The high school basketball season in Arizona is officially over, and the most celebrated player in the state used his final game to put an exclamation point on a prep career that included a couple of state titles.
Tuesday night at ASU’s Wells Fargo Arena, Nico Mannion scored 34 points to lead Pinnacle High School to a second straight 6A state championship. The 6’3″ guard with the distinctive red hair added eight rebounds, six assists, and seven steals to turn in an all-around performance that is the perfect cap to a prep career that was impressive, even though it was shortened by a season.
Last summer, Mannion decided to reclassify from the Class of 2020 to the Class of 2019, taking online courses to enable him to graduate early and begin his college career next season at University of Arizona.
Mannion has been center stage in a circus of media attention since he got his first college offer from Cal State in eighth grade. The next year, Sports Illustrated published a profile on him and suddenly he had a huge target on his back for recruiters. Before long, he found himself on the radar of nearly every major college recruiter in the nation; his stock had risen to make him the No. 1 prospect in the nation.
After considering offers from elite programs like Duke, Kentucky, Villanova, Kansas, and UCLA, he opted to stay home and play where his family and friends could attend his games.
But this year, he had plenty of help to secure another state title for the Pioneers, and that was very evident last night in the 83-64 championship victory over Chaparral High School. Four of the starting five for the Pioneers were in double figures — Alem Huseinovic (18 pts.), Jordan Josephs (13), Alec Bryan (12), and Blaise Threatt (10) — and the fifth, Micah Burno, added eight points.
That talent has carried the Pioneers to a 28-3 record and a comfortable run through the playoffs, where they beat their first three opponents by an average of 18 points a game.
No. 2-seeded Chaparral stayed with the top-seeded Pioneers through three quarters, even closing the scoring gap to three points to begin the final period before Pinnacle went on a 14-3 run that shut the door on a team it had already beaten twice before in the regular season.
On the girls’ side…
While Mannion was finishing up his prep career, it was a sophomore who led Hamilton High School to the 6A girls state championship, leaving Xavier Prep to settle for runner-up for the second straight season.
Amyah Reaves scored 12 points to lead the Huskies to their second state championship in the last four years, but the low 45-33 final score told the story. Both teams shot just 26 percent from the field and Xavier was even worse from behind the 3-point line, finding the bottom of the net on just three of 22 attempts.
Reaves also contributed seven rebounds and four assists.
Top-seeded Hamilton also controlled the boards, 44-32, and collected 17 points from the free-throw line — 12 of those in the final 90 seconds when the Gators were forced to foul.
The Huskies opened the game with a 7-0 run, led 21-17 at halftime, and pulled away late in the third quarter to establish a lead they would hold the rest of the way.
Xavier, seeded No. 2, was led by Paris Rasheed-Moore, who scored a team-high 13 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.