McPherson High’s boys can’t let “The Coach” down.
Just before 1 a.m. Saturday, 1991 McPherson High graduate Jonathan Coachman — now a famous sportscaster on the worldwide sports leader ESPN — informed a national audience that his alma mater had advanced to the state finals and was playing today for the championship. “Go get yourself one!” shouted “The Coach” to his millions and millions of fans.
With an entire nation now behind the Bullpups, how can they lose?
Top-seed MHS will play No. 7 seed Topeka Hayden at 6:15 p.m at Salina’s Bicentennial Center in an attempt for state title No. 12. Coachman actually was part of two state championship teams, as he was a sub on the undefeated 1990 state champions — the first of four title teams under coach Mike Henson — and of course was a key contributor on the 1991 team that went 23-1, but still in my opinion the greatest Bullpup team of all time.
Coachman would go on to earn All-America status at McPherson College playing for coach Roger Trimmell, as he used cunning and guile to overcome his lack of height and quickness. Perhaps no player in KCAC history got more mileage out of being a 6-3 post man than Coachman, who was the school’s all-time leading scorer when he left, only to see his record broken first by Kenny Romero and then this year by Samson Shivers.
You just have to wonder how much gas the Bullpups have left in the tank. They put the pedal to the metal for 36 exhausting minutes in the pulsating 59-56 overtime victory over Paola. Meanwhile, Topeka Hayden also had a strenuous game, but was done and out of the gym by 6:30 p.m. The Bullpups, on the other hand, didn’t leave the Bi-Center until nearly 10:30 p.m., then was up early for a team breakfast.
Hayden will be a handful. Don’t scoff at its 14-10 record and No. 7 seed. Like MHS, Hayden smartly schedules bigger and plays in a tough league. The Wildcats won’t be intimidated by McPherson’s ranking and historical significance. It has history as well, including the 1983 state championship team that featured future college stars Mark Turgeon and Tom Meier.
Meier will be a name that McPherson fans will hear a lot of tonight. Marcus Meier, a burly 6-4 junior, was unstoppable in Friday’s 50-48 semifinal win over El Dorado. He weighs about as much as MHS’ lanky Horton twins combined and powered his way to the Wildcats’ first 20 points of the game, including 17 in the first quarter. He’s an aircraft carrier in the middle and virtually impossible to stop once he gets it in the paint. Jacob Head, a 6-2 junior guard, had a 29-point game in the opener against Independence. So Meier and Head are the new Meier and Turgeon, and they’ll be as good a duo as MHS has faced this year
But this McPherson team has defied the odds all season. Coach Kurt Kinnamon likes to tease his players about their lack of physical gifts (height, weight), and he likes to say they’re scrawny and unassuming. But when the whistle blows, this team is to basketball what Picasso is to art. They play beautiful team basketball, the style James Naismith imagined when he invented the game.
What tonight’s game will come down to is pace. The Bullpups must get the game sped up as Hayden is methodical and plodding. It executes expertly in the halfcourt, often not looking to shoot unless it’s a layup.
The Bullpups have yet to play their best basketball in Salina. There was so much pressure on them to make the finals that they have played tight. Now that they’re there, they’re free to cut loose. I think they still have one great game left in them.