What felt like the entire city of Andover circled around junior Xavier Bell late Saturday night.
He put his hands over his face, smiled and shouted, “A-C.” Those around him chanted back, “H-S,” for the now-defending Class 5A state champion — Andover Central. The Jaguars beat Basehor-Linwood 58-47 to secure the first boys basketball title in school history.
“This means the world to me,” Bell said. “This group of guys I get to share the court with, I wouldn’t trade them for the world. We’ve grinded this whole season, and if anybody deserves it, it’s obviously us.
“I’m going to remember everything about this group from the talks and jokes we have in the locker room before games to the celebrations after games — even to the tough losses we had this year — I love this group of guys.”
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Class 5A was deemed one of Kansas’ deepest in 2019. Andover Central, Basehor-Linwood and others created a wealth of potential state champions.
But after years of failure, falling for three straight years in the state semifinals to Bishop Miege and McPherson in Class 4, the Jaguars proved worthy, senior Easton Leedom said.
“When they threw me the ball, and I ran it out, I looked into the student section, and I saw my coach jump up,” he said. “And that’s when it hit me. I thought, ‘Man, we really just won it.’ “
Andover Central jumped on the Bobcats early. Basehor-Linwood won a draining state semifinal over Bishop Carroll fewer than 24 hours earlier, and though the Cats didn’t start strong in that game either, there wouldn’t be a surprise when they mounted a comeback.
The Jaguars held Basehor-Linwood to 12 points in the first half. They flew around defensively and forced the Bobcats to shoot 4 of 24 from the floor and 1 of 15 from three-point range.
Although Andover Central wasn’t its usual offensive showcase in the first half either, the Jags flipped the switch, coach Jesse Herrmann said. The Jaguars have seen their share of state tournament basketball. Leedom played in his 12th state game Saturday.
Strength of schedule wasn’t a data point among the teams in the 5A tournament, but Herrmann said having played the likes of Maize South, Campus, Wichita Southeast and Olathe North, they had to have been up there.
“I’ve seen a lot of former players here and talked with them,” he said. “It’s so special to see them here because those are the guys who know how hard this is. Some of them were right at the doorstep. So a lot of things come flooding back when you get one of these.”
In the second half, Basehor-Linwood found open pockets but didn’t hit as it had Friday. The Bobcats finished below 32 percent shooting. Coach Mike McBride said he didn’t believe his group would still be exhausted coming into the title game, but knew they had to “sell out” to reach Saturday unscathed.
“I was hoping it wouldn’t effect us, but we had so many open shots in the second half and just didn’t hit any,” McBride said. “I think you’ve got to assume that’s just having no legs.”
After the game, the Bobcats sat on their bench with their arms around one another. Throughout the game, they helped up their own who had fallen and even those wearing Andover Central uniforms.
McBride said his group of five seniors, including Jacob Coleman, who finished with a team-high 15 points, have represented the school and community well.
“They were incredibly loyal,” he said. “They did what they needed to off the court. Their GPA was high. They’re all going to college. They did it right in every way. They are role models for our program — unbelievable.”
Herrmann said the same about his group.
The 2019 Andover Central team has been building for four years. Leedom and senior Braden Belt, who finished with a game-high 20 points, earned playing time as freshmen. Although they struggled, they reached the state semifinals and gained valuable experiences along the way.
The Jaguars picked up a third scoring option a year later in Bell, who added 16 on Saturday. Together, Leedom, Belt and Bell became one of the most dominant trios in Kansas high school basketball, all averaging more than 16 points per game.
They all eclipsed 1,000 career points this season and capped it with school history. Belt, who is normally calm and composed, said it was a year and an achievement he will share with those he believes he will be friends with forever.
“It’s going to be cool to come back and visit and see the plaque when you walk in the school,” Belt said. “It’s going to be cool to see that and say, ‘Wow, that was us.’ “