The Kansas high school basketball season tips off Thursday, with the majority of teams starting Friday and early next week. Here’s a look at the top storylines.
Last year, the Derby girls finished 23-1 and captured the Class 6A state championship against Olathe East, the first state girls’ basketball crown in school history. Derby returns its close-knit pair of post Kennedy Brown and point guard Tor’e Alford. Brown has signed with Oregon State, a final four squad two years ago, and Alford has inked with Missouri State.
The 6-foot-6 Brown averaged a triple-double, including 16 points a contest, and Alford delivered 10.2 points, 4.1 assists and 3.1 steals. Aliyah Myers and Sydney Nilles are also returning starters. A few weeks before the season, Brown and Alford set a goal for a perfect year. Derby is the favorite in 6A.
Johnson changes schools
Sophomore Jackie Johnson could emerge as the next great City League scorer. He has already transferred schools from Wichita North to Wichita Southeast. Last year at North, Johnson averaged 22.1 points and 4.2 assists a contest, including a 36-point showing at the prestigious McPherson tournament. North lost its top-seven scorers off last season. Johnson takes over Southeast’s offense from elite scorer Israel Barnes, now at Division I Weber State.
Maize’s Division I talent
Maize features a pair of Division I players with Caleb Grill and Halie Jones. Grill, a South Dakota State commit, averaged 16 points a contest. Maize returns 73 percent of its scoring for coach Chris Grill, Caleb’s dad. Maize returned five starters for a 17-5 team.
Jones, known for her defense, averaged 11 points a game and has committed to University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, led by highly successful former Pittsburg State coach Lane Lord. The Eagles were fourth in 5A last season. Liberal, with first team all-stater Katie Horyna back, was third.
The Wichita area has multiple standout shooters, especially at Circle. Last year, Circle went 18-5 and lost to Bishop Miege, 56-38, in the first round of the state tournament. Two years ago, the T-Birds finished fourth at state after a semifinal loss to Miege.
Seniors Carissa Beck and Alyson Potter return for Circle. Beck has averaged 11.5 points in her career, including 163 treys. She has shot 41 percent beyond the arc in her career, including 44 percent last year. Beck is also an exceptional free throw shooter, including 87 percent last winter. The 6-1 Potter is a versatile player who has committed to Southern Illinois.
For the boys, Circle senior Jude Warren averaged 20.2 points a contest for the 8-14 T-Birds. Circle could be much improved with 74 percent of its scoring back.
At Arkansas City, Cevin Clark averaged 21.4 points a contest as AC finished in third place in 4A-I with a 19-6 overall record. Ark City had an eight-win improvement last winter. Clark has 911 points, including 144 treys.
Central Plains success
Last year, Central Plains boys and girls each finished undefeated with Class 2A titles. CP joined Wichita Heights as the only programs in state history to have perfect boys’ and girls’ squads in the same year. Central Plains girls have won five straight titles, including four undefeated seasons.
Since the start of ’13-14, CP girls are 129-1 with a current 84-game winning streak, the third-longest in state history. The all-time record is 107 wins, set by Hoxie. Junior Emily Ryan averaged 34.5 points a game last season and led the state in scoring. The boys’ side returns four starters, including Brett Liebl, the leading scorer at the Class 2A state tournament last winter. Central Plains drops down to 1A, and is top-ranked in both classes.
Kansas ended the split in Class 4A and 1A and returned to six classes: 1-6A. Class 1A has more than 100 teams with no Division I and Division II split. Class 4A was dissolved mainly into Class 3A and 4A.
Xavier Bell paces Andover Central; Ty Berry leads Newton
Andover Central could post an exceptional season after back-to-back final four showings. Last year, sophomore Xavier Bell averaged 16 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists a game. Andover Central shifts to 5A and is the classification’s smallest school. AC returns 92 percent of its scoring and 86 percent of its rebounding, including seniors Braden Belt and Easton Leedom, who combined for 27.4 points a game.
Bell has received interest from multiple Division I schools.
Ty Berry, Newton’s junior point guard, has received offers from multiple top schools, including Wichita State, Creighton, Colorado, Iowa and Kansas State. Overall, the 6-foot-2, 170-pound Berry has 12 scholarship offers. Newton has historically struggled, including a 10-12 mark last year. The Railers have not had a winning season since ’08-09 and could break through with Berry this year. Berry averaged 21.7 points a game and is one of four starters back.
McPherson’s talent; different class with Miege
Last year, McPherson girls won the Class 4A, Division I crown against Bishop Miege beyond Taylor Robertson, the Gatorade Player of the Year. The Bullpup boys have lost to Miege in the last three championship games. This year, McPherson is back up to 5A as the third-smallest 5A school. Miege is tied for the 4A biggest enrollment. Senior Jake Alexander has averaged 14 points a game each of the last two years. For the girls, Riley Hett has received collegiate offers and is one of the lone players back for the Bullpups.
Northern Valley captured the 1A, Division II tournament behind senior sharpshooter Riley Sides, the classification player of the year. Phillipsburg went to state for the first time in 45 years and lost in the final seconds to Halstead in the 3A state game. Senior point guard Trey Sides earned classification player of the year for his dad, coach Keith Sides.
The first cousins grew up together and have played together in the summer for years. NV returns all but one player from a team that averaged 39 percent on treys. Sides collected 17.4 points a game. For Phillipsburg, Trey paced the Panthers with 12.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.7 steals and 2.9 assists. He and junior brother Ty lead the Panthers, the MCL favorites.
Top Individual Small School Players
The CIK area features a bevy of top individual players. Quinter senior forward Conner Havlas averaged 25.5 points and 13.9 points a contest. Havlas set school records for single game points (45), rebounds (27) and single season rebounds (305). Montezuma-South Gray senior Clifton Miller helped the Rebels to their first perfect season in school history. He is one of the state’s top shooters, regardless of class, with 18 points, four rebounds and 2.9 assists a game.
St. John, Central Plains’ rival, is also in 1A. The Tigers have plenty of height, led by 6-foot-7 Tanner Halling. He averaged 13 points, nine rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game for the third-place squad in Class 1A, Division I.
Ness City is in 2A and features senior point guard John Pfannenstiel, who tallied 20 points a contest.
Plainville junior guard Aubree Dewey is a mix of talent and perpetual motion. Because of low numbers, Dewey might play some JV as well and log six full quarters most nights, playing time she enjoys. Dewey delivered 22.3 points, 5.8 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 3.4 steals a game.
Coldwater-South Central Bri Rutherford has averaged 19.2 and 20.6 points a contest the last two years. SC has back-to-back final four years.