Here are some day one news and notes from the 22nd Annual Torrey Pines Holiday Classic in San Diego, Calif., Dec. 27-30.
Seven-foot center at Holiday Classic
SAN DIEGO -- One of the most intriguing players at this year's event is 7-foot-1 center Cheikh N'diaye of Army-Navy Academy (Carlsbad, Calif.).
The Senegal native has lived in the United States for approximately three years and when he came to California to attend the all-boys boarding school, he didn't speak any English.
He's been a quick learner -- both on and off the court. The military discipline instilled in all students at the school plays a big role in N’diaye’s accelerated learning curve, even though only five percent of them actually enroll in the military, according to school president Steve Bliss.
In the season opener against El Camino (Oceanside, Calif.), N'diaye showed off some of the discipline he's learned by taking a charge. Unfortunately, he sustained a concussion and has not played since, including Army-Navy's 76-53 loss to regionally-ranked Lincoln (San Diego, Calif.) on Monday in a "play-in" game with a spot in the tournament’s National Division on the line.
N’diaye hopes he's able to suit up by the second day of the tournament.
"I am going to see a doctor on Wednesday morning... if he clears me I'll play that afternoon," N’diaye said. "I feel good, but it's really up to him."
From the tone of his voice you can tell N’diaye is itching to play, but the time off has also given the seven-footer a new perspective watching from the bench.
"I notice that we can play more together. I provide defense and shot-blocking, so when I'm not playing, they got to go hard."
Freshman steps up for Windward
Windward (Los Angeles) opened National Division play against O'Dea (Seattle) and pulled out a 66-62 victory. It was a struggle as top player Nick Stover, a Loyola Marymount recruit, picked up is fourth foul halfway through the third quarter. Mason Shepard, a 6-foot-6, 210-pound freshman, picked up the slack.
With Windward clinging to a one-point lead with 1:45 remaining, Shepard's contested follow-up shot on a Stover field goal attempt gave the Wildcats a 61-58 lead. With Windward leading 64-62 with 8.4 seconds remaining, they were called for a five-second violation and survived a 3-point attempt by O'Dea's Jalen Jones to pull out the win.
"Nick is obviously our best player, but when he went down I had to step up," said Shepard, who finished with a team-high 19 points and double digit rebounds (13 unofficially). "I did good, but I think I can play better."
Windward actually has middle school students on campus, but this is Shepard's first year in the program. He witnessed Windward's run to a Division IV state title last season and felt comfortable enrolling because he already knew many of the players in the program. He has big aspirations this year and is confident his 6-4 club can compete with and defeat POWERADE FAB 50 No. 16 Mitty (San Jose, Calif.) in Wednesday's National Division quarterfinal.
"I'm not satisfied at all, plus this was our first game with a full team with guys coming over from football and back from injury. I'm really looking forward to the next game."
Unique view for successful first year coach
Arguably the most distinguished coach at the tournament is also one of the least recognizable. After all, his team comes into the Holiday Classic 7-2 and as underdogs in its Senators Division opener against unbeaten Cathedral Catholic (San Diego, Calif.).
Jeff Sink won four state titles, 10 CIF Southern Section tiles and 16 league titles in 17 years coaching the nationally renowned girls' team at Brea Olinda (Brea, Calif.). He gave two reasons why he stepped down and decided to take over the boys' program -- challenge and frustration.
"I made the change for two basic reasons," Sink said. "I'm 60, so if I was going to try something else now was the time. Second, I had my best team ever last season at Brea. We were ranked No. 1 in the country. With a couple of weeks to go in the season, we got hit by a bout of selfishness. I always ran a tight ship and it was very unfamiliar to me. Let's just say I didn't handle it well."
The Ladycats didn't win their section title and lost to a Canyon Springs (Moreno Valley, Calif.) team in the state regional 11 days after beating the same team by 18 points.
He offers straightforward advice for the boys players at the Holiday Classic from his unique perspective.
"Guys don't study opponents and don't work hard at exploiting other guys' weaknesses, such as overplaying their strong hand. Guys would benefit if they became more students of the game."
Sink doesn't mind blending in as just another boys' coach and doesn't seem to miss the tremendous expectations and pressure of coaching a program like the Ladycats'. But in spite of the change of scenery, it's evident his competitive juices still burn.
"It's fun, but my team is short and honestly were not that good," Sink said. "I do miss having one of the top teams in the country. I'm learning along with the players."
Right on cue with Sink's comments, Brea Olinda came away with a 54-51 victory over host Cathedral Catholic, which came into Tuesday's game with a 11-0 record.
Senior guard Jonny Alarcon netted a team-high 14 points for Brea Olinda.
New school, new nickname
The 6-foot-7 senior forward left Compton (Compton, Calif.) last year and was home schooled for the rest of the academic school year.
Before venturing to Torrey Pines for the Holiday Classic, January led Taft to the Mission Prep Christmas Classic national division title in San Luis Obispo, Calif. He scored a game-high 20 points in the title game victory over state-ranked La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad, Calif.).
January wanted to let everyone know how hungry he is to make a big splash in his return to high school hoops that he now goes by the moniker "Dinnertime."
"I came up with it myself," January said after scoring a team-high 17 points in Taft's 64-60 opening round National Division victory over Lake Washington (Kirkland, Wash.). "I was just thinking one day about being hungry to get back on the court."
January's father, also known as Anthony January, was an all-state player at Carson (Carson, Calif.) in the mid-1980s and played for the late Don Haskins at UTEP. During his playing days he went by “A.J.” and his son has been called "Little J" by family members and close friends since childhood.
January hopes that his new nickname sticks, despite the occasional ribbing by teammates and classmates.
"Sometimes when I'm by the cafeteria at school people tell me to go cook and stuff like that," January said. "I most definitely want to keep it going."