FORT MYERS, Fla. — Before the City of Palms tournament, he wasn’t sure. Now Eric Behrens believes Omaha Central is up to its final test this season against a nationally ranked team.
“We hadn’t played anybody outside Nebraska. I didn’t know how we stacked up with Whitney Young or Long Beach Poly,’’ Behrens said Friday. “Now I’m going back home saying I think we can play with anybody and I really feel like that. That was 2 and 4 (nationally) we played.
“I don’t talk about Oak Hill, but I look at it now like maybe it is a winnable game whereas before I had no idea.”
His Eagles, which finished 1-2 in the City of Palms Classic after a 60-57 loss Friday to Chicago Whitney Young, have a Feb. 9 game against Oak Hill (Va.) Academy at Grand Island in the Heartland Hoops Classic.
Central’s first loss of the week, ending a 41-game winning streak, was by 52-49 to Long Beach (Calif.) Poly.
“It was a great experience getting to play against top-10 teams in the country to see where we stack up and I think we did a really great job,’’ senior Akoy Agau said. “It was a privilege and now we’re going to go back hungry and try to get better, and we still have the Oak Hill game. It’s about getting better and moving on.”
Behrens said for effort, he couldn’t be more pleased with what the Eagles gave.
“I walked out saying we played two really good teams and we played really well, but they just beat us,’’ he said. “I think our kids are going to go home with so much confidence from this. It’s hard to do that when you lose, but in this case, there was nothing but upside to this trip.”
Okafor 'a load' to defend
Jahlil Okafor may be only a high school junior, but there’s already a Wikipedia entry on the top college prospect from Whitney Young
“Okafor is a load,’’ Behrens said. “Akoy doesn’t play guys bigger than him in our regular Metro games and here he’s giving up 35 pounds and two inches.
“Paul White is a tremendous player. That’s a team where all five guys are going to play at some D-I level.”
A coach from national No. 1 (MaxPreps) Lone Peak, Utah, said it wouldn’t surprise him to see the Dolphins be considered the nation’s best high school team in 2013-14.
Dolphins overcome travel woes
Whitney Young arrived in Fort Myers only 3½ hours before tipoff Thursday night for its quarterfinal, then took tournament top seed Montverde (Fla.) to overtime before losing.
The Dolphins, limited to one day of missed class by Chicago school rules, were caught in Thursday’s snow-related delays at O’Hare International Airport. Their direct flight to Tampa didn’t take off until 3 p.m. and they had a two-hour ride after landing at 5:30. Their game, which started at 11, didn’t finish until 12:30 a.m.
Not much time to recover from jet legs and a draining loss.
“That one’s going to hurt for a long time,’’ one of the Dolphins said Friday afternoon in a Hyatt Place elevator.
Dolphins coach Tyrone Slaughter said he held a team meeting at the hotel to get regrouped.
“We still had some goals we wanted to get,’’ he said.
Slaughter said Central would fare “very well” in the Dolphins’ conference, the Chicago Public League.
Eagles might revisit beach
Since Central isn’t flying home until Sunday, the Eagles have some time of their own on Saturday.
On Thursday’s scheduled tournament off day, they went to Fort Myers Beach and shopped at an outlet mall.
“We’ll let them sleep in Saturday. Maybe come watch some games or go back to the beach or the mall if they want,’’ Behrens said. “We haven’t given them much of a vacation.”
Central’s players had their semester finals out of the way before the tournament. Assistant Athletic Director Paul Nielsen was the proctor as the 14 boys took their tests in a conference room last Friday and Monday.
Nick Billingsley, who joined the Eagles for his senior season, said it’s been a bonding trip for the team.
“It’s a once in a lifetime experience,’’ he said, “so we just have to take advantage of it.”
He competed Friday night in the tournament’s dunk contest, unofficially finishing third out of seven entrants.
Guard steps up for Dolphins
Behrens made a face when asked about Whitney Young point guard Ausar Madison, one of the two seniors on the team, whose 3-pointer to start the second half completed a 3-for-3 game from the field.
“He was 0-1 last night,’’ the Central coach said. “That was the guy we were going to double off of. That other wing (Miles Reynolds) hit some big shots.
“It’s so hard to double and you have to double Okafor. Then when you do they find their shooters.”
Montverde in final
Long Beach Poly was never in the game in its semifinal with Montverde Academy, losing 76-51. Dakari Johnson, Montverde’s star, had 17 points and 17 rebounds. Oregon recruit Jordan Bell had 11 points and five rebounds for the Jackrabbits in the loss.
Lone Peak overcame an early eight-point deficit to handle Memphis Southwind 67-52 in the first semifinal, to the delight of the packed gym. The Utah team received a standing ovation at game’s end.
Prep Classic promoter on hand
Nebraska Prep Classic organizer Jim Huffman watched the first four days of the tournament. He said he participated about 20 years ago in a meeting of tournament directors across the country, including Ron Riley of the City of Palms, to exchange ideas.
Also around Friday was ex-Omahan Benji Greenberg, who was a Husker student manager after graduating from Omaha Burke in 1990. He’s now an assistant athletic director for athletic communication at Florida Southern College in Lakeland.
— Stu Pospisil