Heritage High School, winners of the 2018 John Wall Invitational (PC: Bob Corwin)
By Bob Corwin
In its 24 th year, the John Wall Holiday Invitational saw Heritage High School of Wake Forest, North Carolina, edge nationally ranked St. Frances Academy 50-49 in a battle of undefeated teams. The event consisted of one eight-team bracket plus a separate group of four playing only each other. Held between December 26-29, all games but the final on December 29 (at Broughton High School in Raleigh) were played at Cary Academy in Cary, North Carolina. Presented by the Triangle Educational Advancement Foundation, proceeds from the event help fund scholarships for college students in the area. About 20 colleges (mostly NCAA Division 1) attended one or more days of the event which had the John Wall Family Foundation as its title sponsor.
Looking at the final…
Heritage High School (Wake Forest, North Carolina) 50-49 St. Frances Academy (Baltimore, Maryland)
Heritage came in as the more veteran club but lacked the star power and inside play represented by St. Frances’s Angel Reese (Most Outstanding Player, see below). Heritage often sent two or even three players at Reese to disrupt the St. Frances offensive flow. The team from Maryland had an edge in the paint but three-point shooting (6/13 versus 1/9) definitely favored the locals. The contest was close most of the way with Heritage up 26-24 at half and St. Frances ahead 41-37 after three quarters.
As is often the case, execution (here foul shooting) made the final difference. In the last minute the score was tied at 48. With 21 seconds left, Angel Reese was fouled driving to the basket and made one of two to put St. Frances up one. After a couple of time-outs, Heritage point guard Christiana McLean (All-Tournament selectee, see below) drove the key and was fouled with about four seconds left. She converted both (tough in a packed gym under end-of-game pressure!). St. Frances was unable to get off a shot before the buzzer.
Heritage was led by McLean with 16 points. Cydney Johnson (MVP, see below) posted 15 points and 10 rebounds. St Frances was led by Aniya Gourdine (5-8, sophomore, guard) with 15 points. Most Outstanding Player Angel Reese tallied 14 points and 12 rebounds.
Below in alphabetical order (with listed height, graduation year and school) is the All-Tournament Team of John Wall Holiday Invitational. School location is in parenthesis.
John Wall Holiday Invitational 2018
Kaylah Ivey 5-8 2020 Riverdale Baptist School (Upper Marlboro, Maryland)
Ivey has been discussed recently on this site. As a combo guard, she has a nice perimeter stroke but can also attack the basket. She helped her team go 2-1 at the event.
Cydney Johnson (MVP) 5-11 2019 Heritage High School (Wake Forest, North Carolina)
Signed with High Point, Johnson plays mostly on the perimeter liking to shoot the three. Having a high motor, she is willing to go inside and hit the glass. Her all-around play earned her MVP honors.
Imani Lester 6-3 2022 North Raleigh Christian Academy (Raleigh, North Carolina)
Lester is a future All-American candidate able to post up or face-up to score. She also can lead the fast break and shoot the three (on occasion). Word in the gym is that she already has Power 5 offers. Only continued physical maturation and refining skills already present are needed for this talented athlete to succeed at the next level.
Christiana McLean 5-6 2019 Heritage High School (Wake Forest, North Carolina)
Signed with Marshall, McLean is a point guard who looks to attack to score when not distributing the ball. To her credit, she made the two foul shots to secure the victory at the end of the championship game.
Jada Peebles 5-9 2019 Wakefield High School (Raleigh, North Carolina)
Signed with Illinois, Peebles is a lanky athlete who can shoot the three and attack the basket. Her efforts helped her team to a third-place finish at the event.
Angel Reese (MOP) 6-3 2020 St. Frances Academy (Baltimore, Maryland)
Discussed recently on this site, Reese continues to dominate high school games with her high motor and athletic play in the paint. For her size, she handles the ball well. Her play at the event earned her the Most Outstanding Player award.
Alexandria Scruggs 6-0 2019 E.E. Smith High School (Fayetteville, North, Carolina)
A lefty signed with Wake Forest, Scruggs is a physical small forward who can shoot the three but will also go inside to rebound.
Cydnee Johnson of Heritage High School (MVP)
Imani Lester of North Raleigh Christian Academy (PC: Bob Corwin)
Brittany Staves 6-0 2019 Leesville Road High School (Raleigh, North Carolina)
Signed with Campbell, Staves scores primarily in the paint but will step outside to shoot the three.
Kennedy Todd-Williams 6-0 2020 Jacksonville High School (Jacksonville, North Carolina)
Orally committed to North Carolina, Todd-Williams oozes with athleticism and skill. She can create her own shot but needs to cut down on unforced errors.
Nia Washington 5-11 2019 Green Hope High School (Cary, North Carolina)
Signed with UNC Ashville, Washington is a decent athlete with all-around skill playing both inside and on the perimeter.
A few others to note:
Gabby Donaldson 5-6 2019 Wakefield High School (Raleigh, North Carolina)
Signed with Harvard, Donaldson runs the offense for her team. A decent athlete, she has good basketball IQ looking to score via the perimeter stoke or drive. Together with Jada Peebles, she was part of the best backcourt at the event.
Emma Finster 5-8 2021 North Raleigh Christian Academy (Raleigh, North Carolina)
Finster still needs to fill out and get stronger but has a very quick release hitting six threes in one game at the event. She was playing with broken fingers (taped together) on her shooting hand. From a basketball viewpoint, one has to wonder if she needs to fix them!
Taleah Stephens 6-0 2021 Holly Springs High School (Holly Springs, North Carolina)
Stephens plays inside and on the perimeter for her young team. A decent athlete, she has a nice mid-range stroke but is not afraid to go inside to hit the glass.
Kennedy Todd-Williams of Jacksonville High School (PC: Bob Corwin)