It’s Tournament Week, the unofficial mid-point of the high school basketball season. The city’s seven boys basketball programs are primed for a championship opportunity this week, with four of them staying in Topeka and three others traveling elsewhere. For this week’s Hoops Rewind, we’ll take stock of all seven teams as they head into their respective tournaments.
HAYDEN: The Wildcats are getting hot. Four straight wins, and five in six, for Torrey Head’s bunch have them firmly in the Centennial League title picture. It starts with the sustained quality of senior Levi Braun, who has become more than just a dead-eye three-point shooter. Braun went for 30 points in a 63-54 win over Seaman last Friday night, hitting four threes, earning trips to the line, and scoring in different ways all over. His ability to drive and score over smaller guards has opened up the floor for his teammates to score, with Jack Hutchinson, John Roeder, and Cade Pavlik taking full advantage of that space to show off their shooting strokes. Couple that offensive improvement with a team-wide defensive commitment – the Wildcats have held four straight opponents in the 50s – and it’s clear that this is a team that is growing up fast.
HIGHLAND PARK: It was never going to be an easy task for Michael Williams, who inherited a young and inexperienced roster in his first year in charge of the Scots. Williams had a front-row seat as the Topeka West program underwent its rebuild, and that’s what he has to shepherd his players through this season. It would be easy to understand if the Scots were demoralized, having had their lone win of the season taken off the board due to a forfeit, but they sure aren’t playing with their heads hanging. Highland Park has given good effort each night, and players like CJ Powell, Juan’Tario Roberts, Jahi Peppers and Muh’Khajae Daniels are obviously skilled. But they’re still developing the physical strength and toughness needed to play consistently for 32 minutes and beat more experienced and more developed teams.
SEAMAN: The Vikings were starting to roll before having their five-game winning streak stopped in its tracks by Hayden Friday night. Still, Craig Cox’s squad has to feel good about the way they’ve played in the early stages. Kobe Bonner and Trey Duffey have fulfilled their promise as a pairing and then some, with both posting monster scoring nights and putting the team on their backs when needed. The emergence of Brock Hillebert as a third scoring option – he had 16 points against Hayden – will only open up more opportunities for Seaman’s dynamic duo. With tournament week ahead and games against Topeka High and Washburn Rural looming immediately afterwards, we’re going to learn a lot more about the Vikings over the next two weeks.
SHAWNEE HEIGHTS: With Friday’s 76-43 pasting of Turner in United Kansas Conference play, the T-Birds have already exceeded last season’s win total. But even at 6-2, there’s still a ways to go to continue to improve, as evidenced by the blowout loss they were dealt by Basehor-Linwood last Tuesday. Shawnee Heights doesn’t have a lot of size, but they’ve got players that fit together, from hard-nosed forwards that play bigger than their listed heights (Marquis Barksdale and Harvey Davis Jr.) to floor-spreading shooters (Isaiah Bonjour and Quentin Donohoe) to a steady veteran who can do anything his team needs (Tyce Brown). They’ve bought in to Ken Darting’s style of coaching and are an intriguing team to watch with some more tests coming up (Piper, Basehor again, and two games against Leavenworth).
TOPEKA HIGH: The scary thing about the Trojans’ 7-1 start is that it feels like they still haven’t played their best basketball. A blowout loss at Washburn Rural early didn’t derail the Trojans as they’ve won three games since, sandwiching a rout of Manhattan between tough, gritty wins over Emporia and Highland Park. King Sutton has become a matchup nightmare for other teams, DaVonshai Harden chips in scoring and rebounding, Ky Thomas hands out assists like candy, and Kee’Andre Smith does standout defensive work. When they start scoring in the 60s more consistently – and there’s too much offensive talent on the team for them not to hit that number – they’re going to be really dangerous.
TOPEKA WEST: The Chargers’ 2-5 record doesn’t quite do their efforts this season justice, as other than a 16-point defeat against Emporia early, they’ve been close in every single game. They lost in triple overtime at Ottawa, and have played Seaman, Hayden, and Washburn Rural to the hilt in league play before succumbing. The switch has to flip for this group from ‘good enough to compete’ to ‘good enough to win’, and they’re tantalizingly close. Trevion Alexander and Elijah Brooks are an exciting young duo in the backcourt that is getting better each night, and Korbin Kido and Hunter McDaniel are two seniors playing well. The Chargers are not an easy team to play against and they have the potential to have a much stronger second half.
WASHBURN RURAL: The best – so far – is saved for last. The 8-0 Junior Blues have a leg up on the rest of the Centennial League and their early season 60-39 throttling of Topeka High showed they meant business. They’ve shown the ability to win big and win close, and their offensive balance makes them so hard to prepare for. Steady senior point guard Savian Edwards is playing as well as any point guard around, sophomore stud Joe Berry flies around the floor on both ends, and when it gets down to winning time, Jordan White makes the plays that see Rural through. This well-coached, cohesive and experienced bunch will be thrilling to watch down the stretch.