FILE PHOTO: Basketball

The defending national champion.

The team hoping to become the defending Class A state champion.

These two teams meet up at 6:45 p.m. Saturday in the seventh of eighth games in the Heartland Hoops Classic.

Millard North will see how the state’s best stacks up against IMG Academy of Bradenton, Florida, a national power that won last year’s Geico National tournament.

Organizer Tino Martinez said tickets will be available at the door and no one will be shut out.

IMG features five players 6-foot-10 or taller and has an international roster with members from Japan, France and Canada.

“The kids have been well-traveled and we’re excited to get to Grand Island,” IMG coach Sean McAloon said. “I have visited a significant amount of states in my time coaching, but I have never been to Nebraska, so I’m looking forward to that. We have been to a lot of places where it has been cold, but the good thing is that we always get to come back to (Florida) where it’s fantastic.”

The Ascenders were the preseason No. 2 team in the country according to MaxPreps but have fallen to No. 23 with a 16-6 record.

“We’re always willing to challenge ourselves,” McAloon said. “We’ve played the best and we’ve been within eight points of them when I don’t think we played our best game. So I feel like we’re right there, but we just have some things we need to clean up and get better at. We just need our younger guys to continue to get better at a rapid pace.”

IMG features a pair of McDonald’s All-Americans in Jaden Springer (a 6-5 guard committed to Tennessee) and Mark Williams (a 7-1 center who committed to Duke). Matthew Murrell (6-4 guard) has signed with Mississippi.

Millard North counters with its own NCAA Division I talent.

Hunter Sallis (a 6-5 junior guard) is rated as a five-star prospect by Rivals and has received offers from Creighton, Gonzaga, Kansas, Nebraska and Oregon, among others.

Max Murrell (6-9 senior forward) is committed to Stanford, while Jasen Green (6-6 sophomore forward) already has a scholarship offer from Nebraska.

The Mustangs are 18-2 heading into Friday’s showdown at Class A No. 2 Bellevue West, part of a demanding weekend.

“When the season started, I think a lot of people thought we would just never lose a game, but I have coached the Metro Conference too long to think that — regardless of who you have on your team,” Mustangs coach Tim Cannon said. “I’m really proud of the guys that we won the Metro tournament and that was a great feeling. That was a big goal.”

Cannon watched a televised IMG game earlier in the season and knows what his team is in for.

“We have pretty good size for a high school team, but IMG is big and really, really long,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the fun of the game itself and then the atmosphere kind of puts you in a tournament setting. If we’re lucky enough to get to the state tournament, I think that will help us.”

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