After a deflating defeat in the first round of the Tournament of Champions Thursday in Dodge City, the Hays High basketball team could’ve let the sour start ruin the rest of their weekend.
Instead, the Indians played well enough to close the tournament with a pair of double-digit wins and finish fifth despite representing the smallest school in the tournament.
Even with the late letdown against a Wichita East team that likely prevented the Indians for competing for the tournament title, head coach Rick Keltner was happy with what he saw on the court.
“I thought we played a great tournament,” he said. “I thought we played some good basketball.
“I think we can play with anybody.”
Tournament officials agreed, as senior point guard Isaiah Nunnery and junior forward Shane Berens were named to the all-tournament team. Nunnery, a Fort Hays State University signee, has been a key cog of the program for a few years and won’t catch opponents off guard with his combination of size, skill and athleticism. Berens, however, is a junior who is still emerging after Brady Werth starred inside for the past couple seasons. This weekend, Berens earned his share of the spotlight by scoring gritty baskets inside and displaying a fluid shooting stroke on the perimeter.
“I think Shane made a name for himself,” Keltner said.
Berens’ versatility isn’t limited to the hardwood. His work ethic and coachable nature helps him excel in other sports and bodes well for his future, according to Keltner.
“He works hard and that’s why he’s so good,” the coach said.
“He’s good in track and football. He’s just a kid that’s a student athlete. Whatever he does he keeps getting better.”
The HHS coach added that seniors Drew Young and Keith Dryden each contributed quality tournaments for the Indians.
The ending against the Blue Aces, which featured a few tough calls as the Indians gave up a late lead, could’ve soured the way the team handled itself throughout the final two games, but it didn’t. Keltner said he received a number of compliments on his team’s integrity, and he was proud to share the Indians were given the tournament’s sportsmanship award.
Former KU basketball player Scott Novosel, who was on hand Thursday to promote his graphic novel about growing up a Jayhawk fan and working to accomplish his dream of becoming a KU basketball player, complemented the long-faced Indians as they stood on the court after all eight teams were introduced moments after the opening loss.
After beating the Demons 59-43 on Saturday, the Indians will return to Dodge City on Friday when they return to league action.