By CONOR NICHOLL- email - Cnicholl1@gmail.com
This week looks at teams approaching school history. Bishop Seabury boys, the 2A favorites, have never made a state finals in school annals. Olathe West in 6A Girls are on the cusp of a surprising Sunflower League crown, the best in program history. Otis-Bison girls gave Central Plains fits earlier this month and could see them again in the postseason. Great Bend boys have enjoyed one of the best years in recent history behind its big senior class.
Editor’s Note: Look for a recap of all the players that reached 1,000 career points this week, as well as several key league races, in this weekend’s SIK statewide look.
Class 2A: Bishop Seabury on roll behind health, and experience; look for best finish in Seahawk annals
Lawrence-Bishop Seabury traveled to Hanover on Nov. 30, 2018. The Wildcats had finished first, fourth, first and second in Class 1A, Division I the previous four seasons. Seabury defeated Hanover, 63-56, behind 24 points from Cobe Green. Hanover followed with 24 straight victories and went to the state tournament.
Green’s season, though, ended after the big performance. Seabury’s second-best player behind first team all-state guard Zach Bloch, Green went in for a health checkup, and learned something was amiss. Tests followed, and Seabury quickly understood Green wouldn’t return.
In early January, Green required open-heart surgery to correct a coronary artery. It marked the same surgery UCLA player Shareef O’Neal – Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal’s son – also needed in the ’18-19 season.
“If he didn’t have the surgery he couldn’t do any type of strenuous, physical activity for the rest of his life,” Seabury coach Jonathan Raney said. “So obviously sure it was a scary decision, but one that I don’t think he had much doubt about what he was going to do.”
Green watched as Seabury qualified for the Class 2A state tournament at Fort Hays. In the first round, the Seahawks lost, 63-61, to eventual titlist Ness City and finished 16-5. NC made two buzzer-beaters, one at the end of regulation and the second in overtime, for the victory. Green missed around three to four months, though was able to rejoin the team for summer workouts.
“He definitely has a different focus about him, and obviously a different motivation than most of the guys,” Raney said.
This winter, Green, a senior, has made a significant impact for Bishop Seabury. While Class 2A boys has featured multiple changes in the second through tenth positions in the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association weekly polls, Seabury has remained No. 1 all season. The Seahawks, which are independent of a conference, are 16-2 and lead the Lyndon sub-state. Notably, three squads have been ranked second, including Salina-Sacred Heart currently.
“There’s no question it has fueled us, absolutely,” Raney said of the state loss. “These kids remember that. They know. They remember that feeling in the locker room. They know what it was like to really believe that we had a chance to make a run. At the same time, it’s my job to get them to understand why it happened, the things that we could control to put ourselves in that situation that maybe we could have done better to not be in that situation.”
Seabury has four state appearances in school history, though has never made a state finale, according to Kansas historian Carol Swenson. The best team was a Class 2A third-place showing in 2017. Seabury lost, 52-51, in six overtimes to St. John in the semifinals.
A Rule 10 coach, Raney, is a Lawrence native, Oskaloosa graduate, and played at Fort Hays from 2001-03. He still ranks sixth all-time in career 3-point field goal percentage in Fort Hays history. Married with two children, Raney served as a Tiger assistant, Labette County head men’s basketball coach, and an assistant at Barstow (Mo.) High School before he took over Seabury. Raney credited FHSU coach Mark Johnson and Barstow coach Billy Thomas, a former KU great, for their tutelage.
“I love working with these kids,” Raney said. “I love being around them. They work their butt off.”
This season, Seabury returned three starters: juniors Bloch and Stavian Jones and 6-foot-5 senior Luke Hornberger. Last year, Bloch delivered 19.1 points a game, and Jones was at 11.7 points per contest. Raney labeled Hornberger probably one of the state’s top small school interior defenders.
This year, Bloch has taken fewer shots and averages 17.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists with 39 percent from beyond the arc. At times, Raney has wanted Bloch to shoot the ball more. Jones tallies 14.8 points with 38 percent shooting on treys. Raney believes Seabury can shoot better.
“The one thing that I would say that we’ve done - will be the key to our success – is just continuing to play unselfish basketball,” Raney said. “And it starts with Zach Bloch being an all-state guy, and being a really good player.”
Hornberger has 6.9 points and 5.9 rebounds a contest. Green has delivered 10.7 points a game with 43 percent from 3. Additionally, Green is the team’s best perimeter defender and can guard a 6-footer outside or a much taller player inside. Plus, Raney said Green plays hard with great energy and has really helped the Seahawks’ defensive identity.
“Huge part of our success,” Raney said.
As expected, 6-foot-6 sophomore Joao (Juju) Carlos Ramirez has taken a big step forward after he was a reserve as a freshman. Before high school, Ramirez had missed basically two years of basketball because of back-to-back foot injuries in junior high.
Ramirez, who has grown several inches in the last year, played for KC Run GMC on the Under Armour circuit last spring and summer and faced high-level Division I competition.
Wichita State has already come to see Ramirez, who came back from an injury suffered playing for MO-KAN basketball in the fall. In a workout around two months before school basketball began, Ramirez hurt his knee, which was originally believed to be a torn ACL. However, the diagnosis was a hyperextension, though he still missed six weeks before the high school season started.
Ramirez averages 15 points and 8.7 rebounds a game. Known for putting in extra work after practice, he can ball handle well, score around the basket and outside.
“Having him healthy and having him continue to develop physically has been very key in his basketball development,” Raney said. “We are looking forward to him just continuing to take off. His ceiling is so high.”
Seabury has independent status, rare among Kansas schools, and the Seahawks play a somewhat nomadic schedule. Multiple top 2A squads, such as Plainville, Ellis and Hoxie out west and Belle Plaine, Garden Plain and Sterling in central Kansas, generally play each other during the year, if not multiple times.
Seabury had just two games before Christmas, four fewer than most squads. The Seahawks face multiple Missouri teams, private schools and non-KSHSAA programs, such as rival Lawrence-Veritas Christian.
“It definitely makes scouting a little bit more difficult for postseason,” Raney said. “But that’s on me. That’s not on anybody else. I’ve got to worry about that.”
At the start of the week, Seabury’s strength of schedule was on par or better than several 2A ranked teams, such as Pratt Skyline, Belle Plaine, Lyndon and Hoxie. Seabury also owns a 54-47 win Feb. 7 against Grandview Christian (Mo.). Grandview is 17-11 and defeated Bishop Miege, ranked third in 4A, in December.
“To be honest, I think it’s a tougher schedule than what a lot of other high schools play,” Raney said. “And I think it does prepare us for the postseason.”
This winter, Seabury’s lone two losses came at the Baldwin tournament to Augusta (60-47) on Jan. 24, and against Louisburg, 70-63 in overtime Jan. 25. Augusta is ranked fifth in 4A. Raney called the Louisburg loss “a pretty big disappointment” when Seabury was “uncharacteristically selfish” and “kind of soft defensively.”
“We were at a pretty low point,” Raney said.
On Jan. 26, the Seahawks held a film session of about two and a half hours. The team returned to practice the following day and have since reeled off nine straight wins. That includes a 63-51 victory versus Maur Hill, a four-loss team, and a 45-44 win last Saturday against Mid-Buchanan, a Missouri school that is 10-5.
“I could tell the guys were definitely motivated by those two losses, and I could see that they weren’t happy with where they were at, and I kind of started seeing some accountability,” Raney said.
Green played strong defense and delivered a team-high 18 points, including the game-winning free throw with 3.6 seconds left. Seabury was up eight points, though allowed Mid-Buchanan a chance to win the game at the end. After the M-B victory, Raney discussed some of the same points he brought up after the Ness loss.
“Day-to-day process that you come in and you work on those things,” Raney said. “Whether it’s taking care of the basketball, the defensive rotation, containing the dribbler, not leaving a 3-point shooter wide-open in the corner.”
Class 6A: Surprising Olathe West girls a win away from Sunflower League title
Veteran coach Rick Rhoades led Blue Valley Southwest to a 5A state runner-up showing last March. Rhoades, who earned 5A Sports in Kansas Coach of the Year honors, took the Olathe West job last April. OW, currently in its third season of existence, posted a 7-13 record in the regular season, 2-10 in Sunflower League play last winter.
The Owls graduated just one senior and returned juniors Mackenzie Hart and Bailey Collar. Last year, Collar averaged 15.5 points per game, third-best in the conference, according to Sunflower Smack, a media entity that regularly covers the league. Hart paced the conference with 4.4 assists and 3.4 steals a contest.
Rhoades never talked about winning the Sunflower League this winter. Last year, SL qualified four teams for the Class 6A girls’ tournament.
“I thought that was far beyond my imagination that we could actually come out and win the Sunflower League – or have a chance to,” Rhoades said.
With three games left in the regular season, Olathe West is arguably the state’s biggest surprise among top-ranked teams. OW, with Collar and Hart leading the way on a deep team squad that likes to play full court pressure, is 14-3, 9-0 in the Sunflower League after Tuesday.
West has a two-game lead in the Sunflower with three left to play.
The players come from different middle schools, and Rhoades has been pleased with the team’s buy-in and chemistry.
“First half, most of the games have been pretty tight,” Rhoades said. “And I feel like we continue to pressure and continue pushing every single time whether it’s a made basket or a steal or a rebound, and we have a pretty deep bench. So I am playing about nine girls, and they all come in and play hard and work. I think we are wearing teams down, down the stretch. Like fourth quarter, we are still running the same, still doing the same speed and everybody else is kind of wearing down.”
Olathe West lost 59-57 in overtime against BVSW, Rhoades’ former team, on Jan. 30. Since then, the Owls have won seven straight, including 80-43 against Gardner-Edgerton on Tuesday when Hart scored 18.
“They play together, they are sharing the ball better,” Rhoades said. “Their unselfishness, those things are I think the big reason why we have kind of went on a run and playing pretty well right now.”
West is ranked fourth in Class 6A behind undefeated squads Topeka High, Liberal and Wichita Heights. West is the only top-five girls’ squad in any class that were not ranked before Christmas.
“This team has surprised me as well,” Rhoades said. “I knew they had talent, but I didn’t know they would come together like this and play as hard as they do.”
On Friday, West travels to Olathe South (12-6) in a game that will be televised in the Kansas City area. OS features Dani Winslow, a Missouri State basketball signee. Next Tuesday, the Owls play Shawnee Mission East (8-9). On Thursday, West has Senior Night versus Olathe North (11-5). South and North are two of four Sunflower teams that have two league losses.
“With the teams we have left, that’s easy said, but harder to do – very hard to do,” Rhoades said of a conference title.
West’s players have used the slogan #theroadtoredemption this year. West is currently a half-game behind league foe Shawnee Mission Northwest for the top seed in 6A East.
“They just felt like they have been talented and they have been good, they just haven’t put it together,” Rhoades said.
However, West defeated SMNW, 55-41, on Feb. 7. Three days later, West bested Olathe East, 33-32, on a Collar last-second shot. SMNW is currently fifth in 6A Girls, and OE stands tenth in 6A. Collar averages 15 points a contest. A team captain, Collar spoke up in the huddle before the final shot to beat OE, a play that earned significant social media attention.
“We called a timeout, and Bailey actually said that she could take her man,” Rhoades said. “And she’d been doing it all night, and she’s not usually one that just will go one-on-one and take you off the dribble. So we set a little pick, and she actually made a step-back move and nothing but net. She was cool and calm.”
Hart leads the conference by a significant margin with 4.5 steals a game, and is second with 4.3 assists. Only five KSHSAA players average more steals a contest, according to MaxPreps’ statewide lists.
“When she steals it, we are off, and we are gone,” Rhoades said. “And she’s always looking up the court. She has got her head up at all times. … She has got quick hands, and she is a really good help defender. She is constantly looking for opportunities to get a hand in to steal the ball, and she does it without fouling.”
Juniors Michelle Anderson always guards the best players on the opposing team, while 5-2 junior Allysa Moore’s assignment is the other squad’s point guard. Both Anderson and Moore have helped create turnovers.
“Those two girls are just as important as anybody else on this team,” Rhoades said.
Senior Anaiya Uhde comes off the bench. Sophomore center Alexis Newman is a transfer from Olathe North and has made big improvements inside. Newman is averaging 5.5 rebounds a game and is starting to help guard post players. OW has permitted 42 points per game after around 50 allowed a contest last year.
“We have always had trouble doing, with our size,” Rhoades said of interior defense. “Because we are not very big, but she does a good job with that and rebounds well.”
1A: Otis-Bison girls looking to continue success, play Central Plains closer
On Feb. 4, Otis-Bison girls earned statewide attention when it played Claflin-Central Plains to a 21-20 deficit at halftime. Central Plains, currently on the state’s longest all-time winning streak with more than 125 straight, has normally rolled over teams by halftime and had a running clock.
“First half we attacked them and that was the biggest thing,” Cougar coach Bobby Trapp said. “The second half, whenever we tried to come back, they were up all over us.”
Central Plains eventually pulled away to win, 58-35. However, it marked one of its closest tests of this season – and the past several years for the Oilers.
This winter, CP beat Phillipsburg by 20, Haven by 27 and Sterling by 28. Both Otis-Bison and Central Plains are in the Central Prairie League. As well, both teams are again in the 1A Central Plains regional. Central Plains is 19-0, and Otis-Bison stands at 18-1. CP is ranked first in 1A, O-B seventh.
“Second half, we just quit attacking the basket completely,” Trapp said. “We went into that shock mode, and especially a couple of the girls that haven’t had that kind of pressure before.”
In 1A, Hanover (17-1), Rural Vista (19-0), Thunder Ridge (17-0), Golden Plains (19-0), Olpe (19-0) and Cunningham (19-0) are the only teams that have zero or one loss. Only CP and O-B are in the same regional. Seedings for regionals were announced by KSHSAA on Wednesday morning.
“We could have easily stayed in and kept it a lower scoring game, and that’s what everybody tells you,” Trapp said. “Why didn’t you just stay inside, and you would have played them as close as anybody? And it’s like the girls aren’t satisfied with that. They want to try to come up with that win somehow.”
It’s likely that CP and O-B will match up again in regional. O-B, Thunder Ridge and Golden Plains were all in the WaKeeney sub-state last year and could be again. O-B features seniors Maddie Wiltse, Cora Anderson and Cristen Trapp. CP senior point guard Emily Ryan is chasing a rare 3,000-point career milestone as well as a bevy of other state marks.
“You can’t mimic that kind of pressure,” coach Trapp said.
Regionals open next Tuesday with the regional title scheduled for Feb. 29. Last year, O-B lost 74-35 to Central Plains in the regular season, and 62-32 in the regional final.
“As soon as they came in, it was like, ‘We told you we could play with them,’” coach Trapp said. “They knew that they could play with them. It’s just getting that whole game to play. … They are still not satisfied, because everyday in practice that’s always something they are talking about, is ‘Hey, we want to play them even better yet. We want to have a full game, instead of just a half.’”
Class 5A: Great Bend boys achieve big turnaround, look for at least share of WAC title this weekend; Kuhlman makes climb into starting lineup
After years of sub-.500 teams, Great Bend boys have been one of the top storylines in the second half of the season. GB has won nine straight and is 14-4. The Panthers’ top-eight players are all seniors, including point guard Alex Schremmer.
He tallied 31 points, five steals, five assists and three rebounds in an 80-68 road win against Thomas More Prep-Marian, ranked No. 10 in 3A, on Tuesday. Schremmer averages more than 19 points per game.
GB returned four starters: Schremmer, Peyton Duvall, Dalton Miller and Alex Olivas. The fifth starter is Ray Kuhlman, who has made big strides from last year. Kuhlman was a JV player in previous years.
Kuhlman has a high basketball IQ and a knack for finding space. He averages around eight points a game, third on the squad behind Schremmer and Duvall. With two more wins against Dodge City on Friday and Liberal on Saturday, GB can clinch at least a share of the WAC title. Great Bend has not won a conference crown since at least before 2010, according to research from Eagle broadcaster Dustin Armbruster.
GB, ranked eighth in 5A, already has its first non-losing season since ’10-11. Key senior reserve Nick Wondra suffered a hand injury versus TMP and is expected to miss significant time.
“You talk about a kid that has put in a ton of time,” coach Tim Brooks said of Kuhlman. “Last year, he had a tough year. He lost confidence in himself, and this year, we have tried to boost his confidence, and he has just played so tough. I mean, he’s always had a knack for going and getting offensive rebounds. He shoots it with confidence now where a year ago, you could just see in his eyes, and he was wide open, but he doubted himself.”
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