Kansas

A 37-point/MVP bid by Owasso freshman Jalen Montonati

 

In four consecutive seasons, the Owasso boys’ program was in the Bill Hanson Memorial Tournament bracket at Pittsburg (Kansas) High School. Prior to last week’s return to Pittsburg, there had been a third-place finish and two league losses.

In the 2022 title game, an Overland Park, Kansas, – Blue Valley Northwest – team shook Owasso by 20 points.

There was a championship rematch on Saturday night, and this time Owasso prevailed 55-47 thanks to a standout performance by 6-foot-7 ninth grader Jalen Montonati.

I wrote it in June: (Montonati) has just that aspect about him — that he’s destined to become a McDonald’s All-American, a dynamic college player, and finish on an NBA roster.

Montonati’s Pittsburg weekend looks like his first big step towards becoming a renowned, decorated and heavily recruited basketball athlete.

After the Rams trailed 25-23 at halftime, Montonati scored 26 of Owasso’s 30 points in the second half. Against a fifth-ranked Blue Valley Northwest team in Kansas’ Class 6A, he finished with 37 points and 10 rebounds.

In 28 minutes against Blue Valley Northwest defensemen like 6-6 Landon Braun (the brother of former Kansas star Christian Braun), Montonati was 9-for-14 on shooting from the field overall. He was 4 of 5 on 3-pointers and 15 of 17 on free throws. He left Kansas with a nice souvenir: a plaque that remembers him as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

While a player can score 37 points in one game, a player cannot protect the opponent’s five boys. Defensively, Owasso had a sensational three days in Pittsburg.

In the opening round, the Rams defeated Wichita West 74-28. The Pioneers shot 18% from the field. Montonati had 20 points and senior Brandon Mann 17 in that one.

In the 63-40 semifinal triumph over the Pittsburg Dragons, Montonati had 15 points and Mann 12.

In the championship game, Owasso and Blue Valley Northwest were tied at 38-38 in three periods. In the fourth quarter, Montonati outscored the Huskies 15-9. During a span of nearly seven minutes, Blue Valley Northwest did not convert on a field goal.

Owasso has bounced back from a rocky December and brings a five-game hitting streak into Muskogee’s beautiful new home field on Tuesday.

Two weeks ago, the Rams were unranked. Last week, they were 20th in the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association’s 6A class poll. This week, I expected Owasso to be no worse than 12th in the 32-team 6A standings. Instead the Rams are 19th.

Owasso is much better than 19th. Some of the voting coaches must have been unaware of Montonati’s 37 points Saturday night and Owasso’s pitch on the Pittsburg field.

The first five of 6A: The undefeated Broken Arrow continues his run at No. 1, followed by defending state champion Edmond North, Putnam City North, Westmoore and Choctaw. Bixby is seventh and Booker T. Washington is eighth.

Owasso’s head coach is former Oklahoma State fullback Brian Montonati. He is 6 foot 10. Jalen should top 6-10. By the time he gets to that height, Jalen will be armed with guarding abilities and a full offensive toolkit.

Brian had no idea his son scored 37 points until he glanced at the scorebook in the postgame locker room.

“I knew Jalen was scoring well, but 37? I had no idea,” Brian said. “You’re so into the game that you have no idea about stuff like that. When I saw the book, I was like, ‘holy cow.’”

At 15, Jalen already has offers from OSU and the University of Tulsa. There are expected to be offers from OU and Arkansas. Bill Self of Kansas will likely be involved. An assistant from Kentucky contacted Brian Montonati on Saturday evening.

As far as college-level confidence and aggression, could the Blue Valley Northwest game have been a stepping stone to the next chapter in Jalen’s development?

“Jalen had 25 against Bixby and 20 a couple of times, but the Blue Valley game was different,” Brian said. “She seemed much more comfortable than him. We talk about it all the time: getting to your points and getting to the free throw line. He’s done a great job at that.

For the season overall, Jalen’s per-game averages are 19 points, seven rebounds and three steals. Mann and senior point guard EJ Lewis combine for another 22 points per game. Boden Williams is also a freshman and eight scorer.

Bixby senior Parker Friedrichsen is signed with Notre Dame and is the leading pure scorer in the Tulsa area. The mechanics of his 3-point shooting are smooth and perfect.

Jalen looks set to succeed Friedrichsen as Tulsa’s deadliest offensive player, and Jalen may be the area’s most powerful sixth grader since Verdigris’ Rotnei Clarke in 2004-05.

As a freshman, Clarke had a total of 35 points in the playoffs against Pawhuska. He finished that season with a 20-point average and a first-team All-Metro Tulsa World squad. Jalen’s 2022-23 season resembles Rotnei’s 2004-05 season.

Former Oral Roberts guard Steve Bontrager is Jalen’s personal instructor on skills and shooting. After Jalen averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds for an undefeated eighth-grade Owasso team, Bontrager said, “He IS the best eighth-grade player he’s ever worked with. He does everything right. You have to see this guy. You won’t believe it.

On Saturday night, Bontrager called to discuss Jalen’s first signed game in college basketball.

“He shot the ball really well,” Bontrager said, “but I can’t believe he missed two free throws.”

Bontrager laughed referring to free throws, but Jalen Montonati is at a level where high expectations are his reality.

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