Oklahoma basketball coach Lon Kruger stood against one wall of the Maize South gym Saturday, laughing with several people. He then made his way to a seat in the middle of the mostly-full stands.
Kentucky coach John Calipari’s entrance was welcomed by fans, who posed for pictures with him before he sat in the front row.
Kruger and Calipari were just a few of the college coaches watching Sunrise Christian’s boys prep team play Texas’ Prime Prep Academy.
The amount of talent on the court was nearly as impressive, as Sunrise (29-1) beat previously unbeaten Prime Prep 64-54.
“It’s the biggest win of the year, especially since they’re (ranked) No. 2 in the country (by Maxpreps.com),” said Larry Dennis, a Sunrise junior who played the last three seasons at East. “I think this (win) brings us up a lot. I think everyone will know who we are now after beating the No. 2 team in the country.”
Prime Prep came in with its gaudy 36-0 record and is seeded third in ESPN’s National High School Invitational, which starts Thursday.
Five Prime Prep players have committed to Division I colleges (Karviar Shepherd to Texas Christian, Jordan Mickey to LSU) or have interest from major colleges.
Sunrise has two players who have committed to Mississippi (Sebastian Saiz and Janari Joesaar) and four others getting interest from Division I schools.
Sunrise is a seasoned team that has played top-level competition, facing academy teams, fifth-year prep schools and even junior colleges.
“Prime Prep is a level above,” Sunrise coach Kyle Lindsted said. “Not necessarily because of their size or athleticism, but what is better is the quality of player. (In most games), you’re not going to find guys like (Shepherd) underneath the basket.”
Or players like sophomore Elijah Thomas coming off the bench at 6-foot-9 and somewhere around 240 pounds.
Having all these future Division I players was a draw for Wichita-area basketball fans. Even Heights graduate Gavin Thurman, now at Missouri State, was in attendance.
The teams didn’t disappoint, opening their warmups with a sort of dunk circle. Sunrise players ended each set of passes with a layup or dunk, while Prime Prep formed a tight circle around the basket and started throwing down dunks.
There was no normal lay-up line for warmups, as there is during most high school games, where there’s no dunking allowed.
Every player seemed to be gifted with quickness, like Sunrise guard Lourawls (Tum Tum) Nairns, who has interest from Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Mississippi, Iowa and Arkansas.
Prime Prep’s Mickey had a huge block early in the game. Then Sunrise’s Saiz went up for a dunk that drew oooohhhs from the crowd, even though he hit the front of the rim because he was fouled hard.
And Sunrise’s Nathan Bain, a 6-6 sophomore, leaped high around the rim and ripped the ball away from Shepherd, who was coming down with the rebound. Bain then had a putback where he reached back and then guided the basketball into the goal.
Sunrise freshman guard Roman Young, who is from Wichita, got a steal with 5:12 to go and scored on the fastbreak, putting the Buffaloes up 46-40.
Sunrise was led by Saiz’s 18 points.
Bigger than the high-flying dunks and raw athleticism all over the court was the fact that this win could propel Sunrise higher.
Sunrise spent 15 weeks ranked by Maxpreps, only to fall out of the rankings after the 28-point loss to Prime Prep. The loss likely knocked Sunrise out of a spot in the National High School Invitational. Lindsted said qualifying for that tournament was the goal all season.
Now, with a win like this, Lindsted hopes to build an even stronger program.
“We haven’t gotten that marquee game, ‘Sunrise beat who?’ ” Lindsted said. “A big emphasis has to be on our schedule. We’ve already locked into some big tournaments. Our schedule is getting better as our name is getting out there.
“We have all kinds of people vying for us to be in their tournaments because we have marquee players. Having a marquee player like Tum Tum gets you in these events. Ultimately it’s what gets you on ESPN.”
As for Nairns, he knows exactly what could happen for Sunrise by beating Prime Prep.
“It helps us to get better players, better players than me, better players at every position,” he said.
Meanwhile, the junior knows his game will continue to improve because of the level of competition.
“I know I’m playing against people you know you’ll see every day in the college setting,” Nairns said. “It’s great preparation for us.”