If there’s one thing the Lee’s Summit North boys basketball team doesn’t lack, it’s experience.
That’s because the Broncos are led by 10 seniors, seven of whom are in the rotation of the team’s first final four team since 2011.
North has used that experience to advance to the Class 5 state semifinals. It will take on Columbia Rock Bridge at 5:15 p.m. Friday at John Q. Hammons Arena on the campus of Missouri State University in Springfield.
The seniors include Javaunte Hawkins, Mikel Henderson, Elijah Smith, Tommy Erwin, Devon Richardson, Christian Carter, Jack Gatti, Bryan Carter, Samuel Burkart and Trenton Barker.
“Once we came into the school, we knew we would be the best class to come through,” Christian Carter said. “We are close. We are like family, unlike other classes. That’s what got us this far.”
The seniors hang out with each other outside of school and are good friends with each other. Before games, one of the seniors plays their favorite music to get the others “hyped up,” Gatti said.
“Before the game, we don’t do anything crazy, but we’re close together and we keep each other focused,” Gatti said.
Most of the seniors have played together for at least four years and the chemistry has contributed to one of the best seasons in program history as the Broncos enter the final four at 26-3.
Hawkins and Henderson have powered the offense, combining to average more than 41 points per game.
Smith has been a major contributor as the team’s lone starting forward. He was a point guard at Center before transferring to North this season. He doesn’t play like a typical big man. Even at 6-foot-4, he likes to take the ball to the basket and shoot the mid-range jumper.
“We don’t have any posts this year, we play completely on the perimeter,” North coach Mike Hilbert said. “We try to space and spread teams out. I thought Elijah was nice and tall compared to some of the other guys I have. So I initially thought, well, maybe he could help us out in the post.
“Not only Elijah, but some of the other guys said, ‘Coach, he’s not a post.’ So I scrapped that pretty quickly in November. That’s when we decided to go 5-out (on offense).”
Even though this has been his first year on the team, Smith said he was able to fit right in with the other seniors.
“It was different at first, but I got adjusted to it and they brought me in,” Smith said. “We’re a family and this is a special group.”
Richardson, a state high jump champion who didn’t play basketball during his junior year (see related story on B1), returned as a solid rebounder and energy guy off the bench. Erwin is similar. At 6-foot-5, he’s the team’s tallest player and has found success with collecting rebounds and scoring in the paint. Richardson and Erwin both had key offensive rebounds in overtime of a 63-58 win over William Chrisman in the quarterfinals last Saturday.
“I don’t really care about playing time, I just want to win games,” said Erwin, a reserve forward. “I just do whatever is needed to help the team win.”
Added Christian Carter: “(Richardson) is a really good jumper, so he gets a lot of boards for us since we are a little down on height. We also talk to him outside of basketball, so it’s easy for him to fit in with us.”
Gatti, who started last year as well, has been a solid spot-up shooter who has shown the ability to hit open 3-pointers. He’s also been a solid defender, as well.
“My role is not necessarily to score a lot, but to get stops on the defensive end,” Gatti said. “Guys like Javaunte, Mikel and Elijah are really good attacking and making sure I am open so I can knock down my shot when I get it.”
Christian Carter is someone Hilbert said is “probably the best athlete in Kansas City.” Although he’s an all-state selection in football, Carter has also been a good player for the basketball squad. He’s been a solid defender and has shown the ability to drive to the basket and even dunk on occasion.
“He’s not going to make a bunch of jump shots and free throws are a little bit of a concern, but he makes up for it by being a great defender and being so quick,” Hilbert said of Carter. “He can take a steal and turn it into a layup.”
Bryan Carter, Burkhart and Barker don’t get a lot of playing time, but they have been important pieces to the Broncos, Hilbert said.
“They’ve been valuable to our team as great practice players and teammates,” Hilbert said. “They are guys that are leading the cheers on the bench. They just bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm. They bring leadership and they are mature.”
And those 10 seniors will have one final ride together this weekend and will play their final games together.
“This group has been special,” Gatti said. “We’ve have a lot of fun together.”