Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012 | 2:05 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Case Keefer and Ray Brewer come to you from the Las Vegas Sun's podcast studio for one final time this basketball season. They dissect the chances of seeing an all-Las Vegas state championship game between Bishop Gorman and Green Valley.
When the state high school basketball tournament starts Thursday in Reno at the Lawlor Events Center, the general consensus is perennial power Bishop Gorman High will hardly be challenged in winning a third championship in four years.
The No. 17-ranked Gaels (26-4) are led by four Division I recruits, including the nation’s top prospect in senior Shabazz Muhammad; have played and beaten a schedule of highly respected nationally ranked opponents; and enter the tournament on a 12-game winning streak.
The Gorman players, however, aren’t buying into the hype.
After all, it was the same drill last year when Gorman was upset by Northern Nevada’s Bishop Manogue in the semifinals, a shocking 45-44 defeat. It was one of the biggest upsets in recent state history.
“As far as last year, we were ready, we were prepared, we just didn’t get it done,” Gorman coach Grant Rice said. “After that game, we thought about what we could have done differently, and we really wouldn’t have done anything differently.
“We just didn’t come out and get it done. Bishop Manogue played really well and took us out of our game. I give credit to them, not what we could have done differently.”
Muhammad, who has averaged nearly 30 points per game the past two years, was limited to nine points on 2-of-7 shooting in arguably the worst performance of his Gorman career. This year, Gorman plays at 4:40 p.m. Thursday in the state semifinals against Northern Nevada’s Douglas High — a team, like last year against Bishop Manogue, they should have little problems beating.
The Bishop Manogue players, however, weren’t fazed.
Just ask Gorman sophomore guard Obim Okeke, who last year played at Bishop Manogue and posted two points, three rebounds and two assists in the upset. When most teams enter a game against Gorman mentally defeated, Okeke said Bishop Manogue had confidence in executing their game plan.
“We came in thinking whatever happens, happens, but we need to play hard to win,” Okeke said.
Beating Gorman is easier said than done — the Gaels have two defeats since 2009 to Nevada foes — but Okeke said Bishop Manogue was able to exploit a weakness they saw on film while scouting Gorman.
“We had a game plan to shut down Shabazz and get in his head, and when that happened, it was over pretty much,” Okeke said. “We knew he scored more than half their points.”
Muhammad’s storied high school career includes being the Gorman program’s all-time leading scorer and first McDonald’s All-American. He’s undecided on a college but is asked daily about where he’ll play next year — UNLV is one of handful of schools still in the running.
He’s a sure-thing NBA prospect and projected to be a lottery pick, if not the top pick overall, in the 2013 draft if he leaves college early.
But before he takes the next step in his career, there’s unfinished business on the high school circuit. His legacy will be partially defined by what happens this week in Reno.
“This would be icing on the cake, winning the state title,” Muhammad said.
Gorman averaged 85 points per game last week in winning its fourth straight Sunset Regional crown, beating the tournament opponents by an average of 29 points per game. The Gaels are playing their best basketball of the season in winning 20 of their last 21 games — victories by an average of almost 30 points per game.
While similar numbers can be used to describe last year’s team, there is one major difference: experience. Last year’s team featured several underclassman in their first significant roles during the postseason. Now, they are savvy veterans.
Players like Ben Carter (Oregon), Rosco Allen (Stanford), Ronnie Stanley (Notre Dame for football) and Demetris Morant (UNLV) combine with Muhammad to produce one of the best rosters in state history.
“It has been a two-year process for us. Two years ago when we won, and lost a bunch of seniors, but we knew we had these up-and-coming guys — Rosco Allen, Ben Carter, Ronnie Stanley and Shabazz — we kind of viewed it as a two-year process,” Rice said. “Even with our schedule last year. It ended badly for us with a loss to Manogue. But with everything — the tournaments and national games we played in — it was a two-year schedule. This is a culmination of that.”