The dunk sent fans out of their seats, but it was only half the drama.
A game between the best boys high school basketball seniors in Kansas had only one fitting ending. Blue Valley Northwest’s Christian Braun and Maize’s Caleb Grill provided it.
With his team down two and 48 seconds left, Braun caught an inbounds pass. He took five dribbles into the frontcourt before making his move on Lawrence’s Clarence King. Braun went to his left hand and pushed by King. He took one more dribble, clutched and put the ball in his right hand. He took off from the right side of the rim as Maize South’s Kael Kordonowy rose to meet him.
It was an aerial battle between a couple of 6-foot-7 stars. Kordonowy put both hands up. Braun went over and through them for one of the most ferocious dunks any high school audience will see.
“It felt good when it came off, but this guy had to take my shine,” Braun said pointing at Grill.
King caught the ensuing inbounds pass and brought the ball back with 35 seconds left and the score tied. He drew two defenders, and Grill rounded behind him, about six feet beyond the three-point line. King shoveled a pass, and Grill pulled up from more than 25 feet out and buried it.
The shot gave Grill’s East squad a three-point lead and an eventual 111-107 win over Braun’s Blue team.
“I felt confident going in,” Grill said. “I hit a three with an and-one. I just felt confident that I should have shot it.”
Braun and Grill were inarguably the top two players in Kansas this past season. Braun, heading to the University of Kansas, led Blue Valley Northwest to its third straight Class 6A state championship with a 53-41 win over Washburn Rural. The Huskies finished 23-2, and Braun averaged 29.6 points and 10 rebounds.
Grill is signed to Iowa State as a 6-4 guard. Playing in AVCTL I, perhaps the strongest league in Kansas, Grill put on a show every night averaging 18.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. He led Maize to an undefeated regular season and third-place finish in Class 5A.
Saturday night, Braun finished with 16 points and six rebounds, and Grill went for 17 points and three boards.
“CB or CG?” was one of the biggest questions in Kansas high school basketball, but they hadn’t met until after their senior seasons. Their teams never met, and they never played against each other on the AAU circuit. Braun said Grill’s presence in Kansas was constantly a motivating factor for him.
“This is big,” he said. “There’s not a lot of kids out of Kansas that go to the Big 12. It was really cool for me just to watch him rake in those offers. I’m just really proud of him.”
Grill and Braun aren’t the only two Division I basketball products who played in Saturday’s game or were named to the KBCA All-Star Game roster but held out. On the boys’ side, Phillipsburg’s Trey Sides is signed to Jacksonville University. And Braun’s BV Northwest teammate Michael Peake is undecided but holds several D-I offers.
On the girls’ side, Washburn Rural’s Carly Bachelor will be a freshman at Creighton next year. Frankfort’s Emilee Ebert is committed to Kansas State and led her White squad to a 76-65 win over the Blue team. KC Piper’s Ryan Cobbins is going to North Dakota State, Manhattan’s Kia Wilson is with Nebraska-Omaha and Lawrence’s Chison Ajekwu will be at KU.
Nine All-Stars are heading to Division I basketball next year.
After the game, Grill and Braun slapped hands and hugged. Their 30-second highlight was all they needed to solidify their respect for one another. Braun delivered a stare through Kordonowy after his dunk, but when he saw Grill’s shot go down, he said he felt deflated. And Grill said when Braun threw it down, he walked away for a couple of steps, thinking a lot of things, but most pressing was, “Wow.”
The moment captured the spectators but more important, showed how quickly each of them can take over a game, Blue Valley Northwest coach Ed Fritz said. Both players worked to get others involved through the first 19:15, but when it came time to deliver, there was no question who was getting the ball.
“The really cool thing about Christian is he’s going to be getting better and better,” Fritz said. “I’ve never had a kid that improves more every day than he does. A lot of people don’t think he’s going to help Kansas, and I think he’s going to be a really good player at Kansas.”
The pair’s rivalry was cold throughout their senior seasons, but the KBCA All-Star Game spawned it, and it will now run over the next four years between Kansas and Iowa State.
Braun said he believes both are happy with where they’re at as Jayhawks and Cyclones, but they want more, and that will have to come against each other.
“I think it’s the two best environments to play in, too,” Grill said. “People ask what the toughest places to play are in the Big 12, and they either say, ‘KU or Iowa State.’ It’s just cool that we get to be a part of that and compete on the highest level in the best conference in the country.”