Har-Ber's Dynamic Duo

In his weekly column, Dudley E. Dawson checks in with a trio of 2007 Razorback basketball prospects and one 2008 hopeful. This story is sponsored by the Arkansas Toyota Dealers. It's free and so is a special offer to attend a Razorback event on the Arkansas Toyota Dealers website. Click on a banner for details.

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One future Razorback hoopster and another possible one – whose team has not lost to an in-state team with both on the floor this season - will be the headliners this week in the Class 7A State basketball tournament at Springdale's Har-Ber High.

University of Arkansas signee Nate Rakestraw (6-5, 212), fresh off a season-high 34 points against Fort Smith Northside last weekend, and the 7A-West conference champion Wildcats (22-5) will not see action in the event until Friday night at 5:30 p.m.

That's when he and fellow D-I prospect Michael Sanchez (6-9, 220) will battle the winner of Wednesday night's Little Rock Catholic-Bentonville contest and try to wipe away the taste of last season's opening round loss to Pine Bluff.

""Last year was a failure for us and we didn't want that to happen again this year," Rakestraw said. "We really concentrated on our defense this year and tried to make it 10 times better than it was last season. We have brought playoff intensity to every one of our games and we plan to keep doing that through the state tournament."

While Rakestraw has his future plans all lined up, the same can not be said of Sanchez, who is finally healthy after a junior season in which he played in pain and then had two surgical procedures to alleviate it before coming into his senior campaign.

""I feel 100 percent better from last year," Sanchez said. "Last year I could hardly even jump, it hurt to jump, it hurt to run. I was playing with pain and it just really wasn't even me last season. I always had to rest last season. I never could get through practices and games without a lot of pain."

He is now playing with reckless abandon again as evidenced by his four driving dunks and a head-long dive into the crowd for a loose ball in a recent game against Rogers.

"He is really attacking the basket and dunking over folks," Har-Ber head coach Eric Burnett said. "Mike has matured a lot from last year."

Sanchez will decide soon after the 12-team state tournament ends – which he hopes is the following weekend in the championship game in Hot Springs - whether it will be a trip to prep school next season or straight to college.

He has already taken a visit to Finley Prep School in Las Vegas and is also considering Brewster Prep in Massachusettes.

"No decision has been made on those things yet," Sanchez said. "I am definitely looking at Finley Prep School and am definitely looking at Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Michigan. It is just still up in the air. We are going to start making those decisions right after the state tournament."

Rakestraw led the 7A-West in scoring this season with over 17 points a game while Sanchez is averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds per contest.

Rakestraw has certainly transformed his game from being just someone with a nice shot to an all-around prospect.

"Last year Nate would just settle for threes," Burnett said. "He wouldn't really attack the basket unless he had a wide open lane on the break. This year, he has stepped it up and he is a total player now. He also plays good defense and is just a complete, all-around player at this point."

Rakestraw says he has made a concerted effort to get away from just being known as a one-dimensional player.

"I have really on getting into the lane and knocking down shots, trying to take it hard to the hole, having a quicker first step, better pump fakes and knowing when to take my shot and when not to," Rakestraw said.

Har-Ber, just in its second year of existence, will actually kick off the state tournament festivities on Tuesday night at 8 p.m. with a bonfire for the public at the high school.

The state tournament will then get underway on Wednesday at 1 p.m. with Bentonville and Mount St. Mary's battling in girls action and then Fayetteville and Russellville tangling in boys action at 2:30.


…Verdigris (Okla.) junior guard Rotnei Clarke (6-0, 170) had a season-high 49 points on Saturday night to lead his Cardinals over Holdenville 86-66 in the 3A Regional title game.

Clarke, a 2008 prospect that Arkansas covets, leads the state in scoring with 36.1 points per game and is also averaging 9 rebounds and 6 assists per game.

He is shooting an amazing 51 percent from 3-point range (102 of 200), 61 percent overall from the field and 88 percent from the free throw line.

He was 18-of-18 from the free throw line on Saturday night and hit 7 3-pointers in the game.

…UA commit Jenirro Bush, a 6-7 guard from Crawford (Miss.) East Oktibbeha, has led his team to two games away from a Class A state title after a runner-up finish last season.

The Titans (27-4) have a first-round bye in the state tournament and won't return to action until March 6 when they play the winner of this Wednesday night's game between Thomas Town and West Lowndes.

Bush is averaging over 30 points per game this season.

Nate Rakestraw

Michael Sanchez

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