There were two groups of fans at the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association All-Star Game on Saturday night that went beyond the players’ families. Andover Central had one of them, and the Jaguars supporters had a good reason to be there.
Not only did Andover Central capture its first boys basketball state championship this past season, which earned coach Jesse Herrmann’s spot on the All-Star Game’s coaching staff, but it also had two player representatives.
Easton Leedom and Braden Belt were the two biggest senior leaders on Andover Central’s path to history. They each averaged more than 14 points per game and provided a calming presence to those around them.
The state championship was emotional beyond the obvious. Leedom and Belt became teammates as first-graders. They watched each other grow up and become college basketball players and ultimately champions. Saturday was their last chance together. Every time they touched the ball, the Andover Central fans perked up in their seats.
“This means everything,” Leedom said. “We have to have the best student section. We tailgate at 9 a.m. for football games. They drive an hour and a half just for an all-star game. It’s just all love around Andover.”
Leedom’s game was cut short though. Driving on Maize’s Caleb Grill early in the first half, Leedom injured his knee and had to watch the rest of the game from the bench.
Belt and Herrmann said when they saw their teammate, player and friend go down, their hearts dropped. Leedom said knowing his coach was going to be on the sideline, he wanted to share in that experience with him and his life-long friend. He didn’t consider passing up on the game, even knowing an injury was possible.
Herrmann played in the KBCA All-Star Game in 1991. A 6-foot-5 forward out of Sabetha, Herrmann said the game is something that means more than an exhibition. It is something he remembers vividly, even 28 years later.
“All throughout the year, each of them led us at different times, so it was hard to pick between the two,” Herrmann said. “When the rosters came out and they were both selected, that made me feel good. It has been a fun couple of days. They rode up here with me, and they are going to ride home with me.
“When you stop coaching kids, that’s another big change. Your relationship changes a little, and it can change in a good way.”
Belt was one of the Blue Team’s most outstanding players Saturday, playing with a bit of motivation after watching Leedom’s injury. He finished with 13 points with a trio of his trademarked three-pointers and nine rebounds, tied for the third most between both squads.
Belt had fun with his performance. Two of his three three-pointers came within about 30 seconds of each other. He even threw his first alley-oop lob of his life, he said.
“This was really special,” Belt said. “Going into that state championship game, we thought that was our last time. We did something special, and we were hoping to do the same here.”
Although the game was marred with an injury that has the potential to be serious, Leedom was in good spirits even just minutes after the game. He celebrated Belt’s threes and was engaged throughout with his leg straightened and elevated.
It wasn’t how he envisioned finishing his high school career, but he said for better or worse, it was a game he would never forget.
“I just wanted one last chance out there with B,” Leedom said. “Through it all, it’s all memories.”