It will be state championship game-like atmosphere on Tuesday when McPherson High’s basketball teams make their home debut before what should be a packed Roundhouse.
The Bullpups entertain Derby, with the girls starting at 6:00 and the boys tipping off somewhere around 7:30.
It's the beginning of "Gauntlet Week" for the Bullpup teams, as they also play on Friday at Bishop Miege, which houses both the defending Class 4A Division I boys and girls state champions — beating the MHS teams in last year's title games.
Tuesday will be the season debut for both Derby teams. The McPherson teams opened their seasons last Friday at El Dorado, with the girls racing to a 95-24 victory and the boys overwhelming the Wildcats, 82-38.
The Derby girls return 90 percent of their scoring from a team that took second in the state last year, losing in the Class 6A finals to Manhattan.
Leading the way will be 6-6 junior Kennedy Brown, who averaged 16 points and 13 rebounds last year and is rated by one service as the No. 2 junior center in the United States and No. 15 player in the class overall.
Tor'E Alford, a speedy junior guard, already has given a verbal commit to Missouri State. And Sydney Nilles was one of the state's top freshmen last year.
MHS was a 49-36 winner in last year's meeting at Derby.
"Derby is extremely talented and causes some real matchup concerns for anyone," MHS coach Chris Strathman said. "They have three girls (Brown, Alford and Aliyah Myers) who played traveling AAU with Taylor (Robertson) and Mandi (Cooks), and one (Nilles) who played with Lakyn (Schieferecke) and Cassie (Cooks), so there is some definite familiarity with their personnel. They run a lot of great stuff for their key players, no way we can prepare for everything they do, but we will prep for some things we know we will see for sure. I think it is a slight advantage that we have played a game already as I do believe that worked in our favor last year. It will also be nice to make our home debut in front of should be great crowd on Tuesday."
In MHS' runaway win over El Dorado on Friday, Robertson hit 13 of 18 shots and scored 31 points, while backcourt mate Riley Hett scored 17. The key for MHS will be to shake Robertson free for open looks, as the Panthers figure to double her as much as they can.
The Bullpups then play Friday at Miege in a rematch of last year's state title game.
"We are preparing for an exciting and challenging week of basketball," Strathman said. "The nice thing is regardless of what happens, it won't make or break our season and can do nothing but make us better as we learn more about our team. I'm anxious to see our girls compete against teams of this caliber."
The Derby boys come to town with a No. 4 state ranking, swelled in part due to a quartet of transfers who are expected to make an immediate impact.
Best of the bunch is Tyler Brown, who was the state's leading scorer last year at Valley Center. Also, 6-5 Goddard transfer Bryant Mocaby averaged 17 points a game for the Lions.
"Anytime you have a team that has a kid that averaged close to 30 points and a 6-5 Division I signee, you are most likely going to be able to score," MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon said. "It will be interesting to see how their team chemistry is considering they are most likely going to start three players that were not at Derby last year."
Derby's coach Brett Flory led the team to a 17-5 record last season and is a good friend of Kinnamon's in the coaching ranks.
"Derby is very well coached and pride themselves on being able to turn the opponent over and create easy scoring opportunities," Kinnamon said. "A key for us is going to be able to handle their pressure and get easy scoring opportunities for ourselves. I think it should be an advantage for us to have played, but also an advantage because they are at least going to know who our personnel is going to be. Should be a great atmosphere for an opening night game."
MHS' rousing win over El Dorado was spearheaded by the trio of Ben Pyle (24 points), Mason Alexander (20) and Jake Alexander (16). Most of the other Bullpups are still trying to get their basketball legs under them as many played late into the football season.
After Tuesday, MHS travels Friday to Miege, which is led by one of the nation's top juniors in 6-8 Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and 6-7 Josh Early, who has been highly recruited as well. The Stags do have some holes to fill, but no doubt have added some new pieces during the offseason.