Preps notebook: Top area boys basketball storylines entering 2019-20 season

photo by: File photo

Free State's Ethan Lincoln (21) defends Lawrence High's Zeke Mayo (2) in the City Showdown at Lawrence High School, February 11, 2019.

It is that time of the year again.

The area basketball scene will be in full swing this week, with multiple teams slated to compete in tournaments next week. Over half of the area boys basketball programs advanced to the state tournament last year, and many of them have similar expectations entering this season.

It should be a lot of fun to keep up with the top teams and standouts over the course of the year. For now, let’s take a look at some of the top storylines regarding the area basketball programs before the 2019-20 campaign gets fully underway:

Four area teams enter year ranked

Based off preseason rankings, at least four area squads are expected to be among the best teams in the state this season.

Bishop Seabury has the biggest target on its back, as it enters the year with a No. 1 ranking in Class 2A via the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association. The Seahawks went 16-5 in Jonathan Raney’s third season, ending with a loss to Ness City in the first round of the state tournament.

BSA brings back plenty of players responsible for that impressive run. Juniors Zach Bloch and Stavian Jones along with senior Luke Hornberger started for the Seahawks last season. Senior Cobe Green is also slated to return after missing most of last season. Joao Carlos Ramirez, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, could also have a breakout campaign.

Both Lawrence High and Free State enter the year with a top-five ranking in Class 6A after earning a trip to the state tournament last season. FSHS is listed at No. 4 in Class 6A, while LHS comes in at No. 5.

The Firebirds return a one-two punch of DK Middleton and Mozae Downing from a team that went 15-7 a year ago. After going 19-4 and winning the Sunflower League title, the Lions return only one starter in junior guard Zeke Mayo. Mayson Quartlebaum, Bryce Johnson, Peyton Mallory and Willie Dotson are all key seniors expected to contribute for LHS.

Despite replacing plenty of production from last year’s team, Eudora enters the year at No. 8 in Class 4A. The Cardinals will lean on Tucker Shackelford, Noah Watkins, Brett Breedlove, Jacob Merkle, Justin Fawcett and Ty Abts as key returners from a squad that went 11-9 last winter.

Kaws and Eagles plan to reload

A pair of area squads hope to return to the state tournament after losing plenty of key players due to graduation.

Perry-Lecompton still has a number of returners after going 22-3, earning its second consecutive trip to the Class 3A state tournament. Blake Farmer, Parker Stone, Dawson Williams, William Welch, Brad Robb, Baragan Ratzlaff and Kaden Doleman all have varsity experience.

Many of these players are late to the hardwood after contributing to Perry-Lecompton’s run to the 3A title game in football this past fall. Even sixth-year head coach Jared Swafford was on the football staff as an assistant. PLHS hosts Royal Valley in the season opener on Friday.

Veritas graduated six seniors from a team that went 24-12 last year. The Eagles still expect to be competing in the KCAA State Championships for the fifth year in a row, however. Will Rau is the team’s only returning starter, so VHS will lack experience early in the season.

Will Bartkoski, Brennan Clements and Lawson Ream should all embrace bigger roles as returning players for Veritas. The Eagles also have talented newcomers, such as Aden-Jay Baker and Calvin Clements, expected to make an impact on the varsity roster.

Veritas (1-0) will compete in the Eudora basketball tournament next week.

Baldwin and Tonganoxie aim to make strides

Tonganoxie should show significant improvement in Year 2 of the Phil Jones era.

The Chieftains are coming off their first double-digit win season in seven years, posting a 10-12 clip. They also netted their first postseason victory in a decade, laying a good foundation in the first year with a new system.

Junior forward Dallas Bond is back after averaging 13.1 points per game. Senior guard Elijah Tyner and junior guard Rylee Beach are also two veterans slated to return in the backcourt for THS. Tonganoxie begins the year with a home tilt against Louisburg on Friday.

Baldwin secured just one win last season, but the team expects a better showing behind a good group of juniors and seniors. Seniors Jordan Barth, Matthew Garber and Alex Berg all started at least 20 games last year.

Hunter Peacock, Ethan Eckman, Colby Zimmerman, Drake Martin and Andrew Washee all got some varsity experience last season as well. That much returning experience should help the Bulldogs have more success this winter under sixth-year head coach Paul Musselman.

BHS will travel to Paola on Friday for the season opener.

Plenty of area athletes expected to shine

A handful of first-team selections from last year’s all-area team are slated to return, and many other athletes could make a big leap.

Middleton averaged 14.0 points and 4.0 rebounds per game in his first season at the varsity level. He should be the focal point of Free State’s offense this year after the team lost its leading scorer.

Bloch averaged 19.1 points per outing for Bishop Seabury during his sophomore campaign last year. Farmer is ready to lead the Kaws as a senior after averaging 12.1 points and 5.0 rebounds per game last season. Bond (THS) and Barth (Baldwin) are also back after being named to the first team on the all-area squad last year.

In addition, plenty of other players could be in for a big season. Mayo, who is the only returning starter for Lawrence, averaged 14.0 points per game as a sophomore last season. Quartlebaum, a Kennesaw State signee, will also have a big role in his senior season for LHS.

Rau should fill the stat sheet all year for Veritas, while Jones will make a number of plays for Bishop Seabury. Downing proved to be a dynamic point guard for Free State as a freshman and should continue to grow with more experience.

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