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October 22, 2018

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Super Seven: Clark star James Bridges playing senior season for his late father

Three Chargers lead annual preseason boy’s basketball team

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Christopher DeVargas

James Bridges of Clark High School is part of the Las Vegas Sun’s Super Seven boys preseason all-city basketball team, Nov. 14, 2017.

Las Vegas Sun HS Basketball Media Day 2017

Players of the Cheyenne High basketball team, from left, Damion Bonty, Keshawn Hall and Kavon Williams, take a portrait during the Las Vegas Sun's Media Day at the South Point on Nov. 14, 2017. Launch slideshow »

James Bridges, Super Seven

Clark High standout James Bridges had to do something he had rarely ever done before recently in the first preseason game of his senior season. Bridges had to pull himself out of the game.

Emotion overwhelmed the 6-foot-3 guard when he looked toward the stands knowing his father, James Bridges III, wouldn’t be looking back like normal. The elder Bridges died in August after a five-year battle with cancer.

“It was heartbreaking and I couldn’t handle it,” Bridges said. “But after that, I realized I had to play for him. I realized I had to go for him. It was rough, but knowing how strong he was going through his sickness, I knew I had to be strong and play.”

That sums up Bridges’ attitude heading into his final season at Clark, which begins with an honor he and his father hoped he would receive — a spot on the Sun’s Super Seven preseason basketball team. Bridges is out to do everything he can to make sure the year ends with securing his third state championship in four years and a place to continue his basketball career in college.

It would be the culmination of a dream he shared with his father ever since he was a young child. Some of Bridges’ earliest memories revolve around his father’s obsessive devotion to the basketball team at his alma mater, the University of Kansas.

“He loved watching them play, and I loved the support he gave that team,” Bridges recalled. “I saw that and wanted to make him happy and see if I could reach a level where he would cheer for me like that, too.”

Bridges reached that level far before his father passed away, with his best season yet coming last year in helping Clark emerge as a known presence on a national level. Bridges was the second-leading scorer, averaging 12 points per game, on a stacked Clark team that came within seconds of winning the state championship in its first season elevated to the upper-level 4A classification.

He became known for more than his lights-out shooting tendencies, also taking a leadership role and keeping his team together in communication on the floor. It’s an important responsibility for a team with as much talent as Clark.

Bridges has two teammates on the Super Seven, guards Trey Woodbury and Jalen Hill, to go along with recent transfer Greg Foster, a Gonzaga commit, and a pair of the town’s best inside presences in Antwon Jackson and Ian Alexander.

The roster has Clark ranked ahead of six-time defending state champion Bishop Gorman in the preseason, and included in several national polls.

“I think about him now, and he would love so much to be here and see all the accomplishments we’ve had,” Bridges said. “It’s so hard to think about, but I just know I have to do it for him. I’m playing for him.”

Bridges III became a beloved member of the local basketball community, especially at Clark. Some never even knew he was sick because he didn’t mention his illness and glowed pride while watching both of his sons — James’ younger brother Jack Bridges is a freshman at Clark — progress in the sport.

Bridges said his father never complained, not even when he was first diagnosed and had to be rushed to the hospital after falling unconscious.

“I thought I was going to lose him then and it was so hard because I wasn’t ready for it,” Bridges said. “But I ended up getting the best five years of my life with him after that. I wish he could have made it at least through my high school career because I know he would love to see me now with Super Seven and how prestigious Clark has become.”

Read about the rest of our Super Seven team below.

Jamal Bey, Bishop Gorman

6-foot-6 guard/forward

Jamal Bey is alone on the Super Seven team in a couple respects — he’s the only two-time selection and the lone Gorman representative.

The latter takes some getting used to after the Gaels had at least two players honored in each of its first six years, but Bey seems amused by those expecting his team to decline this season.

“I like when people say we’re going to lose,” Bey said. “That hypes me up.”

The University of Washington commit is the Gaels’ lone returning starter after averaging 17 points, five rebounds and three assists per game last season.

It would be especially foolish to count out Bishop Gorman if Bey can improve on his scorching junior season, and he believes it’s inevitable.

“I think I’ve gotten better all around — defense, offense, shooting the ball,” he said. “I’ve gotten better in every way.”

Marvin Coleman, Foothill

6-foot-3 senior guard

He’s a point guard who’s among the best rebounders in the city, a lethal scorer who’s also capable of being a lockdown defender.

Marvin Coleman showed he was a complete player last season in averaging 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists per game for the Falcons — and he’s adding more skills for his senior season.

“I’m working on a lot of midrange pull-ups and 3s in transition, so I can really do it all,” Coleman said.

Coleman has drawn interest from a few mid-major Division I colleges, and could multiply his suitors if he continues progressing at the same rate he has through high school so far. He contributed to the Falcons in his freshman season as a backup point guard before moving into the starting lineup as a sophomore.

That’s when his game really started to come together, setting the stage for his breakout season last year.

Maka Ellis, Sierra Vista

6-foot-6 senior guard

Maka Ellis is poised to join the long list of players through history who fans describe as having been at their school “forever.”

It feels like Ellis has been at Sierra Vista forever because he’s been producing at a memorable clip for the Mountain Lions since 2014. Ellis has led the team in scoring in each of his first three seasons, including leading the city by pouring in nearly 700 points as a junior last year.

“I would say I’m an all-around scorer,” Ellis said. “I’ve got to work on my defense. Scoring is my go-to.”

Ellis had already shown more than enough to become a prized recruit, but he ended that process two months ago by committing to Columbia University. That will allow him to focus on his senior season, which he knows he’ll need to do with Sierra Vista sharing a division with Clark and Gorman.

Jacob Hesse, Desert Oasis

6-foot-4 guard

Eyes may not dart toward Jacob Hesse immediately when he steps on the floor. They become glued soon enough, though.

Hesse looks and sounds unassuming — the exact opposite of his game. He’s one of the most thunderous players in the state and has developed a reputation as a must-see dunker.

His favorite dunk? A 360-cradle windmill.

Yes, the Desert Oasis senior’s athleticism is a sight to behold.

“I guess I’ve been able to naturally jump high because I’ve never really worked on it,” Hesse said. “I do work a lot on dunking. I love dunking more than most things just because there is no better feeling than putting the ball down with force.”

Or, no worse feeling for an opponent. Behind Hesse, Desert Oasis caught many teams off guard last year in emerging as a surprise playoff contender.

The Diamondbacks ultimately fell short in the crowded Southwest division — behind Clark, Gorman, Sierra Vista and Durango — but Hesse is taking it upon himself to get them there this season.

Jalen Hill, Clark

6-foot-7 guard/forward

The most versatile players are now the most valuable players as basketball has evolved toward favoring multifaceted skillsets over single-area specialists.

In other words, basketball has evolved toward players like Jalen Hill. The lone junior on the Super Seven team is slick enough to play point guard, assertive enough to be a swingman and strong enough to dominate at power forward.

“I’m a real good facilitator,” Hill said. “I like to pass the ball, drive the lane and get and-1s.”

Hill might not be the biggest name on a Chargers’ roster full of seniors, but he’s probably going to be the key to the team reaching its goals. As his fellow Super Seven teammates Bridges and Woodbury would attest, Hill is a matchup nightmare when he’s at his best.

“We love each other as friends, but we go at each other in practice,” Hill said.

Trey Woodbury, Clark

6-foot-4 senior guard

At this rate, Trey Woodbury may wind up a local basketball legend.

Having already contributed on a state-championship team his sophomore year and established himself as one of the best players in the state his junior year, he committed to UNLV before his senior year.

“I wanted to play for my hometown, and out of all the coaches that recruited me, UNLV, I had the best relationship with them so it came down to coaches’ relationships and playing for my hometown,” Woodbury said.

Woodbury was the first local commitment for second-year coach Marvin Menzies, and nothing short of a major coup. After leading the Chargers with 14 points per game last season, Woodbury entered this year as the highest-touted recruit in town.

He sits at No. 130 in the nation for the class of 2018 by rivals.com’s recruiting rankings. Woodbury picked UNLV over a handful of offers from major-conference schools.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.