Ray Brewer and Case Keefer return to look at all the marquee matchups coming up over the next eight days in high school basketball.
As the bleachers in the Liberty High School gym started to quickly fill minutes before Wednesday night's high school basketball game, it became obvious this contest had extra significance.
That’s especially true considering who was in attendance. UNLV coach Marvin Menzies and three others from the Rebels staff were front-and-center to send another reminder to the unquestioned stars on this night — Coronado sophomore guard Jaden Hardy and Liberty junior forward Julian Strawther — of their status as coveted local recruit.
But once the ball tipped, it was another player who took over.
Coronado’s Tyrelle Hunt scored the Cougars’ initial eight points as they grew a double-digit advantage, and Hardy did the rest, pouring in 41 points in a crucial 97-78 Southeast League victory.
Most of the attention was spent on Hardy and Strawther, and rightfully so. Each, depending on the evaluating service, is a top-20 recruit nationally. And each has a tie to the hometown university with a sibling playing for UNLV — Hardy’s brother, Amauri, for the Runnin’ Rebels; Strawther’s sister, Paris, for the Lady Rebels.
Hunt, as he showed again tonight in scoring 26 points, is also a noteworthy attraction.
The 6-foot-5 junior forward says he never feels as if he is in Hardy’s shadow. Rather, they feed off each other to give the Cougars one of the state’s best teams.
“We just help the team together,” Hunt said. “I don’t get jealous of him; he doesn’t get jealous of me. We play as a team. Whenever people focus on me, that gets him open. Whenever people focus on him, that gets me open. Then, we get everyone on the team involved.”
While Hardy and Hunt led the Cougars in scoring, coach Jeff Kaufman was adamant they weren’t the most valuable players on this night. That honor, he says, goes to Felix Reeves, who spent most of the game guarding Strawther.
Last year, Strawther nearly scored 50 points in a win against Coronado. This year, Reeves took on the challenge of defensive stopper. Strawther led Liberty with 21 points, but couldn’t will the Patriots to victory.
“Felix Reeves had one job and one job only,” Kaufman said. “We told him, ‘If Julian goes to the bathroom, you go with him.’ I really have to give him the credit tonight.”
Hardy and Strawther weren’t the only two recruits UNLV was in attendance to see. Coronado freshman point Richard Isaacs also has a scholarship offer, showing his pass-first offensive philosophy on multiple possessions. Unofficially, he had more than 10 assists, including an alley-oop to Hardy in transition, and multiple drives to the basket where he drew the defense and passed to an open teammate.
The combined team effort is one of the reasons why Kaufman likes his chances for a deep playoff run, especially if Hunt starts as quickly as he did tonight.
“He is willing to do whatever it takes for us to be successful,” Kaufman said.