Kurt Kinnamon is doing his best to tamp down his excitement.
The McPherson High boys basketball coach enters his 20th year at the helm with a team that has all the ingredients to win a 13th Bullpup state championship and his sixth individually.
Kinnamon, 380-70 in his decorated MHS career and with 405 wins overall, is hoping his team can carry over its spectacular preseason to the regular season when it hosts El Dorado Friday night in the 2014-15 opener — a night in which the Bullpups’ 2014 state championship banner will be raised.
The Bullpups, coming off a 23-1 season with the only loss to Wichita North in the first round of the McPherson Invitational, were on display Monday night during the annual public scrimmage, one that Kinnamon called “the best we’ve ever had.”
“We played really well offensively and shot the ball extremely well,” he said. “We need to become more alert defensively, but did a great job of pressuring the perimeter.”
El Dorado isn’t the same team that advanced to the Class 4A Division I Final Four last year, but is still capable. Had the Wildcats been able to knock off Topeka Hayden in the semifinals, it would have been an all-AVCTL Division III championship game.
“El Dorado returns a couple of starters, but is mostly a new team,” Kinnamon said. “It seems like every year coach (Gary) Melcher has several new wrinkles to add to what they have done. Offensively they run triangle or some variation of it. They are mostly a man-to-man team, but have played some matchup zone that looks like a man.”
Gone off last year’s team are top scorers Travis House and Jared Haury, as well as John Scott and Isaac Johnson. Alec Hildreth, a 6-4 forward, and 5-11 guard Wes Haines are expected to carry the load.
Kinnamon had to sweat out the MHS football season, as four of his top six players were injured and each missed some games. But all are back, with the exception of Spenser Wine, who is expected to miss most of, if not all, the pre-Christmas portion of the schedule as he’s recovering from shoulder surgery.
Kinnamon must replace the talent and intangibles of twins Ryan and Peter Horton, but with all of his other top players back, this is a Bullpup team that should take off from the get-go.
All-State All-Class first-team pick Kyler Kinnamon is back to run the show at the point, while Nathan Nutter and newcomer Payton Stephens are other senior starters. Juniors Drew Pyle and Avery Gabel will complete the first five.
Kinnamon has signed with Fort Hays State and is nearly recovered from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss the final two football games. Nutter missed some time after a concussion in the Rose Hill game, while Stephens missed a game with a bad quad. Both have been rip-roaring on the boards in the preseason.
Pyle may be the Bullpups’ most improved player as Kinnamon said he’s more explosive and stronger. He scored 21 points in last year’s state championship game and has carried that confidence over to this season. Gabel also has made nice strides, according to Kinnamon.
It will be interesting to see Kinnamon’s substitution pattern until Wine comes back. He has a spate of juniors who will be trying to work their way up the ladder, while freshman Ben Pyle has opened a lot of eyes and is expected to see considerable varsity time early on.