A luxury of winning basketball games comfortably — only Andale and Wichita Heights have played McPherson High's boys under double figures and their average margin of victory is 27 points — is that the Bullpups' Kurt Kinnamon can coach with one eye toward next season.
Perhaps not since his very first season has Kinnamon had such depth at his disposal. During the 1995-96 state championship season, he had a tremendously deep team, though much of his bench consisted of seniors, among them Dan Pyle, Tyler Brown, Matt Turner and CJ Sears. There also were underclassmen Matt Robins, Chad Kline and Dustan Kanitz, all of whom went on to be standouts.
But his backups this year are all underclassmen. He has only three seniors on the team, though all are blue-chippers — Kyler Kinnamon, Nathan Nutter and Payton Stephens.
To emphasize the Bullpups’ depth, starting forward Spenser Wine missed all of December recovering from shoulder surgery. Avery Gabel stepped in admirably and MHS didn’t miss a beat. In reality, Kinnamon thinks of Wine and Gabel both as starters and to the Bullpups' opponents, it probably does feel like at times they're going up against six players given their swarming defense.
Gabel has had some injuries and illness that have forced him to miss a couple of games. Never mind, that has allowed juniors Jacob Loecker and Marcus McDaniel to see their minutes go up and both are delivering.
Now Stephens may be out on Friday for the Hutchinson game with a sore knee, so the depth will be tested again.
Kinnamon carried an unusually large number of sophomores last year and, of course, Gabel, Wine and Drew Pyle were integral in the Bullpups winning the 2014 state title. But he had other sophomores on the varsity and it was his hope one or two more would emerge this year.
And they have. Loecker has made light-years of improvement, so much so that he’s become a regular in Kinnamon’s rather expansive rotation. He gives max effort on the defensive end, sacrificing his body for loose balls because he knows his minutes are going to be tight. He picks his spots on offense, basically waiting for MHS to expertly run its offense and he can wind up with a layup.
McDaniel is a tough-as-nails guard whose improved play has allowed Kyler Kinnamon to get a little more rest than normal. On the rare occasions Kinnamon is needed deep in the fourth quarter, he’s got that extra burst because of the rest he’s received. McDaniel has greatly improved his outside shooting and opposing defenses have to respect him.
I’ll be honest, you give me a team of Gabel, Loecker, McDaniel, Ben Pyle and Mason Alexander — the latter two being freshmen — and I would take my chances against the rest of AVCTL Division III.
The presence of Pyle and Alexander on the varsity — and this goes with an eye toward the future — has allowed the ninth-grade team to develop even more depth. Kanitz’s freshmen basically have wiped out everything in their path as they are undefeated and basically unchallenged. With Pyle and Alexander playing varsity and JV only, that has opened up some spots for other freshmen to earn big-time minutes and play in crucial situations. This freshman group is one of the deepest I can remember and it’s exciting to think how it will develop.
Like the song goes — "and the beat goes on."