City Showdown Preview: LHS, Free State hoops preparing for battle

Lawrence High junior Zaxton King competes against Mill Valley on Friday, Jan. 13, 2022.

The Lawrence High and Free State boys basketball teams are set to clash Friday night at LHS in the annual City Showdown. Both squads enter the matchup fresh off Sunflower League wins earlier this week, clawing their way through the remaining regular season before sub-state.

It’ll be the first meeting between 15th-year LHS coach Mike Lewis and first-year Free State coach Sherron Collins. Lewis, holding the benefit of home-court advantage, stressed how unpredictable the cross-town rivalry can become.

“These kids have grown up together and they have a feel for each other,” Lewis said. “I’ve been in a number of these games where usually somebody steps up that you don’t expect and then you have to adjust on the fly.”

Playing its best basketball late in the season, LHS (13-4) has won four of its last five games, including a 48-39 road victory at Olathe North on Tuesday. Led by a skilled ball-handler in junior guard Zaxton King, the Lions tend to play their best late in games and have overcome halftime deficits on multiple occasions this year.

Also on the LHS scouting report are senior forwards Kenton Simmons, Lance Bassett and Will Leuschen. Simmons and Leuschen, both starters, played some of their best basketball yet at the Topeka Invitational Tournament. Bassett is a regular contributor off the bench and a dependable free-throw shooter.

Collins compared the vibe surrounding Friday’s game to his early impressions of Missouri during his freshman year at KU.

“I didn’t really understand the (KU-Missouri) rivalry, but afterward I got it,” Collins said. “I know the magnitude of it, just based on how the students are acting, the community’s out getting tickets and everybody I’ve seen is saying they’re going to be there. I know it’s a big rivalry and I just want to do Free State proud.”

photo by: Chance Parker/Journal-World

Free State junior guard Devon Hamilton (11) high fives his teammate after hitting a three pointer against Gardner-Edgerton on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023.

Bouncing back from a two-game losing skid in early February, Free State (11-6) defeated Shawnee Mission East 47-43 at home on Tuesday. Senior guard Jailen Thompson leads the Firebirds in scoring, joined by twin brothers Dre and Tay Daniels, both seniors, who execute a fast-paced, aggressive brand of basketball.

“They try to attack their opponent, follow, trap and maybe gamble a little bit on occasion,” Lewis said of Free State. “I think we’re starting to get closer, as of today, settling into what might be our advantage against that style of play. I think our guards, and our team in general, has faced those teams and we know what to expect.”

Junior point guard Dash Johnson has contributed off the bench for the Firebirds as well, debuting his penchant for 3-point shooting early in the season.

“Our plan is to just be the aggressor,” Collins said. “We’ll be paying a little more attention down low, if we need an adjustment throughout the game, but we’re just going to let them bigs go down there and bang on both ends. It’s going to be a physical game; we’re well prepared and it’s going to come down to who wants it more.”

LHS and Free State tipoff Friday at 7 p.m. at LHS.

LHS and Free State girls ready to square off

Preceding the boys’ contest, the Lawrence High and Free State girls’ basketball teams will tip off at LHS.

LHS (13-4) snapped its two-game losing skid on Tuesday, narrowly defeating Olathe North 32-31 on the road. The Lions have taken a tremendous step this season behind seniors Lucy Hardy, Amaya Marshall, Serenity Keo and Daphne Bracker-Sturm.

Sophomore guard Brynnae Johnson, leaping onto the starting five this season, has become a lethal scorer and will provide the Firebirds (0-18) with a tough test in the lane on Friday.

Free State sophomore Chloe Clossen and freshman Addie Fulscher are both capable shooters and aren’t afraid to pull up from 3-point range. First-year Free State coach Summer Frantz said “it will all start with defense,” honing in on the progress they’ve made all season long.

LHS coach Jeff Dickson considers Frantz “one of the best in the business” and is excited to watch her squad jump into the rivalry head-first.

The LHS and Free State girls will tipoff at 5:30 p.m. at LHS.


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