Clearly, the talent that O’Dea junior Paolo Banchero possesses is well known and underscored on every opponent’s game plan.
That doesn’t make it any easier to stop the five-star 6-foot-10 big man.
Banchero turned it on late with 12 of his game-high 24 points in the fourth quarter as top-ranked O’Dea, the defending Class 3A state champions, accelerated away from Rainier Beach 88-60 in a Metro League showdown on Friday night at O’Dea.
Banchero, who has offers from every NCAA blue blood as well as Washington and Gonzaga, also supplied 13 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks to lead six Irish (6-2, 6-0 Metro) players in double figures. For once, a Beach team couldn’t run its opponent.
“You can’t allow walk-up basketball with the best player in the country,” Rainier Beach coach Mike Bethea, who sports an inexperienced roster, said about Banchero. “You can’t have it where he can just walk up and down, and not wear him out. That’s not going to work. He’s one of those guys, pretty much, you’ve to figure out how to stop the other guys.
“And, you’re not going to stop the kid.”
Junior Jaylon Ellis contributed 13 points, six rebounds and four assists to lead O’Dea’s guards.
“We worked for this, so we kind of expected it,” Ellis said.
Banchero flexed his muscles inside and showed to be a willing passer against what has become one of the top rivalries in Metro over the years.
“It’s Beach, so Beach and O’Dea has always been a rivalry,” said Banchero. “Top public school and top private school. So when you see Beach on the schedule, no matter how good they are and who they’ve got, you know they are going to play hard and have some talent.”
This time it was O’Dea with the horses to outrun Beach (4-4, 2-3), which has won numerous Metro and state titles on the strength of a fast-paced style.
“We’ve always had a team where we were always somehow reloaded,” Bethea said. “This is rebuilding. We have one player in John Hart who has a little bit of varsity experience. We’re still learning each other. Me and them and them and me. They think they are pushing the ball and they’re not.
“It’s just one of those things and everyone goes through down time. We weren’t ready for the bright lights.”
Banchero had a pair of highlight-reel moments early in the fourth quarter just 51 seconds apart. He caught a lob, brought it down and pounded down a rim-rattling, two-handed dunk with 7:17 to go in the fourth. He hammered home a one-handed jam off the bounce with 6:26 showing to put the Irish up 68-49.
The Fighting Irish are coming off their only losses in the City of Palms Classic in Fort Myers, Fla. They lost the fifth-place game 66-54 on Dec. 21 to a Archbishop Stepinac of White Plains, N.Y., team featuring North Carolina and Duke commits.
“We showed that we can compete, for sure,” Banchero said of the top-flight tournament. “Coach (Jason) Kerr’s been on us the last four days about executing. He really got on us and it woke us up.”
Rainier Beach is coming off a fifth-place finish at the Mission Prep Christmas Classic in San Luis Obispo, Calif., culminating with a 59-55 win over the host school.