Its still early, but January made it a little easier to identify the contenders in both Kansas and Missouri. Starting with the Bank Midwest Holiday tourney at William Jewell, we saw teams such as Grandview, Ray-Pec and O’Hara continue their rise as state title hopefuls. Coach Larry Holley’s tournament gets better and better every year and was highlighted by some great individual performances such as senior RJ Emery-Leverette’s 31 against Blue Springs and Smithville’s Dillon Deck who nearly averaged a triple/double in the tourney.
The mid-January Culver Classic was another great showcase of top teams with highlights coming from Blue Springs South who beat Rockhurst and Lee’s Summit North who took Raytown South to the brink in the championship game. O’Hara (14-4) barely escaped an improved Lee’s Summit team in the first round, falling behind by 14 in the first quarter before Daniel Hurtt (26 and 10 for the game) led the Celtics back to a 5-point win. They then lost a close one to the Cardinals in the semis. O’Hara will be the best team in Class 3, District 14 but may have to face dangerous teams such as Hogan Prep or Barstow.
Don’t you guys in Kansas wish you could put on more of these great showcase tourneys? Too bad you are limited to 20 games and no holiday play.
In January, we saw strength in Missouri from teams like Park Hill (12-5) and
Ruskin (12-6) as well as players such as Rockhurst 6’3″ senior Clarence Kirkwood, University Academy scoring machine Martez Harrison and Lee’ Summit West junior PG Shaq Harrison. Teams that really improved in January included 10-7 Lee’s Summit and 11-6 Smithville. Led by Deck’s return, Smithville has been on a roll in the Midland Empire conference winning 9 of its last 10. They could now be the team to beat in Class 4, District 16. Also in Class 4, a high-scoring Lincoln Prep is our favorite in District 14 after a 5-2 January. Led by the lanky and smooth Maurte Harrison as well as Deron Session, the Tigers have wins over St. Thomas Aquinas and University Academy.
Ray South is 14-5 and worked its way back to top form in January. They struggled in December without their senior PG leader Corey Hilliard, who returned in January with averages of 18pts and 5 assists. But from the absence of Hilliard came the emergence of 6’3 junior Earl Peterson who has played very well this month. Since Hilliard’s return
on January 7, Ray South dropped one to Park Hill South but bounced back to beat Rockhurst in a thriller we watched on January 14. In that 4th quarter comeback they showed why they are probably the best five loss team in the city. Rockhurst struggled in the Culver but they have balance coming from Kirkwood, seniors Matt Lampo and Chris Bohannon as well as 6’5″ Frank Arbanas. O’Hara, Truman and Ray-Pec continue to be at the top of our KCMO poll, but all three have losses from a tough schedule that should prepare them for post-season play. The suburban leagues on the Missouri side are very competitive this year. The Suburban Big and Middle 6 and Middle 7 have been anyone’s guess and have to be the deepest leagues with at least eight teams in the post-season hunt.
They all just keep beating each other. This was underscored in week two when Raytown (10-9) took down Park Hill South (13-7), followed a week later when the Panthers beat Ray South and Lee’s Summit beat Blue Springs South (11-8) who then beat Rockhurst (14-6) for the first time in school history on the 18th. Ruskin beat Lee’s Summit and Lee’s Summit North (13-4) handled Ruskin, Ray-Pec and Lee’s Summit West (7-9) as part of the Broncos 11-game winning streak, before losing to Lee’s Summit on the 25th. In the Small 6, Grandview (14-6) is the dominant team and they already have wins over Liberty (at the Jewell tourney) and Rockhurst. Even after being tripped-up by the Saints in the Aquinas tourney semi and losing 3 of their last 4, GHS remains undefeated in the league and is showcasing players other than the talented Emery-Leverette. Junior Khalil Davis had big games during Leverette’s missed games in mid-January and the raw but imposing 6’7 freshman Nelson Nweke has started to become a force inside. Of all the teams in the Big/Mid/Small, several teams could raise a district or state title trophy, but we still think Ray South (who was our pre-season #1) has the most potential to go all the way.
On the Kansas side in January, we kicked the new year off with a huge Sunflower League showdown between ranked rivals Olathe South (11-2) & Olathe Northwest (11-2), which marked the debut of 6’10” phenom Willie Cauley. In his first high school game in nine months, the nationally ranked junior really dominated the match-up on both ends and showed us that the Ravens might be able to challenge BV Northwest (12-0) and Wichita Heights (12-0) in 6A. The inside/out of OLNW is a tough match-up and Cauley finished his first 6A game with 21 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocked shots in a 47-42 win. He had 40 in a game later in the month. Olathe South has a nice squad too (led by senior DJ Cole and 6’7″ Tyler Thomas) and they handed Washington their first loss of the season in the Topeka tournament championship last week.
Leavenworth (9-2) and Olathe East (10-2) remain strong on the Kansas side of KC, along with the continued success of Washington (10-1), Sumner (who got senior power forward Eli Alexander back from injury on January 4) and Harmon, who surprised us with their win over Sumner on the 14th. The Hawks (10-2) got four double-figure scorers in the 13-point win over the Sabres and followed the next week with a run to the Thomas Invitational final where they lost to Coffeyville. They have proven that they belong as a premiere team in KCK with new coach David Gonzales and have made the KCKAL title chase very interesting this year. It’s also vindication for Gonzales who took a lot of unfair heat when former coach Heath Cooper was suddenly dismissed. With Washington’s big win over Sumner on the 28th, they remain our league and 5A favorite but its a tight race.
We don’t know what to think about: SM Northwest who is 4-8 but has a premiere player in senior AJ Spencer; Gardner-Edgerton who has been up and down and now sits at 7-5; or Schlagle who is yet another top team out of the KCKAL. Led by Rozell Nunn, the Stallions are 9-3 including a blow-out of Harmon, but still will have a tough road to advance out of their substate that includes Washington, Lansing and Highland Park. Traditional 5A power St. Thomas Aquinas is 7-5 and ended Bishop Miege’s four-year homecourt winning streak in January as well as made a nice showing in their January tourney.
We do know what to think about: Basehor-Linwood and the Murphy twins who continue to roll even with a close loss to Lansing but wins over Ottawa (in their January tourney) and Olathe East; and Blue Valley Northwest (who is living up to our pre-season #2 ranking) handing Schlagle a 30-point loss in the Valley Center tourney ‘ship. The Huskies, who also had a solid win over Blue Valley North, have 10 players that contribute and might be good enough defensively to stop a team like Heights.
Programs such as 8-5 St. James (who beat Olathe Northwest but lost to Topeka Hayden and Leavenworth) and 9-4 Ottawa have been inconsistent but will still be threats come playoff time, and we should also mention Desoto High School who stands at 7-5 with losses to Basehor-Linwood (#2 in our KS poll), St. James (#9 in our KS poll) and a very good Silver Lake team. The Wildcats beat Ottawa and handled Paola by 30, and their junior scoring leader Mason Wedel has shooter Joey Johnson on the perimeter and 6’6″ Aaron Nutterfield in the post. Maybe they can make some noise in 4A.
In Wichita, we were able to get into a crowded Koch Arena for what has been for us the highlight of the season so far. On January 8, Wichita State hosted city league games capped off with the Heights vs Southeast game in front of 6000 people at Koch. The game itself ended with the expected result (a Falcons win), but the match-up of Perry Ellis and 6’7″ Buffalo senior
Gavin Thurman was an interesting contrast in styles and allowed a glimpse of two future D1 majors. Coaches know about Ellis, but we think Thurman’s versatile game is underrated. January brought a few surprises in Wichita such as South (4-8) jumping up to beat Kapaun (who then beat Southeast), Maize (8-4) handling Andover Central (9-3) and 3A Collegiate winning the El Dorado tourney with wins over Gardner-Edgerton and Kapaun. We have seen some comments by readers to Joanna Chadwick of the Wichita Eagle that suggested the City League is weak this year. It was a rough tournament week for East and Northwest, but we believe this is still one of the best CL seasons in recent history in terms of the depth and talent. Even though Wichita East went 1-2 in Topeka, they and Wichita Heights are at the top of the CL heap. Their Jan 25 match-up resulted in a win by Heights, but not before Ja’ln Williams (28 points) and East pushed the game to OT. We also watched the East match-up with
Northwest on Jan 14, which further convinced us of the league’s quality. The Aces guards (Jalen Love and Williams) combine with 6’3″ RJ Melbert, 6’2″ Ronnie McFann and 6’5″ Nate Jackson to produce a team that can run as well as score in the half-court, and they really dominated a good NW team from the midpoint of that game. It’s probably time to start thinking about Heights as one of the best teams in Kansas and Wichita history. Not only do they have a blue-chip player in Ellis, but they are talented at every position and play very well together. If they go on to win their 3rd straight championship, this might seal their standing as the best ever alongside Wichita South teams that won every championship between 1978-81 and five more from 1988-94.
Outside of the city, McPherson (12-1) also impresses us with the inside/outside balance of Christian Ulsaker and Jack Pyle. The Bullpups may be the highest scoring team in the Wichita area, with both of these players in the state’s top 10. Their hometown tournament loss to Heights is a respectable blemish and they are now our co-favorite in 5A, along with Washington.
We talked about a strong small school last month with Kansas 1A Bishop Seabury and saw two more good small programs in January. Class 3 Barstow is coached by former KU star Billy Thomas and is now 9-3, including a close road loss to Schlagle. And Wichita Word of Life is a small independent school (with just 100 students) that is 14-7 but has played some big programs like Denver East and Basehor-Linwood. They feature a number of good players such as 6’2″ Dolan Greathouse and 6’6″ PF Luka Djurisic. They are not sanctioned by KSHSAA so won’t be in post-season play but they are worth checking out in Wichita.
We only had the chance to see a few Topeka games in January and we have been asked by readers to cover the teams there more often. We watched a quality Washburn Rural (10-2) squad win the Saints Classic with their ninth straight win that included a 44-37 semis victory over KCMO power Ray-Pec. They lost a back and forth game to Olathe East but proved they can play with one of the top Sunflower teams. Topeka High, who has moved to 7-3, could also make a run, but the problem for the Trojans will be their placement in the very competitive Olathe North substate. Highland Park (9-3) is another strong member of the Shawnee Heights/Tecumseh substate with Washington, Schlagle and Lansing, and 4A Topeka Hayden (9-3) won the Burlington tournament and will make it interesting in the Spring Hill substate with St. James and Desoto.
Milestones – Congrats to Coach Mark Scanlon at Bishop O’Hara who now has over 500 wins and together with his brother Jim – who has over 600 wins at Columbia Rockbridge – could be the most successful brother tandem in KC area history. Congrats also to Leavenworth’s Larry Hogan who collected his 400th win in January.
This month marked player milestones as well with Smithville’s Deck getting to the 1000 point club and newly eligible transfers becoming available in several contending schools. Manual Barnes, a 6’5″ french student, made his debut for Bishop Miege as did 6’6″ Georgi Funtarov for Lawrence Free State. We watched Funtarov live this month and he has a smooth european game that makes the Firebirds (7-6) a better team. Along with Willie Cauley, these guys will make contributions in the second half of the season that could change things for their teams.
Top scorers through January 27 in our coverage area:
Martez Harrison – University Academy……..28.1
Conner Frankamp – Wichita North…………….27.9
Dillon Deck – Smithville…………………………….27.1
Brandon Shivley – North Kansas City………….25
Christian Ulsaker – McPherson………………….23.5
Clint McCullough – St. James Academy………23.1
Tra’vaughan White – Washington……………….22.7
Jack Pyle – McPherson……………………………..22.3
Maurte Harrison – Lincoln Prep…………………22.2
Perry Ellis – Wichita Heights……………………..21.2
Chris Nsenki – Park Hill…………………………….20.8
Craig Nicholson – Wichita Northwest…………20.5
Semi Ojeleye – Ottawa……………………………….20.3
Which teams will be better down the stretch? The squads with one prolific/go-to scorer (Spencer at SM Northwest, Nsenki at Park Hill, McCullough at St. James) or the teams such as Truman (Harris, Winn and Large), Ray South (Peterson, Hilliard, Wainwright) and Wichita East (Jackson, Love, Williams) who have balance but no one, “no-questions-asked” option. Ultimately, you would expect more balanced teams to do well, but in the tight situations that will come at Districts, having a player with no conscience can translate to upsets in close games.
Top January Performers
1. Dillon Deck – The 6’7″ Deck missed some games early in the season but since returning has scored 20+ in eight straight games and is averaging a double/double while his team has gone 9-2 with him in the lineup. He can score from the perimeter, in mid-range and at the rim, and he plays extremely hard at both ends. He was named to the Bank Midwest All-Tourney team at William Jewell and averaged an incredible 30 points and 20 rebounds in the Pleasant Hill tournament.
2. Clint McCullough – In addition to the 31 points and 12 rebounds vs O’Hara (which included a 70 footer) early in the month, the junior St. James forward also had 24 against Hogan Prep and 26 against Olathe Northwest. McCullough is a 6’6′ SF who can slash to the basket, hit mid-range jumpers and who regularly puts the Thunder on his back in big games.
3. Lee’s Summit North – After losing a few games early, including a one-point loss to Kansas power Olathe Northwest, the Broncos have steadied and now look to be a threat again in Class 5, District 14. With 6’9 David Kravish and 6’8 Tory Miller inside and the improved guard play of Kenny Berry, Will Harrington and PJ Lewis, big January wins over Ray-Pec, Liberty and Ruskin have them back at the top of our rankings.
4. Maize High School – The 8-4 Eagles lost their first game of the month to Salina Central but bounced back to win four straight before running into Heights. In beating Andover Central, they established themselves as one of the AVCTL power teams. Senior guard Ryan McCarthy is one of the best scorers in the state and he has the tough Derek Lee and 6’7″ offensive lineman Steven Wolgamott inside. Maize made a nice run in the 6A state bracket last year and could be working toward another shot this year.
5. Adam Woods – The William Chrisman senior hit 7 threes in a win over Sumner of St. Louis and followed that up with 31 against Joplin and 33 vs. Raytown. At 5’11”, he is a smaller guard who can really shoot and find shots in transition. Woods and teammate Devin Spencer shoot alot and score alot too- bombs away!
Team of January – Andover Central (9-3) has something you can’t coach with 6’10, 6’8 and 6’4 (300 pounds) in the middle, The Jaguars had a close one with Andover before winning in OT on January 4 and won 6 of their first 7 games. This is a team that went 20-3 last year and added players from a JV/freshman squad that went a combined 36-1 in ’09/10. Central is the favorite in AVCTL 2 and could make noise in 5A. Honorable mention in January to Blue Valley North who after losing two of their first three have now started to string wins together including a run to the title in the SM West tourney.
Surprises of January – We really did not expect the success of Blue Springs South at the beginning of the season, but the backcourt of DJ Booker (featured in KC Star here) and Darrion Geiger along with 6’5″ senior Drake Patterson, athletic junior Wesley Poke and solid big man Shawn Meyer have made the Jaguars a real threat in District 14. We were also surprised to see the emergence of 2011 6’1 guard Garron Dumas who put up some big games for Raytown in January including 25 versus William Chrisman and 30 against Blue Springs.
Under the Radar – Sophomore 6’2″ guard Scott Edwards is the leading scorer for Blue Valley North, averaging 15 points, 3 assists and 3 rebounds per game. With seniors Danny Dolan (MVP of the Viking Classic) and Peter Alexander, the Mustangs sit at 8-3 and along with several other teams are a threat to get the second birth (BVNW will get one) in the free-for-all Shawnee Mission West sub-state. We also think Kaw Valley’s 5A Lansing has gone largely unnoticed this year and they now stand at 9-3 with losses to 6A Free State, Topeka Seaman and Holton. The Lions did hand Basehor their first loss of the season and they have wins over Desoto and Shawnee Heights. 6’2 Izaiah Grice averages over 16 points and 6’5 Chris Jones is grabbing five boards per game.
In January, we asked our readers to rate the chances of the top teams in Kansas in winning a state title.