• 6A TEAMS FAMILIAR WITH EACH OTHER — There are five Class 6A schools in the field for this week’s 50th annual McPherson Invitational, sponsored by Midway Motors.
All five of them know each other very well from last year’s Class 6A State Tournament.
Derby, Wichita North, Blue Valley West, Shawnee Mission East and Lawrence Free State were all in the state field last year
Blue Valley West and Wichita North met in last year’s 6A opening round, with West able to keep senior star Conner Frankamp in check for a 41-35 victory.
West then played Shawnee Mission East in the semifinals, scratching out a 59-58 decision. But the Jaguars’ magic ran out in the championship game when they lost to undefeated Blue Valley Northwest 46-29, capping a 25-0 season for coach Ed Fritz’s Huskies, who at one time competed in the McPherson Invitational.
Lawrence Free State, last year’s surprise 6A state entry, lost to Fritz’s champs in the first round 56-37, while Derby advanced to the semifinals with a 55-46 triumph over Garden City. Blue Valley Northwest played a near-perfect game in the semifinals to defeat Derby, 73-36.
Derby then defeated Shawnee Mission East 62-57 for third place.
As a refresher, this year’s Invitational first round finds Derby and Blue Valley West clashing at 3 p.m., Shawnee Mission East taking on Carroll at 4:45, Buhler going up against Lawrence Free State at 6:15 before McPherson caps off the day playing Wichita North at 8:15.
• FIELD LOADED WITH FORMER CHAMPS — Five of the eight teams in this year’s field know what it’s like to walk off the court as the McPherson Invitational champion.
Of course, the host Bullpups are far and away the leader in tourney championships as last year’s scintillating victory over Shawnee Mission East in the finals was their 20th. Shawnee Mission East has won a pair of titles.
Buhler, Blue Valley West and Derby all have won a title each. Derby won a title in its first appearance, then coached by McPherson High grad and former All-Stater Ryan Herrs.
Carroll hasn’t won a title due in part that this will be its first-ever appearance in the tournament.
Only 14 schools have won Invite titles. Wichita Heights, which at one point won the championship seven straight years — highlighted by the 1977 team still considered the greatest in Kansas history — has nine championships overall. It last won in 2011 when the Falcons of Perry Ellis outdueled McPherson High in a matchup of undefeated teams. That game will be remembered for the remarkable performance by MHS’ Christian Ulsaker, who scored 39 points. Ulsaker wound up being Kansas’ Mr. Basketball that year, with Ellis winning in 2012 and Wichita North’s Conner Frankamp winning in 2013. Frankamp, in 2012, equaled the three-game tournament scoring record of 114 points held by Salina’s Nino Samuel, including 48 points in the third-place game.
Other schools to win titles include Salina/Salina Central (3), Newton (3), Emporia (2), Hutchinson (2), Manhattan (2), Kansas City Wyandotte (1, the very first in 1965), Great Bend (1) and Maize (1),
• IT’S ALL ABOUT EMBIID — It was about a month ago that the two words on the tongue of every Kansas basketball fan was “Andrew Wiggins.”
My, how times have changed.
Wiggins, now, is merely Robin to Joel Embiid’s Batman. The 7-0 center from Cameroon has made startling improvement, so much so that Wiggins has been relegated to the background, where he probably prefers to be anyway. Embiid's talent and zest for the game has won him over with KU fans, who continue to be uninspired about Wiggins since he seems to play with so little emotion.
The ascension of Embiid is nothing short of remarkable. Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg proclaimed him as “the best player in the country.” Various analysts have come out the last two weeks and said that Embiid has rocketed by Wiggins, Duke’s Jabari Parker and Kentucky’s Julius Randle as the overall No. 1 pick in next year’s NBA draft.
Embiid, while still rawer than raw, is starting to figure it out. He has so many gifts — he runs like a guard, yet is a defensive menace. It’s obvious he still has maturity problems, but that comes from being in a strange country and having played the game only three years.
Embiid’s improvement, though, is bittersweet. The way he played at the start of the year, it looked almost certain he would return for his sophomore year. Now if he doesn’t turn pro after this year it’s because he took one too many elbows to the noggin and isn’t thinking clearly. The NBA loves his unlimited ceiling and he’s got "star" written all over him.
I do wish, however, he’d spend one more year at KU. Put him on Andrea Hudy’s weight program for a year and there’s no telling what a monster he would turn into.