If there’s one thing that’s for sure about the WGHS men’s basketball team, it’s that they’re up for any challenge.
The Statesmen have made a loud and clear impression to their competition for a State championship, having not lost a game yet against a Missouri opponent. Overall the team’s record is 17-2.
Webster traveled to Florida over Winter Break to compete in the City of Palms Tournament, one of the nation’s premier high school basketball invitationals. The Statesmen split in the tournament, going 2-2.
After opening with a 54-47 seesaw win versus North Port, Fl)\, Webster lost to 47 nationally ranked Mater Dei, Ca, 65-46. They followed with a 65-54 victory over Florida Air, then a 58-42 loss to the current 12th ranked team in the nation, Sierra Canyon, Ca.
“That really is the premier high school basketball tournament in the United States,” Varsity head coach Jay Blossom said. “Our goal coming in was to go out and play as many games as possible… It was a real learning experience for our guys.”
“If we had lost that first game, we may have only gotten to play two, but that win allowed us to play four games, and we went 2-2 against some of the best teams in the nation,” Blossom said.
Off the court, the team enjoyed the weather and tourist attractions of the Atlantic coast. “Our host Bill Pollock was a Webster alum. He was so gracious to us, and we got to do a lot of exciting things with his help,” Blossom said. “He really took care of us.”
Blossom’s tourism highlight of the trip was the team’s excursion to the island where Jimmy Buffett’s 1978 hit “Cheeseburger in Paradise” was supposedly based.
Back home, Webster was refreshed and has played with no shortage of confidence. The team returned and won the Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament at Merimac University, which was stuffed full with some of Missouri’s other top teams, including Kickapoo and Hazelwood Central.
“So while City of Palms is the premier national tournament, the Merimac Tournament is sort of the top high school tournament in the St. Louis area,” Blossom said. “Give credit to the guys. They had to play 11 games in 19 days against some really tough teams, they had to take finals, but they really handled the whole situation well.”
The Statesmen defeated Central for the tournament championship 41-39 in dramatic fashion, on junior Leland Bradford’s floater with 3.6 seconds left.
Bradford’s heroics concluded a game in which points were hard to come around, evident in the final score. “There were stretches, especially early on, where just nothing would fall for either team,” Blossom said. “It’s like there was a lid on the basket.”
Webster trailed by as many as nine but battled back in the third quarter. A couple of monster dunks (and missed dunks) later, Webster had the ball with 1:09 left in a tie game. “We had, I think, three timeouts left, so we had them ready if necessary, but in that situation sometimes it’s better not to call one and to not let them set up their defense,” Blossom said.
Bradford brought the ball up and held it near midcourt, running off the final minute before springing into action and driving into the lane, where his tear drop sunk through the back of the net with under four seconds left to win the tournament.
Webster also won the 15th annual Webster Classic in December, hosted in Robert’s Gym. The three tournaments highlighted the busy and successful winter break for the Statesmen.
On MLK Day, the Statesmen sported their Douglass High School uniforms for a big time rematch with CBC, who defeated and eliminated Webster in the sectional playoffs last year.
The Statesmen led by 11 at half, but the game was tied on a run by Cadets by the end of the third quarter. With minimal momentum though, Webster hung in there throughout a tight fourth quarter. Senior Sam Craig broke a 62-62 tie with his fourth three-pointer of the game, with a minute left.
It gave Webster the lead to stay, but only just. The Cadets’ desperation three at the buzzer to try and tie it went in and out, then impossibly in and out again, leaving Webster with a major 68-65 victory.
The Statesmen also recently added statement blowout wins versus Mehlville and Parkway North, by scores of 79-18 and 85-30. The victories have also helped Blossom pull within one win of tying, two wins of breaking Webster’s all time wins record.
“I don’t really like to focus on that stuff,” Blossom said. “It’s an honor, though, it’s a pleasure to coach when you have such great players, great staff, great administration, great assistant coaching.
“I try to preach to our guys a lot that it’s more about the team,” Blossom said. “It’s more about a community invested in its high school and in its basketball program.”