By CONOR NICHOLL
Mulvane senior Trey Abasolo’s perpetual love for basketball is traced through several basketball courts. Abasolo has developed a strong knowledge and savvy from hardwoods at a neighbor’s driveway, his own house and the high school.
The time has contributed to an historic turnaround. Led by Trey’s father, coach Mike Abasolo, Mulvane is 11-0, off to its best start since 1958. Unranked in preseason, the Wildcats are up to No. 2 in Class 4A. The 6-foot-1 Abasolo, a Southwestern College commit and Mulvane’s second all-time scorer, has averaged 22.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 3.5 steals per game.
“What he has been doing this year has been amazing,” Mulvane senior Aaron Ballinger said.
Mulvane has its best depth in years with Ian Comer, transfer Landon Coe, Mason Ellis and Trey’s brother, freshman Kaiden. The turnaround has crystallized coach Abasolo’s longtime dream of winning a state championship.
1984 marks Mulvane’s only boys’ state title. Since ’87, the Wildcats has one state appearance, according to state historian Carol Swenson. On Tuesday, the Wildcats travel to Wichita Collegiate, ranked second in 3A. Mulvane has lost 14 straight to Collegiate.
“Mulvane hasn’t had a lot of success in years past, and a lot of people have kind of counted us out, and the guys know that,” Trey said. “And we know that Mulvane is not thought of as one of the top teams in the state, and we take that to heart, and we think that shouldn’t be the case. We play with a chip on our shoulder in that sense, and I think that’s why we have won a lot of games and we will win a lot of games.”
Mike Abasolo graduated from Mulvane in 1996. He played two years at Cowley County Community College. Then, Mark Potter re-started the Newman University men’s basketball program after 11 dormant seasons. Newman had no uniforms and basketballs. Potter contacted the area junior colleges and immediately made a connection with Abasolo, a talented shooter with a positive demeanor.
“Kind of take a leap of faith,” Mike said. “But for me and that process, it was really more important about who he was as a man, and who he was as a person, and I just bought into the dream. I just bought into what it could be, but more importantly as a player, it was somebody who believed in me, and that kind of goes a long way.”
Mike became Potter’s first-ever Newman recruit.
“He’s been like a son to me ever since,” Potter said.
On a daily basis, Potter looked to develop his players’ confidence and believe in the process. Each day, Potter tried to not look at wins and losses and instead focus on the details and improvement, foundations that Mike has taken into his coaching career.
“Are we getting better every drill?,” Potter said. “And that’s how I approached it with a pretty intense mindset back in those days, and I pushed and pushed and pushed, and those guys continued to just get better as we continued to build that program.”
Abasolo learned a different way of thinking at Newman. In high school, he said league, tournament and national championships “were never discussed.” Those conversations occurred at Newman.
“It was really, really inspiring,” Mike said. “It energized me.”
At Newman, Potter quickly transformed the culture. In his second season, Newman won 20 straight games, reached the NAIA national tournament and captured a tournament contest.
Abasolo was a senior on the squad that was eventually inducted into Newman’s Hall of Fame. After his career ended, Abasolo served as Potter’s assistant from 2000-05. Potter coached at Newman for 19 years; the Jets’ court is named for his family.
Abasolo was offered the head men’s basketball job at York (Neb.) College. He interviewed and thought seriously about the position. Abasolo had recently gotten married and started a family. He was at a coaching crossroads. Abasolo had once vowed never to coach high school, though changed his mindset. High school offered more consistency and family time.
“Did I want my kids to kind of be puddle-jumping across the country going from basketball job to basketball job, which was the life that I know that coaching is, especially if you are working up, or did I want something a little bit more consistent?,” he said.
The Abasolos chose to move back to Mulvane. Mike earned a teaching degree. He worked briefly as the Wichita South assistant and Haysville Campus head girls’ basketball coach. Mike has coached at Mulvane since ’08 and is in his sixth year as head coach. He currently serves as Mulvane’s journalism instructor.
The family has four children: Alexis, Trey, Kaiden and eight-year-old Jaxton. She set the single season setting percentage record for Mulvane volleyball in ’18 and is currently a freshman setter at Central Christian College in McPherson.
“It should be told that he made a decision for his family, and that to me, is also a very priceless thing,” Potter said. “I am very proud of him for doing that.”
When he was around six years old, Trey’s first basketball hoop came on the family driveway. It was a little goal that eventually broke. Then, Trey started on his neighbor’s driveway basketball goal, a regulation 10-foot hoop. Trey’s daily routine was to come home from school and then go straight to play basketball at the neighbors.
“The second their garage door started to move, I had to sprint to get back to my driveway,” Trey said. “Not because my neighbors were mean or anything. Just because I thought it was wrong to play on their goal, and it’s actually one of my friends that is my neighbors’. … Then me and him started playing together, and then it just kind of became a thing that I did.”
By third grade, Mike realized his son had a special basketball quality. Trey already watched the game with a detailed mindset and understood scoring margins and deficits. Plus, Trey built confidence early in his career when he stopped looking at his dad for reassurance after plays.
“I vividly kind of remember that OK, he might have a chance at this,” Mike said.
During the winter, Abasolo went straight to Mulvane and his dad’s practices following school. By fifth grade, Abasolo hopped into several high school drills. From ’13-15, Mulvane featured Troy Baker, still Mulvane’s single and career record holder for blocks.
Daily after practice, Baker and Trey played one-on-one. Baker was a lanky player, and Trey believed he could win.
“He would swat my stuff,” Trey said.
Baker beat Trey every day. Still, each time, Trey set a goal to try and score on Baker.
“If I can score on one of those dudes, then that would be kind of like a dream for a fifth grader to score in a varsity practice,” he said.
At home, Trey developed his off hand with his father. Mike always said Trey needed to do all drills with both hands. As well, Trey looked up YouTube highlights of Michael Jordan. Trey viewed the highlights and moves over and over, and then went out to the driveway and continually practiced the move. Once Trey felt like he learned a move, he went back inside and watched another one. This was a daily exercise.
“A lot of joy,” he said.
Trey’s favorite player “by far” is Kobe Bryant, the Lakers’ Hall of Famer who passed away unexpectedly in a helicopter crash last year. Trey loved Bryant’s highlights and his well-known Mamba mentality for intense focus and relentlessness approach in preparation and competition.
“I think he is the greatest player to ever live, and I think I will die saying that statement,” Trey said.
Trey’s uncle bought him a Kobe jersey when he was young. The jersey still hangs in Trey’s room. Once, the family was in Dallas for one of Alexis’ volleyball tournaments. Trey discovered a magazine with all of Bryant’s accomplishments. He found a picture frame and hung up the magazine in his room.
“Many kids kind of lose that passion as they continue to get older, and all I have seen with Trey is that he has continued to develop his passion and continued to love the game and it’s certainly showing on the basketball court now,” Potter said.
Around three to four years ago, the Abasolos put down a giant concrete slab in the backyard. The family put up a basketball goal and painted down basketball lines. The slab is roughly four feet from the tree line. The family eventually got a net to hang up along the tree line.
“Now it’s like a real court,” Trey said.
The concrete slab consistently has basketball. Trey and Kaiden have often played with Kaiden’s good friend, Shannon Fuller. Trenton Billingslea, a neighbor, comes over. Ballinger, who has been friends with Trey since they initially played sports on the recess playground in first grade, frequently plays.
They play two on two, one on one and games to 21. They lower the basket for dunk contests.
“I think that’s what’s helped Kaiden honestly is playing against his older brother and getting beat down as a kid,” Trey said.
Mulvane has consistently had excellent individual players. Since 2016, Mulvane has had 13 Wildcats sign to play college football. Notably, Jayden Price, an ’18 graduate, went to FCS power North Dakota State.
In ’19, Drew Ellis signed with Sterling College as a wide receiver. In the last decade, Gus Strunk and Ty Redington each had strong baseball careers at Fort Hays. Thirteen baseball players have signed for college in the last decade. Coach Abasolo labeled lack of depth Mulvane’s longtime “Achilles’ heel.”
In ’17-18, Ellis averaged 21.6 points per game as a senior and Abasolo tallied 11.4 points a contest as a freshman. They combined for 62 percent of the team’s scoring. Mulvane won four games. Ellis set the school record with 1,382 points. Entering Tuesday, Abasolo stands second at 1,292, according to Mulvane Sports archives.
Earlier in his career, Ballinger remembered coach Abasolo first setting the primary goal of a state championship.
“It kind of surprised me, because I was like, ‘We are just small-town Mulvane. No one really thinks of us to go to a state championship, right?” Ballinger said.
Mulvane improved to 6-16 and 10-12 the last two winters. Ballinger started to believe the goal “more and more” the last two seasons and become one of Kansas’ best teams this winter.
“It was really cool, like seeing us come from where we were my freshman year,” Ballinger said. “Even though we had Drew and Trey, Trey was pretty young, and we didn’t maybe have the best team, but it was really fun watching us grow.”
Mulvane has built its depth through summer basketball. From sixth grade until last summer, Mike Abasolo and Belle Plaine’s Brent Hilton have run Attack, an AAU program. Like Potter with Newman, Abasolo and Hilton focused on skill development rather than winning at a young age. Abasolo continually said summer basketball doesn’t yield trophies and banners.
“We took a lot of lumps in the beginning and developed,” Mike said.
The teams travelled all over. In addition to Trey, Kaiden and Comer, the group included Belle Plaine standout guard Eli Wiseman, Arkansas City’s Brock Merz, Derby’s Isaac Ray and Kapaun Mt. Carmel’s Cale Curtis. Belle Plaine is currently ranked ninth in 2A, and Wiseman led the Central Plains League in voting for last winter’s league awards.
In the summer, Attack beat an AAU Adidas Derrick Rose team, named after the NBA All-Star, to advance to the final four of a major competition. Afterward, the Rose coaches asked Abasolo if Attack had a Twitter account and shoe sponsorship deal like most AAU teams. The Attack do not have a shoe deal – but later created a Twitter account.
“Skill development and the number of games that those kids have played in the summer, there’s no question that has shown itself during the high school season for them, for both the Belle Plaine squad and for our squad for sure,” Mike said.
The summer especially helped the 6-foot-2 Comer, a junior. Two years ago, he guarded 6-6 to 6-8 players from urban populations and held his own. Last summer, the undersized Comer found ways to score versus the bigger players. This season, Comer averages 13.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.3 steals a contest. Comer shoots 58 percent from 2-point range up from 47 percent last winter.
Coe, a 6-foot-2 junior forward, has delivered 10.1 points and 4.5 rebounds a contest, including a team-high 24 versus Clearwater. Ellis, whom Ballinger called “more athletic” than Price, has earned football interest from North Dakota State and Kansas State.
He has 8.1 points a contest, while Kaiden has delivered six points per game. Canon Smith, Jordan Coe, Ballinger, and Tab Creekmore are quality reserves for a team with strong chemistry and unselfish play. Smith, Ballinger and Creekmore are seniors. Mulvane shoots 54 percent on 2-point shots after 49 percent last season.
On Dec. 10, Mulvane defeated Parsons, 70-67, behind 30 points from Abasolo. The win vaulted Mulvane up the rankings. At the time, Parsons was third in 4A, Mulvane tenth.
He tallied 40, three off the school record, versus Rose Hill in a 63-58 win five days later. On Jan. 15, Mulvane beat Andale, 60-53, the first win versus the Indians since ’09-10. Mulvane captured the Chaparral tournament last week.
Overall, Abasolo has continued to reach the foul line. He already holds Mulvane’s record for career free throw attempts (423) and stands 67 of 83 from the foul line this season. No other player in Kansas has more than 80 free throw attempts, according to MaxPreps.
In Abasolo’s eyes, those free throws are a byproduct of the savviness learned throughout the years – from different games and different courts. It’s the same experience that could yield the accomplishment of a dream come mid-March.
“Knowing what refs are going to call A) and B) knowing what defenders are going to do,” Trey said. “I have watched enough basketball, and I have played enough basketball to know tendencies of different types of players, and I think that’s helped me get to the foul line, getting a guy up in the air or swiping my arms through when I need to swipe them through to get a foul.”
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