Sunrise Christian Academy head coach Luke Barnwell 'pretty optimistic' high school basketball will take place this winter | Zagsblog
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Tuesday / August 4.
  • Sunrise Christian Academy head coach Luke Barnwell ‘pretty optimistic’ high school basketball will take place this winter

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    By JACOB POLACHECK

    Sunrise Christian (KS) Academy head coach Luke Barnwell told ZAGSBLOG Wednesday that he’s “pretty optimistic” high school basketball will take place in the winter.

    “I’m feeling hopeful,” he said by phone. “I think there has to be a way that we can use technology and use our resources to effectively let it happen, and yet also keep people safe. I haven’t had any communication from any events or games that we have of people wanting to shut down or back out. I’m pretty optimistic that it’s going to happen.”

    Barnwell also noted that the team’s demographics of “young, healthy kids” are at “very low risk for serious illness.”

    “I’m hopeful that plays into some sort of the decision-making process,” he said. “Hopefully there’s strategy and things that are able to be devised over these next few months to let us keep everyone safe, but also get back to normal.”

    Heading into his sixth year as head coach, Barnwell has even more reason for optimism with perhaps his most talented roster yet.

    “The talent level is going to be a little higher and the athleticism is going to be higher,” he said. “The trick is going to be blending it together.

    “Last year, our team really played together and the right way,” he said. “If we can keep that, fight that and have the unity that we had last year, I think we have the potential to do some special things.”

    Barnwell led the Buffaloes to a 22-3 record during the 2019-20 season earning an invitation to participate in the 2020 GEICO High School Nationals at Christ the King High School.

    “I feel like making GEICO was a huge accomplishment,” Barnwell said. “At the beginning of the year, I don’t think anybody would’ve said we had a chance.”

    However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, GEICO Nationals was canceled in early March.

    “Everything ended abruptly and I feel like we were playing our best basketball towards the end of the year,” Barnwell said. “Our guys were really excited about going to New York and competing for a championship. That was tough to not get that opportunity.”

    The cancellation left five seniors with an inconclusive finish to their high school careers: Davonte Jennings (Seward County), Jayden Stone (Grand Canyon), Dillon Jones (Weber State), Ty Berry (Northwestern) and Isaac Ondekane.

    “It was hard,” Barnwell said. “I had to call our kids and say ‘look we’re not going to be able to do it’. I’m proud of the year we had, but I definitely feel like there was some unfinished business.”

    Despite losing five seniors to graduation, Sunrise is well positioned for another stellar campaign in 2020-21 led by five-star senior Kendall Brown.

    “He does things that often don’t show up in the stat sheet,” Barnwell said of Brown. “Just his athleticism and his feel for the game are so high that he just affects a lot of possessions when he’s locked in.”

    Brown, the 6-foot-8, 205-pound small forward from Cottage Grove, MN, is ranked by 247Sports.com as the No. 5 small forward and No. 14 overall player in the Class of 2021.

    Sunrise will also return Class of 2021 power forward Zach Clemence, who announced his commitment to the University of Kansas earlier this year.

    “Towards the end of the year, I don’t know if we had a better player down the stretch,” Barnwell said. “Zach had phenomenal finish because I think he got comfortable and we got creative with him. That’s what he does. He allows you to be creative.”

    At 6-foot-9, 210-pounds, Clemence is ranked as the No. 6 power forward and No. 30 overall player in the Class of 2021, per 247Sports.com.

    “He can post up. He’s got a great skill level where he can score with his back to the basket with either hand,” Barnwell said. “He can shoot it, put it on the floor, and pass.

    “He creates a lot of the advantages for us on the offensive end,” he said. “I think that’s what translates. Bigs that can shoot are now very valuable and he definitely can do that.”

    Another returning player for the Buffaloes is Class of 2023 big David Oyona, who despite receiving limited playing time this past season, has already picked up offers from TCU, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

    “It was a whirlwind for him when he first got to us,” Barnwell said. “He had to learn the simple things from jumping to the ball, to angles of screens and a lot of other things because he had never been in our environment.”

    Oyona, who is originally from the Congo, started playing basketball at the age of 12.

    “If there was a most improved player on our team from practice, it would have to be David,” Barnwell said. “He worked his tail off everyday and by the end of the year, he was competing, making plays and helping us get better.

    “He has all the intangibles and character. He works his tail off, he’s 6-foot-10, can jump out the gym and is long as heck. His future is really, really, really bright.”

    Barnwell also says there are two returning players he thinks could come up big next season, the first being 6-foot-4 Canadian small forward Shaedon Sharpe.

    “He will have a legitimate chance to start and be a huge contributor,” Barnwell said.

    Sharpe currently holds offers from Alabama, Xavier, Cincinnati, Creighton, Grand Canyon, Minnesota and California. He is ranked by 247Sports.com as the No. 21 small forward and No. 68 overall player in the Class of 2022.

    “He’s as talented as anybody we’ve got and is extremely gifted,” Barnwell said. “He did a between the legs dunk in a game last year at home. I think he’s primed and ready to have a breakout year.”

    Another player with breakout potential is 6-foot point guard Willie Lightfoot.

    “He started some games for us last year,” Barnwell said. “Hopefully, he comes into his own this year. He had to make some big adjustments last year, but now he’s going to be more comfortable with what we’re doing and how we do things.

    “Those two guys are going to play a huge part, should know what we’re doing and be ready to rock in August,” he said.

    Despite the returnees, Sunrise Christian’s best player this upcoming season may be their newest edition, Class of 2021 five-star point guard Kennedy Chandler.

    “He’s a really humble kid that seems to want to be great,” Barnwell said. “Obviously, making the move your senior year proves that hey he’s ready to go to the highest level. Hopefully, putting him with a bunch of weapons around him is going to make him excel and run our group.

    “It will be fun to see what we’re able to do with the athletes and their skill level with a point guard that’s able to make other guys better.”

    Chandler, the 6-foot-1, 160-pound point guard Memphis, TN, announced his intentions to transfer from Briarcrest Christian (TN) on May 29.

    According to 247Sports.com, Chandler is ranked as the No. 1 point guard and No. 11 overall player in the Class of 2021.

    “From his ability standpoint, he has the ability to affect the game in a lot of different ways,” Barnwell said. “I think he has great feel. He’s a point guard in the sense that he gets guys the ball when they need it, where they need it and how they need it.

    “That’s almost gone from a lot of guards because they just want to score. He has the ability to put the ball in the basket too.”

    On the recruiting end, Chandler is down to five schools: Memphis, Kentucky, Duke, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

    Chandler’s transfer came a little more than a month after Sunrise landed their first big transfer of the offseason, Class of 2022 four-star Gradey Dick.

    “Gradey is a kid that’s from our area, so he’s awesome to have,” Barnwell said. “He’s every bit as good of an athlete as we’ll have.”

    Dick, a 6-foot-7, 195-pound small forward from Wichita, KS, announced his transfer from Wichita Collegiate (KS) in April and is ranked as the No. 9 small forward and No. 34 overall player in the Class of 2022, per 247Sports.com.

    “He’s much taller than I anticipated,” Barnwell said. “He’s 6-6, 6-7 and can really jump out the gym, but also shoot the ball really effortlessly. It should be fun to have another really good weapon in a kid that’s probably just scratching the surface with his body and his ability.”

    Dick currently holds offers from a number of high-major schools including Kansas, Baylor, Creighton, Iowa State, Kansas State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Purdue, Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Wichita State, among others.

    Despite not holding practices in the summer, Barnwell says that he’s been able to work with some players, including Dick.

    “I’ve been able to be in the gym with Gradey a few times here and there since he’s local,” he said. “We’ll have him for two years and I think he’ll be able to help us right away, but also has a big future ahead of him too.”

    Whether or not high school basketball takes place this fall, Barnwell says that cancelling the end of last season was ‘probably the right decision’.

    “Again, we’re all in the same boat,” he said. “Human life is much more valuable than winning a championship. That was probably the right decision and we’re all dealing with the same thing. It is what it is.”

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