Don’t be surprised if McPherson High’s boys and Bishop Miege meet not once, but twice next season.
The schools are scheduled to play a regular-season basketball game in December in the Roundhouse — I believe it will draw the biggest regular-season crowd in my nearly 40 years here — and the teams could be right back in the Class 4A Division I state championship game in March of 2017. The girls' matchup also could pit two teams destined for 4A Division I's final game of the season.
The two storied basketball schools were matched Saturday for the boys' title and showed why they were in the pinnacle game.
The Stags, who have been dwarfed by their uber-successful girls program, were unlike any high school team I can recall covering. Their height and length were jaw-dropping, starting with 6-11 sophomore Bol Bol and 6-8 freshman wunderkind Jeremiah Robinson-Earl.
What unlimited futures both have since they certainly have the pedigree. Bol is the son of the late former NBA star Manute Bol and while he’s light-years away from being NBA show-worthy, he’s got two more years of high school and then college to pack some pounds on his lean frame.
Robinson-Earl, to me, may have been the Stags’ best player in the tournament. I thought maybe someone should check his birth certificate as he played with the poise and power of a senior. Lord only knows what a force he’ll be by the time he’s a senior, if he’s not at a school like Oak Hill Academy or one of the other national prep powers. His father, Lester Earl, finished his career at KU after beginning at LSU and was a solid collegian.
I thought McPherson perhaps was handed a break going into the game when dynamic 6-6 swingman Francesco Badocchi was ruled out due to a knee injury suffered in Friday’s semifinals. He was a tough matchup for opponents in the first two games, as not only did he have good size, but nice skills as he could play both inside and outside.
In his stead, however, was Joseph Gleason, who started against the Bullpups last year in the state semifinals, but lost his spot this year when the heralded Bol and Robinson-Earl were added to the roster. All Gleason did was score 14 points and muscle his way to 13 rebounds as his performance was nails. With Semaj Ray running the point and Landry Weber a nice complement as he looked to get the ball to the bigs, the Stags had a terrific unit. Then 6-6 bruiser Joshua Early came off the bench and provided an instant pick-me-up.
I’m not sure what more MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon could have done strategy-wise as the Stags were able to see over the top of the defense for layup after layup. They only took two 3-pointers, but one of them was by Bol, who astonishingly has tremendous outside touch for someone so tall. His 3 early in the fourth quarter tied the game at 54-all and I honestly believe 100 percent had he not made that and MHS had retrieved the rebound, it would have won the game. Kinnamon said he would have run clock and forced the Stags to chase, taking his chances 0n winning the game at the foul line.
Brothers Drew and Ben Pyle were nothing short of magnificent, combining for 45 points. How scary could 6-6 Ben Pyle become as he appears to still be growing and has outstanding ball skills. I’ll be gobsmacked if he doesn’t average 20 points a game next year and I look for him to be more of an inside presence.
It was nice to see Marcus McDaniel have a huge second half, scoring all 11 of his points. McDaniel was an unsung player all season, but seemed at his best in big moments.
McDaniel, Drew Pyle, Spenser Wine and Jacob Loecker all played their final game and their record their final three years was 71-3. One of those losses was a stunning McPherson Invitational setback to Wichita North, the other a buzzer-beater last December against defending Missouri big-school champion Blue Springs South.
Kinnamon returns only one starter in Ben Pyle, but he’s been here before. He’s careful to cultivate his young players and he has plenty of candidates to fill the open spots next year. I have a feeling the Bullpups are going to be in the state title talk again, though given Miege returns all but one player and probably will add more, the Stags will be the lead-pipe cinch for the No. 1 preseason state ranking.