Pioneers aim to make big, final Sunflower splash

One more year of play and the Leavenworth Pioneers’ basketball team will end its stay in the Sunflower League.

It has been a state of play that has seen the program win one state title and had plenty of other state tournament runs.

Now, after a few years of futility, long-time, Hall of Fame head coach Larry Hogan may have his best squad on hand in a while and that could lead to a nice, final dance in the Sunflower.

LVHS returns to the hardwood coming off of a 5-16 season that saw them only win one of their 11 Sunflower contests and end with a first round sub-state loss to eventual Class 5A state champions Shawnee Heights.

With starters Devin Johnston, Zach Thiel, Reece Williams, Mike Sauer and Julian Williams all back and a nice amount of rotation players to work with, this winter could be intriguing for the Pioneer program.

“The physicality level and the way we are going to play is going to be totally different,” Williams said. “It’s going to be like the past, where everyone is going to get up and go and we are going to be in shape. There won’t be anyone that will be gassed. We have a bench and we are going to be deep this year.”

Hogan sees this attitude prevalent in his roster.

“With our returning players, we are hoping to make drastic improvement in our win loss record,” Hogan said. “Reece was Freshman Player of the Year in (2016-17) and Zach was an honorable mention All-League player. Devin, Mike, Julian, Kevin Payne and Nathan Dalby all gained valuable experience and have shown improvement in our summer basketball program. Tah-ji Pinch missed the entire season last year with a medical issue. He was a projected starter for last season.”

The depth could come from players like former JV member Nathan Dalby, who Hogan cites as having shown great improvement and sophomore Alan Robinson a transfer from the now-closed Immaculata High School.

“Nehemiah Griffin, JoVaughn Darthard, Kenny Campbell, Chase Mack and Daniel Lentz were all JV players who have shown tremendous progress,” Hogan said. “Alan was a varsity starter at his previous school. He has tremendous potential. We also have a good group of freshmen, with several who have shown exceptional talent.

“We have good depth and experience and now we just need to work on our rebounding.”

Hogan pegs Lawrence Free State, Lawrence, Olathe Northwest, Shawnee Mission East and Shawnee Mission North as being teams to watch in the Sunflower League.

“It’s go time, everyone has been waiting and talking about a new era, but it’s time to do what we have been talking about and show it in our record and our wins,” Williams said. “We have to get this thing going again.”

The signs were there in the recent months that the turnaround can happen as long as the Pioneers learn to stop playing the uniform opposite them rather than the game.

“In the summer we had a great run playing difficult teams that were better than us in the past and I think that will carry on into the season,” Johnston said. “We used to play the name and we have to learn how to play our game. We have to worry about our team and if we do, we can get better.”

“Everyone out there plays the same game, same hoop,” Williams said. “We can’t think they are better than us. We see numbers, don’t see the name and just see the guy in front of them. Everybody has that mindset that the man in front of them, we are going to lock them up, we are going to score on them and win every, single individual battle to win the team battle.

“I think the coaches are a lot tougher on us…and our defensive aspect of the game and locking down and making those clutch defensive plays will help a lot.”

2017-18 Leavenworth Boys’ Basketball Schedule

Friday, Dec. 1 HOSTS Seaman (G 5:30/B 7 p.m.

Thursday, Dec. 7 - Saturday, Dec. 9 HOSTS CNB Tournament, TBD 

Friday, Dec. 15 at Shawnee Mission West (G 5:30/B 7 p.m.)

Thursday, Dec. 21 HOSTS Lawrence (G 5:30/B 7 p.m.)

Friday, Jan. 5 at Olathe East (G 5:30/B 7 p.m.)

Tuesday, Jan. 9 HOSTS Olathe Northwest (G 5:30/B 7 p.m.)

Friday, Jan. 12 HOSTS Olathe North (G 5:30/B 7 p.m.)

Thursday, Jan. 18 - Saturday, Jan. 20 - at Dodge City Tournament, TBD 

Tuesday, Jan. 30 at Gardner-Edgerton (G 5:30/B 7 p.m.)

Friday, Feb. 2 at Olathe West (G 5:30/B 7 p.m.)

Tuesday, Feb. 6 at Lawrence Free State (G 5:30/B 7 p.m.)

Friday, Feb. 9 HOSTS Shawnee Mission Northwest (G 5:30/B 7 p.m.)

Tuesday, Feb. 13 HOSTS Olathe South (G 5:30/B 7 p.m.)   

Friday, Feb. 16 HOSTS Shawnee Mission East (G 5:30/B 7 p.m.)

Tuesday, Feb. 20 at Shawnee Mission North (G 5:30/B 7 p.m.)   

 Friday, Feb. 23 HOSTS Shawnee Mission South (G 5:30/B 7 p.m.)

Tuesday, Feb. 27 Sub-State Playoffs begin

March 8-10 Class 5A state tournament