Five things we learned Sunday at the Spalding Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass.
1. Rex Morgan is a fighter. The Arlington Country Day (Jacksonville, Fla.) coach, who played two seasons for the Boston Celtics, was his usual demonstrative self on the sideline for his team’s 64-54 defeat of St. Benedict’s Prep (Newark). He has 464 wins, but has been dealing with a diagnosis of tongue cancer. He fought off throat cancer three years ago, but the current cancer is unrelated. On Jan. 6, he had surgery where doctors cut out part of his tongue. He has more surgery and radiation scheduled.
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“When I went in on the sixth, they didn’t know how much they would have to take out,” Morgan said. “They ended up taking about a third of my tongue and there’s a nerve there. They didn’t know if they would cut the nerve. If they had cut the nerve, I probably wouldn’t be able to coach anymore, because I wouldn’t have control over my tongue, but they didn’t have to, thank God. When I came to, the first thing I wanted to know was if they cut the nerve or not.”
2. You cannot leave Jalen Coleman open. The La Lumiere (La Porte) guard had 28 points, making eight of 11 three-pointers, including four in each half, to lead the No. 20 Lakers (14-2) to a 65-55 defeat of No. 9 Our Savior New American (Centereach, N.Y.).
“His shots weren’t even touching the rim, or the net,” Our Savior New American Coach Ronald Stelzer said.
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A junior, Coleman transferred to La Lumiere from Cathedral (Indianapolis), after leading the Fighting Irish to a 26-5 record and a semistate appearance last season.
“He’s a terrific shooter,” La Lumiere coach Alan Huss said. “In the years I’ve been a head coach, I’ve haven’t had a shooter like him and I’ve had some kids who put up threes. He’s one of the kids who just lives in the gym. He has a compulsive side to him where he has to be the last one out.”
3. Mike Jones earned his 300th win in style. Three years ago, Jones brought DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.) to the Hoophall and it lost by 50 points to eventual Super 25 champion St. Anthony (Jersey City). Last year, the Stags lost a close one to Hudson Catholic at the Hoophall. Sunday, against No. 22 St. Joseph (Metuchen), another highly touted Garden State team, his Stags (15-1) handed the Falcons (11-1) their first loss of the season, 73-45.
“I think we played solid defense,” Jones said. “We rotated well, we didn’t get beat to the middle of the floor and it worked. I knew we were going to be a work in progress. We’re young and we’re going to make mistakes but how we respond will determine how good we can be.
4. Cheick Diallo changes games. The Our Savior New American junior center had eight blocks in the first half of his team’s loss to La Lumiere. He finished with 10 blocks, to go with 18 points and 17 rebounds. The Bamako, Mali, native is extremely active for a 6-9 player and just the threat of his blocks leaves some opponents pulling up for jump shots. “It’s really hard going against a kid that has over a seven-foot wingspan,” said La Lumiere forward Joseph Toye. “When we drove into him, we had to kick the ball out and make the extra pass.”
“You know when you’re playing against an unbelievable player,” Huss said of Diallo. “We felt he was not at his best today and he had 18 points, 17 rebounds and 10 blocks.”
5. Remember the name Jalen Adams. The junior guard from Cushing Academy (Ashburnham, Mass.) had 32 points, five rebounds and three assists to lead his team to a 93-83 defeat of Worcester (Mass.) Academy. Though not considered an elite recruit by most scouting services going into the game, that perception is about to change. He’s already being recruited heavily by Minnesota and Connecticut (UConn coach Kevin Ollie was at the game), but others are sure to follow.