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Commentary Bob Lutz: Sunrise basketball success continues

  • Published Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, at 6:11 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, at 9:46 p.m.

Despite being 6-foot-10 and a potential Division I recruit, junior Larry Dennis doesn’t play much basketball at Sunrise Christian Academy.

“Seven or eight minutes a game,” Sunrise coach Kyle Lindsted said. “But Larry is getting better every day in practice. He’s lifting weights consistently and his mindset and body have changed drastically.”

Dennis’ time, Lindsted insists, will come.

When Dennis announced last summer that he was leaving East and enrolling at Sunrise, jaws dropped. At East, Dennis was a promising, if somewhat unfulfilling, player as a sophomore. Everybody could see the talent; getting it to come out was a challenge.

Dennis decided he needed more basketball, so he transferred to Sunrise, a private academy school in northeast Wichita with around 800 students in grades K-12, including a handful of highly-regarded basketball players from all over the world.

Dennis’ teammates include three players from the Bahamas, one each from Spain, Canada and Estonia and four others from the United States, including 5-8 freshman guard Roman Young from Wichita.

Two Sunrise players – senior forwards Sebastian Saiz and Janari Joesaar, have committed to Mississippi. Another, junior center Jacob Hammond, has orally committed to Oklahoma. Several others, Lindsted said, are being heavily recruited, including 5-10 junior point guard Lourawls Nairn, who is nicknamed “Tum Tum.”

Logistically, Sunrise is a few miles north of East, where Dennis previously played. But in the geography of high school basketball, it’s a million miles apart.

Academy schools have sprouted up all across the country in recent years — Lindsted said there are between 300 and 400. But they’re uncommon in the Midwest, which has led to confusion and consternation over Sunrise’s place in the basketball world.

It’s nearly impossible for Lindsted to find games locally, so the Sunrise schedule consists mostly of games against other academy schools, many of them requiring great distances of travel.

This weekend, though, Sunrise has back-to-back home games, Friday at 7 p.m. against Ford Power House out of Chicago, and Saturday at 2 p.m. against Creating Young Minds, a prep school out of Dallas.

Lindsted went to school at Sunrise in the early 1990s, when things were much different. It was a small, private school in those days and played mostly other Kansas Class 1A and 2A schools.

Now Sunrise can be a destination spot for basketball players here and afar, not only for the hoops but for the academics, Lindsted said. He works to find international players who might be interested, but insists he doesn’t recruit inside Wichita and that Dennis initiated contact, an assertion Dennis confirms.

“The decision to come here really wasn’t that tough because I knew it would be better for me,” Dennis said. “It’s making me into a better and stronger basketball player. The practices here are much tougher and we’re always playing against better players.”

Sunrise has eight players who are 6-6 or taller. Division I recruiters wear a trail to the gym. Buddy Hield, a 6-5 guard and former Sunrise player, is having an outstanding freshman season at Oklahoma.

Sunrise is 22-0 this season and ranked No. 8 among the country’s academy schools by MaxPreps.com. Saiz is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, with 14 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. Nairn averages nearly 10 points and almost nine assists while junior Marvin Clark averages 12.8 points.

“I don’t want anyone to think we’re trying to steal anybody’s thunder,” said Lindsted, who says he is caught between trying to create some publicity for the team and the school while being aware of Sunrise’s unique status.

Or is it really that unique?

Rosters of some of the country’s top Division I teams are loaded with academy players, who don’t have to abide by the sometimes limiting rules of state high school activities associations.

Sunrise is not affiliated with the Kansas State High School Activities Association, so Lindsted’s players spend much more time in the weight room and on the practice floor than other high school players.

“Given that we’re one of the few academy schools in this part of the country, people tend to demonize us because they don’t understand us,” Lindsted said. “It’s like, ‘Hey, they must be cheating.’ ”

It would help Sunrise for one of its players to play at Kansas, Kansas State or Wichita State. Lindsted knows that, but says there has not been a great fit with the Shockers yet. He thinks that day is coming and says that WSU coach Gregg Marshall, like so many other coaches, has Sunrise on speed dial.

It would also be nice for Sunrise to get on a bigger stage locally. The team plays its home games, what few there are, in a nice gym on campus, but one that seats only about 500.

Perhaps the City League could involve Sunrise in one of its showcase games next season at Koch Arena? This season, the nine City League schools went up against opponents from the AV/CTL.

While only a few of Sunrise’s players have had local ties, it’s still a team with an intriguing collection of talent that basketball fans, I believe, would love to see.

Read Bob Lutz’s blog at blogs.kansas.com/lutz. Reach him at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com.

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