I never saw the 1977 Wichita Heights Falcons play, but I never once doubted the late, great McPherson High boys basketball coach Jay Frazier when he told me repeatedly down through the years there would never be another team like them.
The Falcons, who have been longtime participants of the McPherson Invitational and once won it seven years in a row, stormed through that season undefeated, including winning the Bullpups’ midseason tournament by three runaway margins.
The team was led by Darnell Valentine and Antoine Carr, arguably on everyone’s Top 5 of all-time Kansas high school basketball players. Valentine would go on to star at KU and then play in the NBA. Carr is considered the best player in Wichita State history along with Xavier McDaniel and like Valentine enjoyed a fruitful NBA career.
Carr’s brother, James, also started on that Heights team and later joined his brother at Wichita State. The other starters were Adolphus Holden, who played collegiately at Cincinnati, and Calvin Alexander, who went on to become a professional boxer.
What McPherson old-timers tell me is that Heights was like a big cat toying with a mouse. It had almost a rock-star-like following and it’s no surprise the team was inducted into the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association Wall of Fame at first chance. Its coach was Lafayette Norwood, who went on to join the coaching staff of Ted Owens at KU.
All you need know about the Falcons is that in the 1977 state championship game against another legendary program, Wyandotte, Heights shot out to a 25-0 lead and went on for a 92-52 victory.
Tonight, Bishop Miege’s boys could be the best opposing team to come into the Roundhouse since those Falcons. And they don’t even have 6-11 Bol Bol, who has transferred to California but not before he delivered a 3-point dagger to the heart of McPherson High in last year’s state title game that totally swung the momentum.
But basically all the key characters are back for Miege and the Stags are being talked about in mythical proportions. Now do I think they could beat that 1977 Heights teams? Not a chance.
But they have assembled a mass of individual talent. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, whose father played for both LSU and KU, has NBA written all over him. He was a handful last year as a budding 6-8 freshman and I can only imagine with another year of maturity he’s going to be a monster.
Josh Early, now a 6-7 sophomore, didn’t start last year but I’m told he’s already well known by college recruiters.
Francesco Badocchi, a 6-6 swingman, didn’t play against MHS last year, but he really impressed me in the state semifinals against Paola before leaving with an injury. I’m assuming he’s back in full force.
His place was taken by 6-5 Joseph Gleason and all he did was score 14 clutch points to help the Stags hold off MHS down the stretch. And, yes, he’s back.
And the keys to the car are held by point guard Semaj Ray, who combines with Landry Weber, son of former K-State football star Stan Weber, for a cerebral backcourt.
I’m sure the Stags have added some new players. They are a private school and attract big-time athletes for a lot of sports because of their reputation.
This is Miege’s first trip ever to the Roundhouse and if Bullpup fans bring it emotionally and full throat like I think they will, that has to help MHS. It’s not easy setting foot in the grand old building when the electricity is flowing through it at peak levels.
It’s going to be a lot of fun for everyone and I can’t wait.