By CONOR NICHOLL
Hill City dedicates fieldhouse to coach Keith Riley; looking at each boys’ basketball class
Last week, SIK looked at the favorites, storylines and key stats from the girls’ classes. This week, we focus on the boys – and start in Hill City:
I have covered Keith Riley during the last 15 years. Last winter, I had a three-part series on Riley and South Gray coach Mark Applegate. They are 1-2 all-time in Kansas history for wins among primarily boys’ basketball coaches. The duo both passed John Locke in January 2022. The series still ranks among the top-10 most-read stories that SIK has done since August 2021. That is 100 percent a reflection the impact Riley and Applegate have had in more than 90 years of coaching.
In a recent home game, Hill City, led by longtime administrator Alan Stein, surprised Riley. HC re-named its gym Keith Riley Fieldhouse. Hill City brought back members from Riley’s first team and players from the ’78 and ’98 state title teams.
Two players, Dan Dinkel and Gary Daily, returned. They were on the 1969 team, Riley’s first as a head coach. Riley won his first state title the following year.
Eight players returned from the 1978 team, along with assistant coach Jim Piper. Nine players returned from the ’98 squad, including Keith’s son, Geoff, a consensus first team all-state player. Geoff had his daughter, Alice, who is Keith’s grandson.
Hill City is 13-3 and a strong contender in 2A. HC was the Mid-Continent League tournament runner-up to Thomas More Prep-Marian. Entering Monday, Riley is 760-445. Trent Long is a 2A player of the year contender.
Applegate has led South Gray to two straight Class 1A, Division I state runner-ups, both to Olpe. The Rebels graduated 70 percent of its scoring from last year. This season, SG is a darkhorse in 1A-I and currently stands at 14-3, including a Southern Plains Iroquois midseason tournament title. This marks his 41st season leading South Gray. He, too, has 760 career victories.
Greeley County’s Jaxson Brandl clears 2,000 career points
Tribune-Greeley County’s Jaxson Brandl is the reigning 1A-II classification player of the year for the defending champions. He joined the exclusive 2,000-point club. Notable Kansas players in the 2,000-point club are (contact SIK if a 2,000-point player is not on this list):
Semi Olejeye 2763
Josh Reid 2554
Conner Frankamp 2275
Perry Ellis 2231
Jayden Garrison 2082
Jaxson Brandl 2,005
Brit Dutton, Ellinwood, 1938 (current)
Favorites: Blue Valley North (15-2), Olathe West (13-3), Olathe North (13-3), Blue Valley Northwest (13-4), Garden City (16-1), Wichita Heights (13-4)
Overall Thoughts: Last year, Wichita Heights defeated Blue Valley Northwest in the championship, while Free State beat Olathe West in the third-place game. Olathe North was also a state qualifier. Those teams are all in the mix again, and Garden City has enjoyed the best start in school history. GC’s top four scorers, Jace Steinmetz, Caleb Wiese, Jake Underwood and Iziah Salinas, are all seniors.
Under-The-Radar Team: Washburn Rural (13-4); Lawrence Free State (10-5)
Notes: This is a very balanced class with excellent offensive efficiency. Many of the favorites have already played each other and/or come from the same conference. Additionally, multiple favorites have very different statistical profiles and strengths. Wichita Heights has won 12 straight and has three players in double figures. Heights plays at a much slower pace, though is highly efficient. Joe Auer normally has great rebounding teams, and that’s again the case. The Falcons have 1.12 points per possession, rebounds 36 percent of available misses and has 54 possessions a contest.
Derby (12-4) has senior Kaeson Fisher-Brown, junior Dallas Metzger and sophomore Jack Ulwelling. They all have made at least 27 treys and each is shooting at least 38 percent from long range. Overall, Derby is 135 of 375 (36 percent) from beyond the arc. Last season, Derby shot 33 percent on treys (165 of 495).
Intriguing Players: Garden City’s senior quartet. The Buffs were 10-11 last season and are one of the state’s biggest turnarounds. GC had .89 points per possession and allowed .89. This year, the Buffs are up to .99 points per possession and have allowed .77. Garden City lowered its turnover rate from 27 percent to 23 percent. Last year, Steinmetz was at 11.1 points per game, Wise at 7.7, and Salinas and Underwood combined for 5.5 points a contest. This year, Steinmetz is at 20.1 points a game, Wiese at 13.4, Underwood at 7.9 and Salinas with 7.6. GC has shot 47 percent and made 96 treys. Last year, GC shot 42 percent and made 109 treys.
Key Stat: 14.9 and 16.6. Lawrence Free State standout sophomore Zeek Brown has delivered an impressive year with 14.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists a contest. Jailen Thompson has 12.4 points per game. Free State, under KU great Sherron Collins, has shot 42 percent from the field and 27 percent from the 3-point line, which are average to slightly below. However, FS is excellent in turnover rate (19 percent), well above average in free throw shooting percentage (69 percent) and averages .98 points per possession. Collins, in his first year with FS, has infused the Firebirds with confidence. First-year coach Alex Hutchins, after a record-breaking run at Hays High, has led WR to a great season, including a win against Heights. Jack Bachelor has 16.6 points per contest.
Favorites: Highland Park (14-0), De Soto (15-2), St. James (13-5), Hutchinson (16-0), Kapaun-Mt. Carmel (15-2), Andover (14-2), Maize South (14-2)
Overall Thoughts: This is also a relatively balanced class. Hutchinson has enjoyed its well-publicized turnaround. Highland Park, with Bo Aldridge, has rolled through a relatively soft schedule. The Scots have a 3.1 schedule rank, well below Maize South (9.8), Andover Central (9.8) and St. James (12.5), among others. Highland Park lost in the first round in ’22 and ’20 and has not made a final four in seven years. KMC coach Steve Eck has 1,014 career wins across all levels, including high school and college.
Under-The-Radar Team: Andover Central (13-3)
Notes: Andover Central lost to Maize South by two on Friday and has the Battle of Andover matchup on Tuesday. AC defeated Andover by nine on Dec. 13 and has a 71-67 overtime victory against Bishop Miege.
Intriguing Player: Kobe Smith has delivered a huge season for AC with 19.7 points per game. Plus, Brian Perry has 11.8 points, 8.3 rebounds and 58 percent shooting. Perry had 6.7 points a game last year. Smith scored 48 points and broke the AC single-game scoring record.
Key Stat: 1.16 – Andover’s points per possession, which is an historically elite rate and on par with several state champions in the last couple of the years. The Trojans have turnovers on 19 percent of possessions and allowed just .75 points per possession. Senior Eli Shetlar has 17.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per contest. Andover is a superb shooting team with 50 percent from the field, 38 percent from long range. Shetlar has made 58 treys and shot 49 percent from beyond the arc.
Favorites: Atchison (15-1), Baldwin (14-3), Eudora (13-4), Bishop Miege (9-5), Circle (15-1), Hugoton (16-2), McPherson (13-3)
Overall Thoughts: Bishop Miege has won the last two state titles, though SIK has mentioned this all season: Hugoton is a significant state contender. Coach Trey O’Neil’s squad lost by single figures against Olathe West and at Hays High in overtime in December. Since then, the Eagles have won 15 in a row. Hugoton has reached the state tournament each of the last two winters.
Under-The-Radar Team: Wellington (11-5), Topeka Hayden (7-8)
Notes: Topeka Hayden plays in the highly challenging Centennial League and reached state last year. Next to Bishop Miege, which plays multiple out-of-state teams, Hayden has faced 4A’s most difficult slate, per MaxPreps. Wellington has significantly improved after a 6-15 mark last winter.
Intriguing Player: McPherson’s quartet: The Bullpups have plenty of depth with four players that scored in double figures in a 68-57 win against Circle on Jan. 6: Owen Pyle, Kyden Thompson, Kreighton Kanitz and Gabe Pyle. In a 56-50 home win against Hays High on Feb. 9, all four players scored between nine and 12 points. McPherson also owns a seven-point win against Andover.
Key Stat: 4. Circle boys have already enjoyed a plus-4 showing off an 11-10 season last winter. The T-Birds have won six points by nine points or fewer, including two one-point wins. In its lone loss to McPherson, Trevor Cowman was 11 of 23 shooting for 31 points.
Favorites: Wichita Collegiate (13-2), Osage City (14-4), Galena (17-0), Colby (15-3), Haven (17-0), Hesston (16-1), Sabetha (17-0), Marysville (16-2), Southeast of Saline (16-1)
Overall Thoughts: Multiple undefeated teams dot this classification. Class 3A also features many elite athletes, including OC’s Landon Boss, Hesston’s Jake Proctor, and Colby’s Hunter Vaughn. Boss has led Kansas in scoring. Collegiate has multiple high-flying freshmen and is longtime coach Mitch Feigel’s youngest team. Plus, Ward and Columbus have experienced corps. Matthew Garber leads Sabetha with 18.5 points and 3.5 assists per game. Plus, Perry-Lecompton’s Kam Kaniper has enjoyed a huge season.
Under-The-Radar Team: Bishop Ward (15-2), Columbus (14-3), Perry-Lecompton (14-3)
Notes: Columbus and Galena are in the same sub-state. Columbus had its best start in at least a decade. One more win would give Columbus its most victories in 12-plus years. For P-L, coach Matt Simmons has already led a four-win improvement from last year. The Kaws have won eight straight.
Intriguing Player: Southeast of Saline has delivered a highly efficient season. Both Eli Sawyers and Nakari Morrical-Palmer are shooting 56 percent from the field. Sawyers has 16.3 points per game, while Morrical-Palmer is at 13.7. Plus, Morrical-Palmer paces SES with 8.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per contest. SES was 22-4 and finished third in 3A last winter.
Key Stat: 6. Marysville has enjoyed a plus-six win improvement after a 10-12 mark last season. Marysville hosts its own sub-state that includes Sabetha (17-0) and Atchison County (10-6). Marysville is undefeated in NCKL play.
Favorites: Thomas More Prep-Marian (15-2), Hill City (13-3), Hoxie (13-4), Wichita Independent (14-2), Lyndon (16-1), Ellinwood (17-0), Moundridge (14-3), Meade (14-3)
Overall Thoughts: So much of this classification significantly focuses on the Ellis and Little River sub-states. The Ellis sub-state has TMP, Hill City and Hoxie. TMP is 4-0 against its MCL opponents, including one win against each team on a last second shot by Kade Harris. The Monarchs have won 14 in a row and have a key non-league road game versus 5A Great Bend on Tuesday. Since an overtime victory against Abilene on Jan. 27, TMP has won six straight by at least nine points. Trent Long has 19.7 points per game for Hill City.
The Little River sub-state has four teams ranked in the top-eight: Ellinwood, Moundridge, Inman and Sterling. It’s highly possible that undefeated Ellinwood plays Moundridge in the sub-state title game. Ellinwood, with Brit Dutton, is looking for its first state appearance since the mid-80s. Legendary Moundridge coach Vance Unrau has announced his retirement after this season. Dutton has 1,938 points and could eclipse the rare 2,000-point club in the next couple games. Ellinwood has enjoyed historically great offensive production with 1.19 points per possession.
Under-The-Radar Team: Wabaunsee (11-5), Wichita County (13-4)
Notes: Wabaunsee went 13-13 and made its surprising run to the 2A state title game two years ago. Wichita County, which won Eight-Man, Division I football, has enjoyed a seven-win improvement off last winter. Colton Harbin has 13.5 points per game, while Chris Michel and Harbin have each delivered 6.4 rebounds a contest. Erhik Hermosillo has 4.5 assists. WC has not made state since 2002.
Intriguing Player: Griffin Schumacher, TMP. The Monarchs have its two well-known standouts in Harris (Fort Hays football signing) and post Dylan Werth. Coach Bill Meagher, who has led TMP to three final fours,. said this has been one of his best defensive teams. Schumacher is undersized, though plays with great effort and held multiple top scorers at or below their scoring average. TMP has a great shot to win its first title since 2007 if it can clear its own sub-state.
Key Stat: 40. Lyndon halted the state’s longest winning streak in a 52-48 win against Olpe on Feb. 3. The Tigers have won eight straight and only has a two-point loss to Osage City. Olpe won 25 straight to finish last season and its first 15 in a row this winter.
Favorites: Macksville (15-2), Elyria Christian (15-2), Olpe (15-2), Classical School (15-2), Norwich (14-3); Washington County trio: Clifton-Clyde (16-2), Osborne (15-2), Blue Valley (15-2)
Overall Thoughts: Similar to 2A, much of the class hinges on the Washington County sub-state that has Clifton-Clyde, Osborne and Blue Valley Randolph. Olpe was first the last two seasons. Macksville has excellent depth, quickness and turnover creation behind its veteran five of Ryan Kuckelman, Rogelio Ibarra, Diego Esparza, Alexis Barron and Lance Lickiss. Macksville likely has the most depth in class. Norwich features high-flying Jace Gosch.
Under-The-Radar Team: Montezuma-South Gray (14-3), La Crosse (12-5)
Notes: South Gray is ranked ninth in 1A-I despite only losing to Meade and 3A Holcomb. La Crosse has quietly enjoyed a nice breakout season and has a strong chance to reach state for the first time since 1991. The Leopards have a key home game against Pawnee Heights on Tuesday. Caden Morgan (11.9 points, 3.5 assists) and Conner Barriger (56 percent shooting, 7.3 rebounds per contest) are standout players. La Crosse was 8-14 last winter. The Leopards have won more than 13 games just once since ’08-09.
Intriguing Player: Classical had longtime success at the Kansas Christian ranks and has continued in KSHSAA. Carter Sinclair has delivered 12.9 points per game and shot 63 percent from the field. Brett Buckingham had 11.9 points and 5.6 rebounds a game. Jordy Dolloff has 11.8 points and 5.9 assists.
Key Stat: 12. Elyria Christian has won 12 straight contests, including a quality 63-52 win against Little River last Friday.
Favorites: Axtell (14-4), Hanover (14-5), Greeley County (17-1), Pawnee Heights (13-4), Northern Valley (14-3)
Overall Thoughts: Rivals Axtell and Hanover are in the same sub-state. It’s likely that these five teams are a step above everyone else. Axtell, a SIK Potential Breakout Team in December, has already eclipsed last year’s win total. That included a 52-51 win against Hanover on Jan. 10. Greeley County’s Jaxson Brandl is the reigning classification player of the year. He recently exceeded 2,000 career points, a highly select group in Kansas history. Greeley County beat Northern Valley in a close state semifinal matchup last winter. On Jan. 6, NV handed GC its lone loss in a 56-49 defeat. Pawnee Heights’ Alec Carlson has averaged 25.9 points a game this season. He has 1,689 in his career.
Under-The-Radar Team: Stafford (12-5)
Notes: Stafford has quietly had a nice improvement behind Dakota Rodriguez, Josh Hildebrand and Colson Minks. Rodriguez has 12.2 points and shoots 58 percent from the field. Hildebrand has 9.2 points and 10.1 rebounds. Minks has delivered 3.1 assists per game.
Intriguing Player: Davin Hamby and Dakota Ryan, Pawnee Heights. Yes, Carlson (26 points and 10 rebounds per game) gets the attention, but PH is a definite state contender with big performances from Hamby and Ryan. This season, Hamby has 13.6 points per game, and Ryan has delivered 9.3. PH was a 12-11 team last season when Ryan and Hamby combined for 10.1 points per game.
Key Stat: 3. It’s been an impressive coaching job from Kevin Sides in Northern Valley after standout Bailey Sides graduated. Three players average double figures: Foster Brands at 15 per game, Kenton Thalheim with 14.9 and Drew Schemper at 10.9.