BY TAYLOR ELDRIDGE
Love them or hate them, you cannot deny what the Collegiate boys basketball team has accomplished. More specifically, the group of five seniors this season.
What the Collegiate fans, parents, players and coaches have experienced this season is something special. Because a group like this doesn’t come around too often. And by not often, I mean once-in-a-lifetime.
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Last night’s record-tying performance in the Class 3A state championship game has been a long-time coming. Since the fifth grade, in fact.
That’s when this group was united at Collegiate. That’s when The Dream was originated. All five of these guys lived, breathed and practiced basketball all for one common goal — winning a state title their senior year.
It was obvious when the group arrived in middle school and left with one loss in two years that they were destined for greatness in high school. They had undefeated seasons on the freshman team and then on the sophomore team before having the reigns handed over to them their junior seasons. All they did was complete a 26-0 season with a state title. This season had only one blemish, but the state tournament run was unmatched.
Never has a team dominated a Class 3A state tournament like Collegiate did this season. The Spartans won by margins of 32, 24 and 40 for a 206-100 margin. All games were either over by the end of the first quarter, or a few minutes into the second. All games ended with Collegiate running clock with reserves. The 40-point victory in the state title game tied the state record for widest margin in such a game.
No one in Class 3A came even remotely close this season to knocking off the team. This team effortlessly won a state title. This season, with this group, I think Collegiate could have won 4A, finished second in the City League and competed well in the Class 5A and 6A state tournaments. For this season, yes, Collegiate was just too good for 3A.
Does that mean they should be bumped up to 4A? Not necessarily. This year’s group was just that good. Like I said, a group like that only comes around once every so long. Collegiate is not going to be as dominant as it was this season next year. I think the Spartans will still be in the mix for the state title, but they won’t be near the favorite.The Dream Team, a.k.a. The Gum SquadSo why is this group so good? Well, first off, it has all the right parts for a basketball line-up.
Bryce Cornejo is the definition of what you would want in a point guard. He has high basketball knowledge, knows where and when to find his teammates, rebounds well and can knock down the outside shot when teams focus on other shooters.
Ty Fiegel gets over-looked a bit, but is just as important as Cornejo when it comes to adding perimeter shooting. Teams are likely to Box-and-1 Jablonski, which leaves the three-point arc open. Fiegel has such a smooth release and can knock down the open three-pointer, making teams pay.
Blake Jablonski is the leading-scorer, the go-to guy whenever the Spartans are in need of a basket. He’s one of the best pin-point shooters I’ve seen play in recent seasons, and can keep defenders honest with his mid-range game.
Brett LeMaster is another one that is forgotten. That is, until they run a back screen for him and he’s throwing down an alley-oop. He’s by far the most athletic among the starters and often guards the other team’s best player. He’s a solid defender, and adds a whole other dimension with his hops for easy alley-oop’s and tip-in’s.
Tre Bailey, at 6-6, provides the final piece: the big man. He kind of goes under-used since Cornejo, Fiegel and Jablonski are such good shooters, but he has found his niche corralling offensive rebounds and altering opponent’s shots with his lanky frame when they come inside the lane.
Together, they make up what has been deemed “The Dream Team.” Why not? If ever there was a Dream Team, this would be it. With all the success, there is always sure to be plenty of hater’s out there that accompany it. After all, this group has won two state basketball title’s and a football one this past fall.
One of the more frustrating/annoying things I read on this blog is when people say, “Well, Collegiate should win. After all, they get to recruit and/or pay their players.” Really? When, exactly, did this “recruiting” begin? Did Mitch Fiegel and his son, Ty, drive around Wichita, scouring the 11- and 12-year-old YMCA leagues? Did Fiegel spend countless hours on the phone, taking in-home visits and tempting these kids 11-year-old’s with the latest video game to come play for Collegiate? Really? That’s what you think?
Any time Collegiate leaves home and plays a road game, it is the villain. The group has never minded the target on their back that inevitably comes with winning. They’ve embraced it. Not being the villains, but playing the role of the favorites. To be honest, there’s no reason to hate these kids. If any of the commenters took the time to come to a game, watch these kids play, talk to them after the game, I guarantee they would come away impressed. That’s because you can’t find a nicer collection of kids anywhere. If there was ever a group that deserved success, it’s this group because of the amount of time and effort they put into basketball. Not because they’re getting paid. Not because they were recruited to Collegiate. It’s because they play better team basketball than anyone in the state.
Fiegel’s system doesn’t embrace the stereotypical star player. I think Blake Jablonski could average 20 or more points a game if he played enough. I think Bryce Cornejo could be a star somewhere else if he played enough. But all five of these seniors have put their ego’s on the back-burner, brought the team mentality to the front, and bought fully into the 5-in, 5-out system. You won’t find too many kids willing to sacrifice playing time and stats to better the team’s chances of winning.
When this group bought into the system, they completely sold-out. Fiegel always preaches “Defense Decides Championships” and this group played defense better than anyone I’ve seen this season. The Spartans forced their three state tournament opponents into 34 of 117 shooting (29 percent) and 57 turnovers a game. And remember, Collegiate called off the dogs for the most part by the end of the third quarter.
This group has been special to watch grow and mature into the dominant bunch they have bunch. Heck, they have even given “Gum” a new meaning. Ty Fiegel, Doug Burton and Raymond Taylor just started saying stuff was “gum” before the Kapaun Mount Carmel game in the El Dorado Tournament since their pre-game meals always included Bazooka gum. It’s stuck since, and now everyone at Collegiate’s lingo includes “gum” as the new word for “cool” or “sweet.” That’s what you’re hearing them say in the video in the middle of my story. I think it’s pretty funny.
Sometimes you are lucky enough to witness a team that transcends greatness. I was lucky enough to see that this weekend in Hutchinson. I always feel when a team accomplishes something really special, I have to match that in my story. So in a way, I believe it has challenged me to become a better writer.
But when a team achieves at such a high level of success and their dominance leaves a memory that will forever be with you, there is only one word left to describe it: GUM.Got Rings? Collegiate does.