By CONOR NICHOLL
Lawrence Free State was generally considered the best boys’ basketball team in Kansas most of last winter. Free State entered the state tournament with a 21-1 record and the top seed in the 6A bracket. FS featured Jordan Brown, Mozae Downing, both first team all-state selections. Those two players, Jet Dineen, Cooper Jackson all graduated after all-league honors at some level. Free State, which has never won a boys’ basketball title, eventually took third.
Downing is currently starting at Barton County Community College, Jackson is a key player for BCCC, Brown inked with Emporia State basketball and Jet Dineen is on the Kansas State football roster. Jackson is Free State’s all-time leader in steals.
Sherron Collins took over Free State boys after the season, a program that has made six straight state tournaments. Collins is well-known as one of the great players in Kansas basketball history. His No. 4 is retired at Allen Fieldhouse. Collins twice earned All-American honors and was on the 2008 championship team for coach Bill Self. He had coached AAU/summer basketball, though had never led a high school team.
Collins had not coached any of the current Free State players in the summer. FS returned two starters, both seniors, with Dre Daniels and 6-foot-5 Jailen Thompson. Free State returned no player that earned all-league honors – though has upped its offense nearly six points a game from last winter.
Free State ranks second in 6A in scoring offense per game, only behind Olathe West.
The Firebirds feature sophomore Zeek Brown, a great player, along with senior Will Mlynek and junior Wes Edison, who served as Free State’s quarterback in the fall. Tay Daniels, Devon Hamilton, Dash Johnson and Korbin Dowdell see plenty of time.
“Jailen is a guy that carries us most of the time,” Collins said.
Thompson and Brown were both named all-tournament at the December Hays City Shoot-Out. Brown shared Most Outstanding Player honors with Olathe West’s Harrison Kisling. Joshua Chen was All-Academic. Collins coached Kisling last summer in AAU ball.
“They’ve got to basically earn their stripes, earn their keep, and this group has been unbelievably trying hard,” Collins said. “We don’t have to coach effort, and that’s the big thing, they come and give unbelievable effort everyday, and that’s all we can ask, and everything else is on us, and as long as they keep giving us effort, we are going to be fine.”
Collins is one of multiple coaches that have taken over teams who went to state last winter and/or enjoyed historical milestones. The group includes the Bishop Miege girls, Hays High boys, Madison girls, Hesston boys and Andale girls.
Collins has reminded his team about last winter. Free State opened 4-2 because a fast-paced attack that is among the state’s highest scoring offenses. FS is currently ranked ninth in 6A by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association. Free State is seeded fourth in 6A West by KSHSAA records.
On Tuesday, Free State lost, 64-60, to Olathe North in overtime. ON is 6-1 with its only loss to Olathe West. North is ranked seventh in 6A.
“Last season weighed on these guys a lot,” Collins said. “Especially the seniors, because I challenged them to remember that feeling in the locker room afterwards, and it starts now. Can’t do it in the middle of the season. It starts now, and they have got to build that confidence, and to get that feeling, that taste out of their mouth. For me, I challenged them a lot, and I always remind them about that, so I just try to keep them humble, keep them upbeat, because we think we are better than we actually are, and we don’t want to start believing that. We just want to keep working. It’s all about the work, and as long as we keep working, we are going to be fine.”
Free State lost to Olathe West, 78-65, in the Hays City Shoot-Out finals in December. OW is currently No. 1 in 6A.
The Firebirds opened with a 76-34 win against Thomas More Prep-Marian, and then defeated Hays High, 59-54, in the semifinals. TMP is currently ranked second in 2A.
On Dec. 16, the Firebirds beat Shawnee Mission West, 69-59, and beat Gardner-Edgerton, 64-37, on Dec. 6. FS lost, 68-66, in overtime to G-E on Jan. 25 last year.
On Friday, Free State faces Olathe East. Free State has averaged 63.5 points per game.
Last year, Free State was 23-2 and averaged 59.7 points a contest.
“They run the high-low motion, they run fist, ball screen stuff that KU does,” Hays High coach Sean Dreiling said.
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Edison was all-league honorable mention after 1,800-plus all-purpose yards and 40 tackles this fall. Edison has helped Free State’s pace. Collins noted Edison throws the basketball “like a football at times” and that FS has “like a go route.” Edison, who missed the season opener, was highly instrumental in the win against Hays High. HHS is 4-4, though has held five teams to 50 points or fewer.
Entering Olathe North, Free State has delivered 64.2 possessions a game, a very high rate, and an above-average 1.03 points per possession. Brown has 11 assists, Johnson and Edison both have 10.
“We practice a lot,” Collins said. “We practice a lot. A lot of hours, and that’s how I played the game, that’s how coach Self taught me, we played fast, and tried to play fast under control. I challenged these guys everyday in practice to play fast, fast, fast and push it, but still try to be under control.
“Sometimes it gets real ugly and crazy, but (against Hays High) it worked for us, and that’s how we want to play all year,” he added. “We want to push the pace. We want to speed teams up. We want to make them play at our pace. I think if we would have had this game in the 30-40s, they win.”
Brown led Free State in scoring against Gardner-Edgerton. After five contests, Brown delivered 18.3 points and six rebounds a contest, per the KC High School Hoops leaderboard. Thompson was at 11.5 points per game and a team-high 7.6 rebounds a contest. Johnson had made 11 treys.
Brown has shot 88 percent from the line, while Daniels is at 87 percent. Thompson and Edison have each blocked a shot a contest.
“Zeek is a gym rat,” Collins said. “We have to make Zeek get out of the gym, like literally kick him out of the gym. He probably wants to go to the gym right now. The kid is a gym rat. He has a chance to be very special, and he knows that, and he works like it. He’s going to be big for us this year, and throughout the rest of his career.”
Dreiling takes over Hays High boys
Sean Dreiling completely rebuilt WaKeeney-Trego boys’ basketball. Dreiling, a former Fort Hays player, made the 60-plus mile round trip drive from Hays to WaKeeney for multiple years. He went 67-62 with the Golden Eagles and led Trego to its first state berth since 2009 last winter.
Hays High graduated all five starters and several reserves off a 20-2 season. HHS went 59-9 the last three years, the most victories in a three-year stretch in program history. Alex Hutchins took the Washburn Rural head boys’ position. Dreiling’s wife has been a longtime teacher in the Hays school district, and the Dreilings live in Hays.
“It’s not about me,” Dreiling told SIK after his first game. “But I will say that I got into high school coaching with my eyes on this job, and I loved my time in Trego. They treated me so great over there, and I am so thankful for all of them, but pregame, I was just thinking, ‘It’s happening.’ You know what I mean? – I am where I wanted to be. And again, it’s not about me. It’s great to just watch these guys go compete and have fun and play with joy.”
Hays High football enjoyed the best season in school history with a 10-2 mark and state semifinal showing in the fall. HHS’ Kyreese Groen, Keamonie Archie and Remy Stull started at quarterback, wide receiver and defensive back, respectively. All three were all-league players for Indian football. They started basketball a couple of weeks late. Dreiling has shuffled the starting lineup.
Junior point guard Jack Weimer, who came from a summer injury, senior Devin Schmidtberger and Stull were the lone players with any varsity experience. Weimer was named all-tournament at the Shootout.
“Jack is very dynamic,” Dreiling said. “He can make a lot of plays. … Devin is just super solid, really handles the ball well.”
Junior Edwin Muller, senior Chason Vandewege, junior Kyzer Fox and freshman center Dawson Ruder have also been notable. Hays High is 4-4.
Two-time 3A state champion Hesston with new staff
Greg Raleigh, the MAYB founder, led Hesston boys’ basketball to back-to-back 3A state championships the past two winters. Hesston returned just one starter, senior Jake Proctor, and another, senior Micah Dahlsten, who had seen playing time. Senior Lane Magill was a returning letterwinner.
Garrett Roth, a 2016 Hesston graduate, took over as head coach. Roth played for Raleigh and was previously the Swather ‘C’ team coach. Roth won state titles in basketball and tennis at Hesston.
“Basically everything that Coach Roth learned was from Coach Raleigh,” Proctor told SIK ‘All-Access.’
Roth had kept the same principles. Hesston’s foundation comes on defense. Hesston still runs shell drill and other drills that Raleigh used. Hesston is 6-1 and ranked third in 3A. Proctor tallied 36 points against Pratt.
“Playing defense – that’s our main thing that we are always focused on,” Proctor said.
Notable First-Year Coaches
Kevin Mulvany took over for Bishop Miege’s girls’ basketball. Varsity assistants are Tim Mulvany, Sydney Ritter, and Chris Thayer. Miege is in its 47th season. Miege won 4A the last two winters. The Stags have won 23 state titles and has an overall record of 933-170. Terry English won more than 900 games and served as the assistant for his son, Jeff, last winter. Terry untimely passed away this fall. Miege is 5-1 with an out-of-state loss. Last Friday, Miege defeated St. James, 62-60, in overtime. On Friday, Miege faces St. Thomas Aquinas in a major contest.
Then, Miege heads to Moore (Okla.) for a tournament that generally has nationally ranked teams. Miege is currently ranked first in 4A, and Aquinas is third in 5A. Kirston Verhulst is among the state’s best sophomores. Miege has three seniors, notably 6-foot-1 center Ali Olson. Verhulst was honorable mention all-state volleyball, and Olson was first team all-state volleyball.
Jordan Crawford, a McPherson graduate, is 7-1 in his first year with the Circle boys program. Circle finished 11-10 last winter. Circle is ranked fourth in 4A.
Andale had the unfortunate passing for Ted Anderson last winter. Clint Robinson replaced Anderson the rest of the season and helped Andale to the 4A state tournament. Robinson was hired as the permanent head coach after the season. Andale (7-0) travels to Wellington (9-0) in a huge matchup Friday. Wellington is ranked fourth in 4A, Andale sixth. Wellington has not lost a regular season game since 52-37 to Andale on Feb. 12, 2021. Wellington was perfect in the regular season last winter. This game will have major ramifications in AVCTL Division IV. Wellington is loaded with freshmen and sophomores who are known for basketball, and Andale is senior-laden.