Basketball is back! The action on the hardwood tipped off last Friday night with seven city squads – four girls and three boys – in action. Here’s a recap of the season-opening games…
-Our Envista Credit Union Game of the Week was at ‘The Birdcage’ at Shawnee Heights, and for the second time in three seasons, Shawnee Heights and De Soto’s boys opened their seasons with a double-overtime thriller. It was the visiting Wildcats who held on for the 56-52 win in this UKC tilt. Heights struggled with foul trouble much of the night, with Harvey Davis Jr. and Marquis Barksdale both eventually fouling out, and they were also without starting senior point guard Elijas Watson. But they battled hard for all 40 minutes, and showed some promising signs for the season to come. Davis scored 23 points in a variety of ways and has the quickness and strength to be a regular scoring leader for the T-Birds. I also liked what I saw from sophomore guard Zander Putthoff, who has good size for the perimeter and good shooting and ballhandling skills. This is a T-Birds team that will get much better as the season goes on.
The Lady T-Birds had a tough assignment for their opener and the tenth-ranked Lady Wildcats flexed their muscle in a 57-43 win. Heights left a lot of points on the floor with missed layups and free throws, but once they get that cleaned up they should be a better scoring team than they’ve had in a few years. New additions Taylor Hawkins and Jaycee Ginter will give the Lady T-Birds badly needed athleticism and size in the post.
-As if it wasn’t enough that Topeka High retained much of the talented and fearless young core that lifted the Lady Trojans to the 6A title game last season, and as if the addition of Ariyana Grassity (and the eventual addition of Jae’Mya Lyons) weren’t enough on top of that, say hello to Kiki Smith, the freshman who debuted with 21 points in a 62-33 rout of Lawrence at The Dungeon. Smith helped a Central region squad to the Jr. NBA World Championship this summer and showed her impressive scoring ability in her first varsity game. There were still plenty of shots to go around for last year’s freshman sensation, NiJa Canady, who poured in 25 points before resting for the entire fourth quarter. The Lady Trojans, on paper, are the city’s, and maybe the state’s, most talented team. They’ll have to prove they can do it night-in and night-out, of course, but their opener could hardly have been more promising.
-Highland Park’s boys and girls both earned wins over KC Washington at home. It was so great to see Dariauna Carter back on the floor for the Lady Scots in their 66-16 win. Carter scored 16 points and should pick up right where she left off as one of the city’s best guards, able to score and create. It was also promising to see Aisya Taylor put up 19 points and eight boards. A largely new Lady Scots squad will need to develop talent around Carter, and Taylor’s season debut is a big boost of confidence for her and for her team to trust the interior presence. The Scots boys almost let one get away against the Wildcats, but CJ Powell played the hero with his last-second hoop that put Highland Park over the top 54-52. Powell’s 15 points were only exceeded by Juan’Tario ‘Scrap’ Roberts and his 20 points for the Scots. Their two best players from last year are in strong form to start this season, and the Scots found a way to regain their composure after a 10-point lead slipped away and pull out the win, an encouraging overall sign for Mike Williams’ squad.
-It was a tough trip down the Turnpike for the Hayden squads, both of whom struggled to score in falling to Emporia. Carvel Reynoldson’s debut on the Lady Wildcat bench was spoiled in a 41-33 loss, but his girls competed hard against a good team in a tough place to play, a sign that they are committed to his system from the jump. The Wildcat boys’ 56-41 loss shows that they will need to find supplementary scoring around John Roeder, and that they might take time to gain their footing after many of them played a long football season.