The late, great McPherson High basketball coach Jay Frazier once said All-Tournament Teams should consist of just the members of the championship team — one reason when he was coach there were no All-Tournament Teams.
On Saturday, the McPherson Invitational All-Tournament Team was dominated by the champion Bullpups, as it was truly a team effort that secured them their 22nd title in the 52 years of the event.
The Bullpups certainly earned this one. They exhaled after Thursday’s great escape of Shawnee Mission East, which quite honestly was the third-best team in the tournament in my opinion after watching all 12 games.
A more-relaxed Bullpup team came out on Friday and took it right to Bishop Carroll, jumping on the Eagles from the outset and never letting up.
Saturday’s championship game will prepare the Bullpups well for the rest of the season. Lawrence Free State was a terrific Class 6A team with a dynamic individual talent in Hunter Gudde, and plenty of size and length on the inside.
This tournament was just what the Bullpups needed. Other than Buhler, the AVCTL D-III opponents simply don’t provide this level of play to push MHS and put it in albeit uncomfortable positions. The Thursday game was huge in the team’s development, as it now knows it can survive the gravest of adversity. MHS was down six points in the first overtime with just over 2 minutes to go, yet battled back to force a second overtime, which it dominated.
As is often said, a close game does a team a lot more good than a 40-point blowout. It certainly should help the Bullpups come Tuesday as Andale could be the best team they face the rest of the regular season. The Indians are coming off a tournament victory of their own at Halstead and the two schools have developed an intense rivalry.
The Pyle brothers, Drew and Ben, were their usual selves, with Drew earning the MVP of the tourney and Ben stepping up huge in the championship game. They were joined on the ATT by teammates Spenser Wine and Marcus McDaniel. Wine, as he has been since returning to the lineup, was a solid presence with his consistency, often going up against bigger opponents. McDaniel had the memorable first game and is developing more and more into a long-range threat from the corners.
But where would the Bullpups have been without the other contributors? Jacob Loecker does so many things that never show up in a box score, such as a key deflection late in Saturday’s game that re-set the offense and it turned into two points. Loecker battles tooth and nail for every rebound and spends a lot of time amassing floorburns with his relentless hustle.
Drew Labertew is getting more and more minutes and came big against Carroll when McDaniel got into foul trouble and also hit a key 3-pointer in the championship game late in the third quarter that knotted things up. Wyatt Seidl,Caleb Spaich and Clayton Gerbrandt provided their usual bruising contributions, clearing out bodies to snag rebounds. Freshman Jake Alexander also is being entrusted with more and more key minutes, as he has a sky’s-the-limit ceiling. Once he figures out the game’s little nuances, he’s going to be another Bullpup standout in the making.
The MHS administration, captained by AD Shane Backhus, should be commended for another incredible tournament. Lawrence Free State coach Sam Stroh, in his first Invitational, said he wishes his team could come every year instead of every other year. He noted the organization of the tournament and how his team was treated as reasons he wants his team to be a staple.
Now we turn around and do all this again. The Mid America Classic, which is run by the McPherson Optimist Club, will certainly put on its usual top-shelf event and the field is flush with outstanding teams. At one point, the top five teams had combined for only four losses, though they have added some since.
McPherson fans turned out in full force on Friday and Saturday of the Invitational. I know we ask a lot of our fans, but this is why McPherson is considered by this scribe as the Basketball Capital of Kansas.