Paul Suellentrop

Wichita State’s connection with Sunrise grows into two-way street

Rauno Nurger, with ball, is one of the first of what Wichita State hopes is a fruitful pipeline with Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire.
Rauno Nurger, with ball, is one of the first of what Wichita State hopes is a fruitful pipeline with Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire. The Wichita Eagle

It is 4.7 miles between Sunrise Christian Academy and Koch Arena and that distance is shrinking as Wichita State basketball extends its sphere of influence.

Sunrise’s high school and post-graduate teams produce numerous NCAA Division I players, most notably Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield, a 2012 Sunrise product. Until recently, Sunrise and WSU didn’t connect to get a player from Bel Aire to 21st and Hillside. That frustrated some fans, who wanted some of that high-end talent at Sunrise to play at Koch Arena.

Over the past 15 months, however, that has changed dramatically and a mutually beneficial relationship is flowering. Sunrise is not a member of the Kansas State High School Activities Association and is not restricted by recruiting or travel rules. It plays national schedules with both its high school and post-graduate teams.

“I think we’re figuring out how to help each other,” Sunrise coach Kyle Lindsted said. “They now know what we can do to help a player. Coach (Gregg) Marshall and I have a similar mindset. What’s there is the commitment to doing things right and doing things hard.”

WSU recruit Zach Brown took a post-graduate season at Sunrise in 2013-14 after committing to the Shockers in 2013. He is a freshman at WSU. Sunrise teammate Rauno Nurger chose WSU in June after a coaching change at Mississippi made him available. Eric Hamilton, who signed with WSU a year ago, spent the summer at WSU before deciding to spend a post-graduate year at Sunrise. He is scheduled to be a freshman at WSU next season and Shocker coaches are pleased with his improvement at Sunrise.

“I like the people that are in charge (at Sunrise),” Marshall said. “When you invest in a concept … or an idea, a lot of times, you’re betting on the jockey. You’re not betting on whether it’s a hamburger joint or a strip mall or an oil well. You’re betting on the person that’s doing it and their track record.”

Sunrise coaches use many of the drills used by the Shockers. The post-graduate team, coached by Luke Barnwell, uses a ball-screen and motion offense similar to WSU’s. Former Shocker Bret Michael is the weights coach at Sunrise.

“We’re not stupid over here,” Barnwell said. “I have stolen quite a bit of things.”

Sunrise provides WSU coaches a place to park an athlete who might need time to improve athletically or academically. He can do so at Sunrise without spending a season of eligibility. Sunrise provides WSU a nearby pool of top talent in a population-poor state. Most of Sunrise’s athletes come from outside of Kansas and some from other countries.

“Kyle has slowly, but surely, built one of the best, if not the best, prep schools in the country,” Marshall said. “Guys go there and they get coached and mentored. It improves them as individuals. It improves them as basketball players.”

Sunrise benefits when WSU coaches place a player on their roster, or suggest Sunrise as a good option for recruits investigating elite prep schools. A few years ago, players arrived at Sunrise with no connection to WSU and no reason to consider staying in Wichita. WSU’s recent success is changing that attitude.

“Huge change,” Lindsted said. “I say, ‘Hey, man, we’re two miles away from Wichita State. I can use that. Wichita State being great is a good recruiting tool for us. Us having a good reputation on the prep school, high school, elite circuit is helping Wichita State.”

WSU, in addition to Hamilton, added three players on the first day of the fall signing period. Park Hill (Mo.) guard Landry Shamet, Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy guard Tyrone Taylor and St. Anthony (N.J.) forward Markis McDuffie also signed.

Draft and follow — According to his high school coach, Vincennes (Ind.) University forward Mychal Mulder wants to play at Wichita State and coaches offered him a scholarship.

That combination caused the Windsor (Ontario) Catholic Central High basketball website to post a paragraph congratulating Mulder on committing to WSU.

It isn’t quite that simple. Perhaps it should be considered a commitment with special circumstances. Vincennes coach Todd Franklin, according to Catholic Central coach Peter Cusumano, doesn’t allow his players to commit in the fall. Mulder won’t sign until April, leaving open the possibility of scenarios changing that might change the mind of either party.

“Mychal wants to sign, but his juco coach is not letting him,” Cusumano said. “They’re very high on him. They want him. Mychal wants to be there.”

Franklin did not respond to phone calls and an email. Mulder did not respond to a personal message on Twitter.

Some junior college coaches restrict or prohibit fall signings because they want their best players to remain on the market and attract coaches to games and practices to increase exposure for other players. Some fear a player who signs in November may lose motivation for his juco season.

Cusumano isn’t happy, no matter the reason.

“It’s control,” he said. “I’m never going to send him another player.”

Mulder (6-foot-4, 185 pounds) averaged 8.6 points and 4.6 rebounds as a freshman at Vincennes. He made 46.7 percent of his shots and 38.3 percent of his three-pointers (46 of 120).

In high school, he earned league MVP honors twice and played in the Best of Michigan All-Star Game. Cusumano said he was lightly recruited out of high school, with Detroit one of the most prominent schools to offer him a scholarship.

“He can handle the ball,” Cusumano said. “He’s become a great shooter. He finishes at the rim. He’s going to be a difference-maker, I think.”

Bowling Green is one of the schools recruiting Mulder. He visited the school and watched film with coach Chris Jans, a former Shocker assistant who moved to Bowling Green in March. Jans showed him film of WSU to illustrate how Mulder would fit the style of play, Cusumano said.

“We were driving back and Mike and I were talking and I said you’d fit perfectly and you’d blossom,” Cusumano said. “Lo and behold, Wichita State comes in and offered him. When they came calling, Mike was all excited.”

Worth noting — WSU baseball’s recruiting class is expected to be final next week. Coaches have received letters from 15 of the 16 athletes expected to sign. … WSU’s volleyball recruiting class includes setter Jordan Roberts of Corpus Christi (Texas) Calallen and Warhill (Va.) High outside hitter Alex Koon and coaches are waiting on two more letters. … WSU’s winter baseball camps begin Dec. 19 and include seven sessions for hitting, pitching and catching. For information call 316-978-3636.

Reach Paul Suellentrop at 316-269-6760 or Follow him on Twitter: @paulsuellentrop.