By CONOR NICHOLL
Last season, Sports In Kansas classification boys’ basketball players of the year featured Blue Valley Northwest’s Christian Braun in 6A and 5A Maize’s Caleb Grill, along with Parsons’ Daquan Johnson in 4A.
Girard’s Caleb Muia was the 3A pick, while Ness City’s John Pfannenstiel earned 2A, and Central Plains teammates Brett Liebl and Devin Ryan shared 1A. Those six teams all reached the state tournament, combined for four state titles and a third-place showing. The squads went a collective 136-16 with six of the losses from Parsons.
Braun and Grill are seeing consistent minutes for Kansas and Iowa State, respectively. All but Johnson have graduated.
This year, the five teams that lost a Player of the Year have had varying degrees of success, though Ness City, led by sophomore forward Taylor Cable, has the best winning percentage of the quintet.
Central Plains, after two straight undefeated state titles, has struggled mightily in a 1-5 start. Girard is 2-3, including a 25-point defeat to Parsons. Maize is 4-4. Blue Valley Northwest stands second at 5-2 with no losses to Kansas schools. BVNW is ranked No. 2 in 6A and has an average score of 62-51. After seven contests last year, the Huskies scored 69 points a contest.
Ness City, which shifted from 2A to 1A, graduated 90 percent of its scoring from 2018-19, a 22-4 record that yielded the 2A state crown. As well, Edwin Rodriguez, a rotational player as a sophomore, has missed all year with a knee injury. Only senior Easton Seib (3.8 points per contest) averaged more a point per game among returners.
Still, Ness City is 7-2 and was ranked eighth in 1A as late as Dec. 16 by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association. Additionally, NC has a better winning percentage than the other three 2A Final Four teams last winter: runner-up Hutchinson Trinity, Inman and Colgan. All three graduated at least one first team all-state player. Trinity is 3-3, Inman 6-2 and Colgan 2-5.
The Eagles own quality wins versus La Crosse (47-39) and Hodgeman County (53-49). La Crosse is 7-2, and Hodgeman County is 5-3. In the last two games, NC defeated Dighton, 58-55, and at Spearville, 53-46.
Cable paces with 16.9 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks, all team-bests. Seib is second at 10.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and leads with 2.8 assists. They’ve also helped NC overcome the loss of sophomore Jose Guzman (9.6 points, team-high 2.4 steals) for two games because of a concussion. Ness City leads the Kinsley regional. NC coach Brandt Rogers and Seib noticed Cable’s talent through the younger ranks and last season.
“If we wouldn’t have had the guys that we had, he would have been playing,” Seib said.
In the fall, the 6-foot-3 Cable earned second team all-Central Prairie League football as a defensive linemen for the 8-2 Eagles.
Cable has five 20-point contests, including back-to-back 24-point showings versus La Crosse and Hodgeman County in the semifinals and finals of the WaKeeney Purple and Gold tournament, respectively, in mid-December. Versus La Crosse, he also recorded 10 rebounds – one of three double-double showings.
Among Kansas sophomores, Cable is sixth in scoring, according to MaxPreps statewide lists. As well, he stands tenth in rebounding and fourth in blocks. He is an efficient player with 59 percent shooting and 65 percent from the free throw line.
Cable has helped NC remain consistent in offensive rebounding rate and block rate compared to last season’s senior-laden interior with Landon Reinhardt and Andres Rios. The Eagles collect 27.5 percent of available offensive rebounds and have a block on 5.7 percent of possessions. Last year, NC collected 26.5 percent of available offensive rebounds and recorded blocks on 5.9 percent of possessions.
“We saw his talent from junior high all the way up, and coach knows, so he decided to put him in this year as a big role player, and he has really been stepping up,” Seib said. “I am proud of him.”