The McPherson High boys should certainly take their time and smell the roses of their perfect 25-0 state championship season.
But once all the handshakes and hugs have subsided, all the congratulatory notes have been written and the float ride in the All Schools Day Parade is completed in May, it’ll be time to look ahead to next year.
No way can Bullpup coach Kurt Kinnamon replace the wondrous talents of seniors Kyler Kinnamon, Nathan Nutter and Payton Stephens.
Kyler Kinnamon has been a coach on the floor and it’s hard to imagine anyone but No. 22 running the offense.
Nutter’s grit and determination were unmatched, while I wish Stephens had been here from the start as there’s no telling how much better he would be having been in the McPherson system for the duration. He was a powerful presence and, honestly, I don’t think MHS would have won the title without his contributions since Class 4A Division I was so strong.
But shed no tears for Kinnamon. The beauty of having very few close games (only two in single digits) is that it allowed him to use his bench extensively to prepare for next year. Nine players who suited up Saturday will be back.
Think about this: the JV team lost only two games and the freshmen — even without Ben Pyle and Mason Alexander as they played up on the varsity and JV — was untested as it also had a perfect season. All in all, the Bullpup program had only two losses from freshmen to seniors.
Kinnamon used 10 players extensively in the state tournament, so by no means are the starting positions for next year locked up as competition should be spirited.
But Kinnamon doesn’t really see starters. Heck, there were games when every starter this year was pulled a minute or two into a game for whatever reason. And that included the seniors, who were given no special privileges. The five that take the floor at the start next year may not be the five playing at crunch time.
Whatever lineup that takes the floor for the first game next year, however, will include Drew Pyle. The 6-3 junior is the next All-State All-Class first-team candidate as he’ll be among the best players in Kansas. The improvement he made this year was remarkable, more so on the defensive end. He was pedestrian defensively as a sophomore, but developed into a stopper this year, often drawing the team’s best scorer. He is a terrific shooter and has made himself an all-around player with hard work.
Spenser Wine is the other returning starter. The chiseled junior overcame an early shoulder injury that cost him all of December and once he was in the lineup he was there to stay. Look for his scoring and rebounding numbers to climb with Stephens and Nutter gone as he’s going to assume the role of enforcer.
Avery Gabel started in Wine’s place in December and could have started for about any other team. He’ll be more of a factor next year as, like Wine, his numbers will climb in his final year.
As far as the other spots, it’s just how Kinnamon wants to go. In fact, his lineup could depend on matchups for a particular game.
Marcus McDaniel often came in for Kyler Kinnamon, and has a physical toughness and Kinnamon’s competitive attitude. Jacob Loecker was the most improved Bullpup this year, and time and again made the hustle plays that earned him the nickname of “Captain Floorburn.” His offense will improve with more work in the offseason as he has to finish better at the rim. Like McDaniel, he’ll be heading into his senior year.
Kyle Smith and Kolby Reed rounded out the seven-member junior class on the team. Smith is 6-4 and just needs to develop strength. Reed is a quick 5-8 guard who was behind McDaniel this year as the point backup.
That large group of juniors was joined by freshmen Ben Pyle and Mason Alexander, who certainly have the pedigree for success.
Pyle was listed at 6-3, but he seems taller than that now. He’s very long and causes problems on defense. He’s also a 3-point threat, but if he can start downing some milkshakes and gain about 20 pounds, the sky’s the limit.
Alexander is only 5-9, but I have a feeling when he hits his growth spurt, his game will grow with it. He’s an excellent ballhandler who put up some big scoring numbers in JV action.
The experience Pyle and Alexander gained this year was invaluable. They’re both going to be difficult to keep out of the Top 5 next year and even if they don’t start, they’ll log starters’ minutes.
This year’s sophomore class was a bit light, though Caleb Spaich suited up on varsity during the season and has good strength. There were four other sophomores on the team this year — Brock Malm, Jacob Lackey, Paxton Leaf and Clayton Gerbrandt — and maybe one or two of those players will make a Loecker-like improvement and be a factor.
What is tantalizing is the freshman class. Even with Pyle and Alexander having been elevated, it was an incredible season. Some other players were thrust into leading roles after being complementary players during their younger days and they took advantage.
There were 12 players on the ninth-grade team and all can play, as this is one of the most athletic and deepest groups to come through MHS in a long time. The player who most intrigues me is 6-4 Sam Brossard, the red-headed lefty who may not be done growing. If he gets in the weight room and can put on about 15 to 20 pounds by next year, he’s got a chance to be special.
For all of these freshmen, working on their games over the summer is a key. The players who put in the most work improve the most, it’s that simple.
And, oh by the way, the Bullpups move up an eighth-grade bunch that was undefeated, though I can’t see any of them being on the varsity since there’s so much returning talent.
Looking at the teams that were at Salina, Basehor-Linwood must replace its inside duo of 6-7 Patrick Muldoon and 6-6 Carson Fliger, but stud guard Jahron McPherson is back and he’s going to be among the best players in the state with Drew Pyle.
Miege is Miege. It loses a whopping eight seniors, though starters Semaj Ray and Joseph Gleason are back. And we all know Miege has no problems adding a multitude of players from season to season as it has a huge advantage in that it can acquire players from all over. The big question is whether 6-10 Bol Bol, son of former NBA player Manute Bol, will be on the team.
Ottawa, the fourth-place team, will be gutted by graduation (it loses nine of 12 players), ditto for Andale (five of the top six are gone, big man Jeff Ast returns). Fort Scott loses eight seniors, but watch out for state teams Wellington and Chanute. Wellington had four seniors, but also had five freshmen and two sophomores among its Top 12. Chanute had only three seniors, but top scorer Derek Sharp graduates.
As for teams that didn’t make it, look for Hayden to be back. You don’t keep the Wildcats down for long. I’m sure there will be a sleeper or two out there, but don’t be surprised if the tourney field next year has many of the same teams.