Two-time defending state champ Baptist Prep of Little Rock, in my opinion, will not be defending their 4A state title this season.
They have some fine players and still have a shot at it, but they will be doing it without their 7'3" center from 2017, Connor Vanover . The senior hardcourt giant has been plying his trade for Findley Prep this year, a basketball academy in Henderson, Nev., near Las Vegas.
Recently signing a collegiate commitment to Memphis University, Vanover hasn't played been a lot this season for Findley as he has been a back-up to 7'3" Bol Bol, the son of former NBA player Manute Bol, who was a 7'7" player who came to America from Sudan.
Bol, the same height as Vanover, is a lot more mobile athlete and can run the court, something Vanover was not able to do much. Since November, Vanover has just averaged about 5 points per game. The former Little Rocker was taken to Nevada for his senior season hoping to upgrade his game to improve his chances to be successful in college, enough to lead to an NBA career with the great wealth it could bring.
Vanover's last game in Arkansas came against the Blackhawks in the 4A State Final last year. The 'Hawks had lost postman Britton Caudill after a regional injury, and he was not able to play in the state final. Perimeter sharpshooter Matt Thomas had to abandon his position to guard Vanover as he was our tallest player. I believe that had Caudill not been injured, the Blackhawks would be the defending state champions right now.
Watching Vanover play, I came to the conclusion that he was mainly really good at being tall. He took most the rebounds and he took away the inside offense by blocking anything close to the goal. I didn't see Vanover as a player who had the game necessary to play NCAA basketball. I can understand his move to a basketball academy to really hone his skills. Practicing against Bol could only help him.
Incidentally, Bol Bol's dad, Manute, was officially the tallest man in NBA history. He did not score much or handle the ball much, but he led the league many times in blocked shots. The best thing about Manute was his character. He made something like $4 million dollars as a pro and most of the money he made, he sent to Sudan to help people in need there. He died in his late 40s partially caused by an auto accident when he was the passenger of taxi. He suffered a broken neck, and his health subsequently failed.
So anyway, I do think that there will be a new champion of basketball crowned this year. Who will it be?
Pottsville, in our region, will likely be the new No. 1 this week in a state poll after Robinson beat Baptist Prep soundly last week. Pottsville is 16-2 and has had a super season. Batesville Southside returned a ton of experience and have the talent to make a run. Westside, Brookland, Stuttgart, West Helena and Bauxite look formidable. Ozark is ranked in the Top 10 but they have struggled lately.
Our Blackhawks? They have as good a chance as anyone else. They will likely have to battle well against good teams in Gravette, Prairie Grove and Berryville to gain a good seed for the region tourney, and they may face Pottsville or Ozark or both in the region meet, set for Berryville High School. There is no game in the postseason that could be considered a "gimmee." To win a state title, the winner will have to win nine to 10 games
The region winner will be in the final eight of the state tourney automatically, with the runnerup team from our region in the same bracket with the other two runnerup teams from the East and South Regions playing in a round before the final eight.
It will take a game at a time attitude with the "A"game always in play for any team to take the top award.
This year's rendition of the Pea Ridge Blackhawk basketball team has been far more successful than most sports observers thought they had a chance to be. Their defense has been solid, they can slash to the basketball, and they can light it up from the outside. When the Blackhawks play their best, I don't believe there is a team in the 4A class that can't be beaten.
Big weekend for the Razorbacks
Things were looking good for the Razorbacks this weekend!
The big thing on the news was the Hogs 66-65 last second victory over the Oklahoma State Cowboys. The Razorbacks lost last year in a blowout, but things are looking up. Coach Mike Anderson just got a four year extension, with a very talented class of recruits expected to be on campus next season.
Track athlete Obi Igbokwe won the 400 meters race indoor in an astonishing 45.72. He had the best time in the meet, he has the best time in the whole NCAA, and it also is recorded as the best time in the world this season, which began in December. Forty-five seconds is trucking outdoors but it is smoking on a halfsize track with twice as many turns. Looks like another Razorback Olympic medalist in the future.
The Lady Razorback track and field team won the meet in Fayetteville which hosted six of America's Top 10 women's teams. The UA scored 118, far ahead of runner-up the University of Southern California which piled up 82 points.
The women's tennis team is ranked in the top 20 collegiate teams in the No. 18 slot.
The baseball team is ranked in the Top five nationally by most polls and they have arguably one of their best teams ever. They have a 6'8" 260-pound pitcher this year that I just have to see. They start their season two weeks from Friday when they host Bucknell University.
It may seem a bit early to start baseball. The NCAA insists on a June national championship, which forces the schools to begin play in February. That can be a bit of a problem for Arkansas sometimes with the cold, but can you imagine the teams from the northern half of the United States. Many of them can't even have a home game until late March, early April, forcing them to travel south in search of competition (as in Bucknell).
It is no coincidence that the top teams every year, year in and year out, are based in the south. A lot of the talented players from the north go south to play. The NCAA tournament ought to be in late July or August to allow the teams to start their season in late March or early April. Of course, that is common sense, something the NCAA has in short supply a lot of the time.
4A-3A-1 Conference Standings
MaxPreps Boys 4A-1 District poll
Boys 4A State poll
as of Jan. 26, 2018
other teams from the 4A-1
The third time's a charm, Lady 'Hhawks take down Shiloh
Girls 4A-3A-1 Conference
Girls 4A-1 District poll
MaxPreps 4A State poll
As of Jan. 26, 2018
other teams from the 4A-1
Editor's note: John McGee is an award-winning columnist and sports writer. He is the art teacher at Pea Ridge elementary schools, coaches elementary track and writes a regular sports column for The Times. The opinions expressed are those of the author. He can be contacted through The Times at email@example.com.Sports on 01/31/2018
Print Headline: New 4A state champion likely to be crowned