After one week of watching McPherson High’s boys basketball practice, I believe the Bullpups could be even better than their 2013-14 Class 4A Division I state championship team.
Granted, it’s going to be difficult to replace both the physical and mental aspects of the game the Horton twins, Ryan and Peter, brought to the table. They were chief ingredients that went into what I thought was as good of chemistry that I’ve ever seen a team have, much like the 1993-94 Bullpup team that nobody expected to win a state championship, yet it went undefeated.
But when I watch this year’s edition, one word comes to mind: maturity.
After all, when nearly an entire team returns one year older, one year stronger and one year wiser, it’s a no-brainer. Add in a talented newcomer and some younger players who have shown improvement and I don’t think the Bullpups can help but be better.
They have the consummate point guard in first-team All-State All-Class Kyler Kinnamon. Nathan Nutter is as rugged as they come and now he has a new playmate on the boards in Payton Stephens, who will become a fan favorite overnight with his aggressive and relentless play.
Drew Pyle looks like a different player. No longer the complementary sophomore, he’s returned as a confident junior who is light-years ahead in his physical maturation.
Avery Gabel and Spenser Wine were first off the bench last year and, like Pyle, look much more advanced. Wine probably won’t play before Christmas (though he’s ahead of schedule) because of shoulder surgery, but his return will make MHS that much better.
Coach Kurt Kinnamon is going to have a deep squad. All those other sophomores who were on varsity last year have to be better simply by going up against the starters last year. And a couple of freshmen are making spirited bids for the varsity.
All this sounds like a buildup to a Bullpup runaway. But it’s far from it.
I recently pulled out last year’s state tournament program. When you look at the other seven teams and see what they have back, most of them are probably believing they have what it takes to challenge for the championship.
• Sumner — The Sabres lost five seniors, but 6-3 Derek Sykes returns and he may have been their best player.
• Paola — The Panthers are loaded. Does anyone forget how much of a tough matchup 6-7 Mason McDow was? Justin Criddle, a very good guard, also returns.
• Winfield — Will Adler and Ben Adler are back. A very good starting point.
• Independence — The Bulldogs have two of 4A’s best players back in Tony Turner and Kyle Rinck, as well as quick guard Marquise Johnson. Not a lot of height though.
• Hayden — The team MHS conquered in the finals. Marcus Meier and Jacob Head would take on anybody in a 2-on-2 game. Starters Derrick McGreevy and Brogan Heinen also return.
• Basehor-Linwood — The Bobcats were hit hard by graduation.
• El Dorado — Ditto. Alec Hildreth and Wes Haines are the only players back with a lot of experience as six seniors departed.
Basehor-Linwood and El Dorado will have to step up because there’s no less than three new teams banging the drum as potential state champions.
• Eudora moves up after winning 4A Division II last year. There were four seniors, but none of them are named Mitchell Ballock. The 6-4 sophomore is so good he’s already received an offer from KU's Bill Self.
• Andale is now Division I after taking third in the state in Division II. The Indians, whose football team will probably win the state championship on Saturday, have all five starters back, including Hunter Knoblauch and Jeff Ast.
• Hays drops down from Class 5A. The Indians were 22-0 heading into the state tournament last year and wound up taking fourth. Their best player, 6-7 Brady Werth, played with McPherson’s Kyler Kinnamon on an AAU traveling team that enjoyed incredible success. The duo also will be reunited next year as they have signed with Fort Hays State.
What I’m saying is that McPherson’s road to a second straight state championship is fraught with potholes. That’s what makes everything so exciting and unpredictable.