If anyone is qualified to give advice to Heights junior Aaron Degraffenread, it’s his basketball teammate Dreamius Smith.
Last year at this time, Smith was giving the Falcons energy as a reserve as he scored 37 points in Heights’ three-game run to the Class 6A title.
Degraffenread is on his way to providing the Falcons with the same spark. He scored 10 points, including a buzzer-beating three-pointer in the third quarter, to help Heights hold off Topeka 64-59 for a sub-state championship at East.
“I told him just to, when he gets his opportunity, to come in and do good,” Smith said. “From last year’s experience with me they told me always to come in and give good minutes, and that’s what I tell him. Come in and just give it all he can.”
No Heights regular was ineffective, but Degraffenread forced coach Joe Auer to provide extended minutes because of Degraffenread’s scoring and his intangibles.
“He scored 10 points but what he did is he possessed every single loose ball that was available,” Auer said. “The game was getting away from us in the first half and I think we went on a 6-0 run in the first quarter. D-Graf gets us there.
“His effort is something you don’t really anticipate getting, but if you’re going to win a state championship you have to have it.”
Topeka has the capability of giving any team challenges because of the inside-outside duo of Raphael Stephens and Onzie Branch.
Stevens, a 6-foot-5 forward, scored 17 points and had 13 rebounds, often going toe-totoe with Heights center Perry Ellis despite giving away three inches.
Branch made four three-pointers and finished with 21 points.
“They did everything well,” Auer said.
The 6-0 run in the first tied it 16-16 and Heights eventually gained control, taking a 47-38 lead on Degraffenread’s deep three to end the third.
“I had to shoot it,” Degraffenread said. “I got it up and I made it.”
A Terrence Moore basket with 3:40 to play gave Heights a 57-47 lead, but the Falcons wouldn’t score again until three minutes later. Topeka’s eight consecutive points made it 57-55 with a minute to go.
A basket by Smith gave Heights breathing room, and after the Trojans missed a pair of close shots on the following possession, the Falcons closed it out with five free throws in the final 19 seconds. Sophomore E.J. Dobbins made four straight.
Heights offset Topeka’s high-scoring pair with a balanced effort. Six players scored at least eight points, with Ellis providing team highs of 18 points and nine rebounds.
“Best team we’ve played all year, without a doubt,” Auer said. “It’s a shame that two conference champions have to meet here. That’s a game that’s best suited for (the 6A Tournament in) Emporia.”