Because of that, the Road Show took a swing through Western Kansas on Friday to catch two of the state’s premier small class teams in action. The first stop was Hays, KS to watch the third ranked team in class 2A, Wakeeney (KS) Trego, rock Norton (KS) High. From there, it was on to Russell to watch the second ranked team in class 3A, Minneapolis (KS) High, thump an overmatched Russell (KS) High.
More importantly, it was a chance to watch Trego’s Wade Knapp and Minneapolis’ Ryan Wedel do their thing.
NO TIME FOR KNAPPING
Let’s face it, schools in Kansas’ 2A classification don’t exactly have the largest talent pools to draw players from. Because of that, Wade Knapp a 6-7 senior BF/WF from Wakeeney (KS) Trego has an instant advantage each and every time he takes the court because of his size alone. However, Knapp isn’t just some tall kid who dominates small school competition because kid can play.
In a late Friday afternoon 57-35 whipping of Norton (KS) High on the campus of Fort Hays State University, Knapp didn’t have to put up huge numbers to illustrate why he’s one of the top unsigned seniors in Kansas -- or Missouri, or Nebraska or Iowa for that matter.
Against a junk defense that emphasized triple and sometimes even quadruple teaming him -- sometimes as far as 30 feet away from the ball -- Knapp had a relatively pedestrian stat line of 10 points, nine rebounds, four assists and four blocks. However the way that he did it was impressive.
Rather than forcing things because he wasn’t getting his usual numbers (23 pts, 13 rebs., 5 asst. 5 blk.), Knapp picked his spots. He had two clever drives punctuated by athletic finishes around the basket after snapping off between the leg crossover dribbles. Knapp also had several nice no look passes in transition or half court sets that most in the crowd couldn’t have seen and some authoritative swats.
On the flip side, Knapp was a little too content to put in on in spurts against inferior competition and at times looked disinterested. He also didn’t dominate the boards like he should have.
What it boils down to is that Knapp is a relatively raw, but talented, combo forward who is skilled, moves well and has touch on jumpers. The late bloomer has received recent attention from UMKC, Colorado State, Texas Tech, Northern Iowa, LaSalle, Kansas State and a slew of in-state juco powerhouses hoping to lure him on campus for a year before sending him to a mid to possibly high major program.
WEDEL IMPROVING AT A RAPID PACE
It is easy to underestimate a kid like Ryan Wedel, really easy. It isn’t like the junior 5-11 PG/WG from Minneapolis (KS) High casts an imposing shadow and he looks more like an extra from Hoosiers than a top flight baller.
At the risk of sounding cliché, looks can be deceiving.
As soon as the whistle blows and the ball is thrown into the air, Wedel morphs into a scoring machine that knocks down open jumpers, leads the break and gives everything he has while more often than not leading his squad to lopsided victories like Friday night’s 70-30 pasting of Russell (KS) High.
One of the premier shooters in the Midwest, Wedel struggled with his stroke at times but was still good for 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists in only about 20 minutes or so of action. Most impressive was the fact that he proved that he’s taken weaknesses in his game and made them strengths.
Last summer, the somewhat undersized gunner -- and tenacious defender -- was told that his shooting ability would get him looks but he might be too small, too weak and not quite quick enough to compete on the division one level in college. With that in mind he hooked up with a strength coach, added 15 pounds of muscle and significantly improved his overall ball-skills and athleticism.
The results are obvious and you can see why he’s already been invited to places like Southwest Missouri State, Wichita State, Creighton, and Davidson for unofficial visits. Several others are interested and Wedel will be taking in Saturday’s Kansas State-Mizzou matchup thanks to tickets left for him by K-State’s staff.
What level he ends up on remains to be determined, but there is no doubt that Wedel has established himself as a legitimate division one prospect.
Maybe the best part of taking a swing through the heart of Middle America is watching the way each town supports their team. Despite carrying enrollments that are dwarfed by traditional 5A and 6A powerhouses within the state, there is no lack of fan support and you see just as many -- if not more -- fans packing gyms to support their favorite teams….Don’t think that star players in small towns don’t enjoy a little bit of star treatment either. After what he considered to be an average at best performance, Knapp was approached by autograph seekers of all ages who beamed with pride at with the thought that a curly haired kid from Wakeeney who bears a little more than a slight resemblance to Indy Film hero Napoleon Dynamite could be coveted by division basketball programs.
Along for the ride was former Dodge City (KS) High standout and eventual Ole Miss and Wichita State hooper L.J. Goolsby who has coached both Knapp and Wedel during the summer while they’ve played for KC Pump ‘N Run. During the early 90’s Goolsby lit up Western Kansas scoreboards himself and the fact that he is still a recognizable face to more than one fan was a sign of just how serious fans in the state of Kansas take their high school sports….
- Total games seen- 115
- Total teams seen- 93
- Total miles traveled- 8,793