December got off to a huge start in Wichita’s City League with a rivalry game we featured in our pre-season when Wichita Northwest, led by PG Craig Nicholson’s 36 points, made a furious comeback against Wichita Southeast to win the season opener 80-78. Gavin Thurman had 22 for Southeast, who led by 10 at the end of the 3rd, but Nicholson was the hero hitting a runner with seconds left. The next week, NW barely survived a scare from Wichita North, and they now stand 4-1 alongside Wichita East (4-1) and Wichita SE (who beat East) as teams challenging Wichita Heights in the CL.
December was full of big performances from players such as Wichita North sophomore PG Conner Frankamp, who had 52 versus Wichita Northwest, 29 against national powerhouse Heights (in almost pulling off upsets in both games) and 34 vs. Wichita South. Washington’s senior Tra’vaughan White dropped 35 in his first game (on only 19 shots) and had 30 in an upset of Raytown South. Senior AJ Spencer went off for 29 in his season debut with Shawnee Northwest, Chris Nsenki at Park Hill has had big games including 34 against Ruskin and Sumner’s playmaker Bennie Parker has had three double, doubles already. December also saw North Kansas City senior Brandon Shively hang three 30 point+ games and O’Hara’s DJ Jackson had 39 in a win just before Christmas.
We are pleased to see Coach Vickers and William Chrisman continuing to run and gun, highlighted by a 93 point performance on December 10 when senior Adam Woods hit 9 threes and scored 35 points. The Bears look to improve from a tough year in 09-10. Congrats to McPherson coach Kurt Kinnamon who got his 300th win in December. Not easy to do at any level and his team is likely to win many more this year.
We were disappointed to find out in December that a number of last year’s star players have either been ruled ineligible, transfered or have decided to forego basketball because of other sports commitments. Rockhurt’s Dan Tapko, Ray-Pec’s Cameron Coffman, Kickapoo’s Christian Kirk, Grandview’s Tyler Rambo and Piper’s Dominique Wilson will not be on KC hardwood this season. KC welcomed back a coach, however, as SM Northwest’s Ben Meseke (who we consider one of the best coaches in the area) returned in December after taking last season away from the game for health reasons.
Some things did change in all three of our polls, and we were surprised at strong guard play from Liberty (Jordan Lewis has nicely complemented big Denton Koon) and the strong start for Rockhurst (without Tapko) giving both a shot at titles this year. O’Hara and Ray-Pec were ranked in our pre-season poll, but we did not expect them both to be undefeated at the Christmas break, especially the Panthers who are without Coffman. Park Hill’s fast start and Shawnee Mission Northwest’s early struggles prove that teams will move around as the season moves on. Lawrence Free State and Blue Springs South look like they are better than we anticipated and watch out for Topeka Hayden again this year after their last second win over St. James and a good showing against Lee’s Summit North. Even with losses, we have left teams such as Raytown South (who are without star guard Corey Hilliard until after Christmas), Olathe South (tough schedule) and Liberty in the top half of our poll. Teams with one loss such as Wichita East, Olathe East (3-1) and Park Hill South (7-1) are also playing well enough to remain toward the top of our polls and will be threats in the post-season. After falling to 4-2 with a December 17 loss to DeSoto, Ottawa has moved down in our poll but they could challenge for the 4A Kansas title once roles among several star players are defined. We have moved Maize up in our poll after their impressive showing against Grandview in the Hyvee.
We did not expect Liberty, Lee’s Summit North and Gardner-Edgerton to have early season losses, but there is most definitely parity across the city and few games that are gimmes. January will mark a huge change in the power teams on the Kansas side with new transfers becoming eligible at Olathe NW (whose only loss came to Sumner), Lawrence Free State and Bishop Miege. In Missouri, Smithville’s Dillon Deck made his return to the Warriors on December 22nd with 23 points and 15 rebounds, and Ray South’s Corey Hilliard will make his return in January after missing early games. Bret Fisher should be back for Blue Valley Northwest in the new year, and for fans of KC PumpNRun’s Christian Kirk, the 6’7″ Kickapoo PF awaits an appeal for reinstatement after he transferred for the second time in two years. We did not rank defending 5A state champ Bishop
Miege in any of our polls and were surprised that other polls in the state had them near the top. And, they struggled early, including a bad loss to St. James and a loss to Kearney. But, they showed flashes in a close win over Gardner, and Coach Zych will have a new transfer become eligible in January that will join players such as sophomore Montel Cozart, freshman Wyatt Voorhies and veteran SF Curtis Okafor.
We like what we have seen in December from smaller schools such as St. James Academy, Sumner (who has won without soon-to-return injured big man Eli Alexander), O’Hara and Basehor-Linwood. Among big-class schools, Truman, Rockhurst and Blue Valley Northwest are playing well as expected. With all of the parity in both states, we don’t see any team making it through the season without several losses. Even nationally ranked Heights looks vulnerable although they have won 21 games in a row.
Top December Performers
1. Conner Frankamp – we know that Perry Ellis gets all the national attention (deservingly so) but this 6’0″ guard is one of the best sophomores Kansas has ever seen. He has single-handedly kept the Redskins in some games including a close loss head-to-head with Perry Ellis, and after watching him in the NW game, we left even more impressed.
2. The Murphy Twins – Basehor-Linwood’s Colin and Ryan Murphy are big, strong and play with a calm and finesse that is lost with most young players. At 6’6″, they can both shoot and run, and in December they together averaged 30 points and 13 rebounds per game as a tandem and both are near 60% from the field. The Bobcat’s dominant win over Olathe East in Emporia proves they are an elite KC team.
3. Christian Ulsaker – The 6’7″ McPherson PF has picked-up where he left off last year, averaging 20 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks per game (he also leads the team in assists). Many in the state think McPherson is the favorite for the 5A championship and he is the main reason, along with senior guard Jack Pyle. The Bullpups are probably headed for a showdown with Washington, who along with Highland Park and Gardner-Edgerton are the elite 5A teams in Kansas.
4. Hogan Prep – Dominique Washington, Broderick Newbill and Maurice Mason led the Rams (5-1) to the Citizens Bank tourney final before losing a close game to Washington. This is a program with a rich history that always produces great players such as Missouri’s Marcus Denmon. We missed by not having them in our early polls and Coach Stitzer has them primed for another Class 3 run.
5. Tra’vaughan White and Washington – We continue to believe White is the most fun player to watch in the area and Washington has a really good team. Averaging 23 PPG, the senior leader is very efficient, shooting over 45% from the field and still getting teammates such as Rakim McCoy, Jervon Hooks and Myles Hibler involved in offense. With their athleticism and depth, the Wildcats are definitely a threat for the 5A title and already have quality wins to start the season. Read a complete account of Tra’vaughan’s season so far here.
Team of December – Bishop Carroll was not in our pre-season KC/Wichita poll and we had them ranked 8th in our Wichita preview well below Southeast who they beat on December 7. 6’4 Brian Rohleder, forward Ben Dreiling and junior Jordan Bieberle have the team playing well and the Golden Eagles are getting contributions from junior Tanner Palmore and seniors Adam Sueper and Chad Darland.
Surprises of December – Little 1A Kansas school Bishop Seabury played very well against some power schools in December. We have been hearing about Khadre Lane, a 6’3″ 2014 wing, and he put up 17 per game for Seabury in the tough Ray-Pec tourney.
Ruskin, Andover Central, Maize and Harmon have all established themselves as conference title hopefuls with strong Decembers. Ruskin, who moved to the Middle 6 in Class 5 this year, beat Grandview handily to start the season and rolled off five straight wins led by juniors Deron Hill and Malcolm Hamilton. In addition to handling Grandview, Maize won round one with Derby (led by Ryan McCarthy’s 24 points), making them the current favorite in the AVCTL. In AVCTL2, Andover Central (with two solid big men in 6’8″ Adam Wilks and 6’10” Jordan Kaufman) as well as a load of a power forward in Boston Stiverson may have lost to
McPherson on December 17, but they are 4-1 and have a senior-led team. We have received emails and blog comments that question Blue Valley North’s talent. Led by a bunch of players with no varsity experience, North nearly upset Olathe East early in the season and Coach Phifer will only see improvement from this team as the year progresses. The Mustangs may not be one of the top 2-3 teams in Johnson County, but as they proved last year, they can make a run late. Lee’s Summit got no love from us early in the year, but the 6-3 Tigers blew-out Liberty on December 14, showing that they can be competitive in the Suburban Big 6, which has to be deepest conference in the entire area.
Going into Christmas, here is how we see the top teams in each area:
Wichita – 1)Heights 2)Wichita East 3)McPherson 4)Wichita NW 5)Maize
Kansas City (KS) – 1)BV Northwest 2)Washington 3)Sumner 4)St. James 5)Olathe South
Kansas City (MO) – 1)O’Hara 2)Raytown South 3)Ray-Pec 4)Park Hill South 5)Park Hill
The highlight of December for us was the four days at the Hyvee/Metro Sports Shootout, a tournament that featured many of our highest ranked teams. With five of our top teams playing and several head-to-head, the showcase at Avila College was a chance for Kansas Citians to see players from Wichita and the Springfield area as well as some of the best programs from throughout the metro.We learned many things about teams such as Harmon, who although we think trail Washington and Sumner as the top teams in the KCKAL, are now 5-0 led by Jauan Wilson. St. James and Liberty cruised to wins as expected, and Wichita Heights surprised us a bit by blowing out Nixa in what we thought would be a close game. When all systems are running with Ellis, Wessel, Smith, Dobbins and Terrance Moore, they really are the elite team in the area. The best game of the week had to be the buzzer beater finish in the Sumner v Ray South match-up. An undefeated Sabres team stayed that way when senior TJ Wynn tipped in the game winner to beat the Cardinals 50-48. Blue Valley Northwest, our #2 ranked team in the area, had no problem with Rockhurst as a kid we had not seen before, junior Garrett Fugate, lit the Hawklets for 20 (including six threes). Final – Huskies won 66-50. Based on games we watched, our all-tourney selections would include:
Jonathan Anakewe – senior (St. James Academy)
Perry Ellis – junior (Heights)
Garrett Fugate – junior (BVNW)
Malcolm Hamilton – junior (Ruskin)
Karon Hayes – senior (Columbia RB)
DJ Jackson – senior (O’Hara)
Denton Koon – senior (Liberty)
David Kravish – senior (LS North)
Derek Lee – senior (Maize)
Terrance Moore – junior (Heights)
Jalen Norman – sophomore (Nixa)
Bennie Parker – junior (Sumner)
Trent Richardson – junior (Raytown)
Ishmail Wainwright – sophomore (Ray South)
We really enjoyed seeing other players such as: senior Lawrence Anderson of Lee’s Summit West who plays extremely hard, Travis Jorgenson of Columbia Rockbridge who is a great playmaker, the McCullough brothers of St. James and freshman Clay Custer of Blue Valley Northwest who makes an already deep team that much better. We’ll give our team award to St. Thomas Aquinas, who not only played very well together but also rotated at least 1o different guys into their close loss to O’Hara. Several teams have players that are over-shadowed by more well-known teammates such as EJ Dobbins of Wichita Heights and Earl Peterson of Raytown South.
In January, we will have several more tourneys to discuss, including the late December William Jewell/Bank Midwest games, and there will be some great rival match-ups in early January including Liberty vs. Park Hill South and O’Hara vs. St. James. Probably the marquee match-up will be on January 7 when 6’10” Willie Cauley makes his first appearance for Olathe Northwest against Sunflower league favorite Olathe South. Next month should also provide a better idea of which teams really are elite in both KC and Wichita and we are looking forward to seeing as many games as possible.