down low.
Aquira DeCosta 6-2, 2018, St. Mary's High School (Stockton, California)
A Baylor signee, DeCosta jumps out of the gym and is a tireless worker on the glass. To say she has a high motor would be an understatement and would have been MVP had her team won.
Justice Ethridge 5-8, 2018, Centennial High School (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Signed with hometown UNLV, Ethridge is a baseline shooter with three-point range. She helped lead her team to a 2-2 result versus four opponents that had been nationally ranked this season.
Shaylee Gonzales 5-10, 2018, Mesquite High School (Gilbert, Arizona)
A BYU signee, Gonzales is her team’s point guard and one of its leading scorers both during the season and at the TOC. She is a strong driver but also a perimeter threat.
Ariel Johnson 5-8, 2018, St. Mary's High School (Stockton, California)
A Florida signee, Johnson is her team’s point guard. Her leadership and three-point shooting helped contribute to her team’s second place finish in the division.
Haley Jones 6-1 2019 Archbishop Mitty High School (San Jose, California) MVP
Jones is one of the most versatile players in the USA capable of playing all positions thanks to high level skill set combined with high basketball IQ and 6-1 height. She scores in and out of the paint but also makes others around her better.
Yo'myris Morris 6-2, 2018, North Little Rock High School (Little Rock, Arkansas)
A TCU signee, Morris posted several double-doubles (points and rebounds) at the event. In doing so, she helped her team to a 2-2 result.
Makayla Pippin 6-0, 2018, Rock Creek Christian Academy (District Heights,
A LaSalle signee, Pippin plays in and out of the paint although scoring mostly in the key. She helped her team to a 3-1 result in the event.
Erin Toller 5-6, 2020, Sacred Heart Academy (Louisville, Kentucky)
Toller came off the bench for her team but was very impactful in scoring via drive or shooting perimeter shots, appearing to be one of the squad’s best players. Regular observers of this team question whether she should be getting more playing time.
Malu Tshitenge-Mutombo 6-3, 2019, St. John's College High School (Washington, DC)
Malu is a regular double-double for the Cadets playing actively in the lower key. Her efforts contributed to a 3-1 result at the event.