With his braces decked out in crimson-and-blue rubber bands, Sam Budetti said as a post player, he was the Markieff Morris of the sixth-grade Mo-Kan basketball team.
Teammate Ethan Toman was more a Xavier Henry kind of guy with his knack for sinking threes. And Mason McDow bestowed upon himself the title of Sherron Collins “because he is a beast and leads the team.”
Playing at Kansas University’s Robinson Gymnasium — which happens to be right across the street from Allen Fieldhouse — on one of the biggest college basketball weekends of the year, the comparisons to the Jayhawks’ top-ranked basketball team were inevitable.
The group of sixth-graders from the Kansas City area were among the 85 teams from six states that descended on Lawrence this weekend for the Best of the Midwest youth basketball tournament.
“March Madness has got everyone all fired up, got the vibe going,” said Josh Williams, who is with Midwest Sports Production, the company that hosts the event.
Speaking of March Madness, the Mo-Kan team held the same aspiration for the outcome of their basketball tournament as they had hoped for the Jayhawks in the NCAA Tournament.
“Win it, definitely win it,” Budetti said.
Unlike KU, the team had just pulled off a 49 to 45 victory over the Olathe-based KC Storm. The loss wasn’t a particularly devastating one for KC Storm, who fell to the Mo-Kan fifth-grade team by about 50 points a season ago.
“We were happy with what we got right there; it was a good experience,” said KC Storm player Gevon Slappy, who as a sixth-grader had somehow already mastered the art of fielding questions from the media.
Part of the draw for teams coming to Lawrence was the town’s rich history in the sport.
“It is just the absolute Mecca of college basketball,” Williams said. “People pull into the parking lot and are able to see right across (to) Allen Fieldhouse. That is where basketball was invented.”
Of course for Sarah Sullivan, an Olathe eighth-grader who plays on the Warrior Hoops team, there was one thing that would have been even more awesome than playing at KU during March Madness.
“It would be better if the Jayhawks were here,” she said.