Phog-ging it up: Bears ready to host third annual tournament

By Bill Althaus
William Chrisman's Isaiah Jackson glides through Truman defenders in the lane in front of a capacity crowd in last year's Phog Allen Invitational championship game. This year's tournament will lack Jackson, who hit the game-winning shot in that game, and the crowds, because of COVID-19, but it is scheduled to tip off Monday at Chrisman and Truman.

Jake Kates is counting the minutes, the hours and the days until the start of the third annual Phog Allen Invitational, which begins Monday at William Chrisman and Truman high schools.

His Bears are hoping to claim their second title in a row as they edged rival Truman 50-48 on Isaiah Jackson’s game-winner in overtime last year.

The tournament, which is named after the legendary former University of Kansas basketball coach who graduated from Chrisman in 1909, is the brainchild of Kates, who is eager to get this year’s tournament underway for many reasons.

“You know how competitive I am, so any time one of our teams has the chance to defend any kind of title I’m excited,” Kates said. “But I’m really excited about the start of the tournament on Monday because it means we’re playing basketball!”

There had been many rumors circulating that prep winter sports programs might be canceled or postponed – or possibly played in the spring.

“All the area supers (superintendents) met to discuss winter sports, and right now, it’s all on,” Kates said. “It might be different – a reduced number of games, fewer spectators, playing in masks, who knows – but we’re playing, and that’s the most important thing for me and all our guys and all the teams who are going to participate in the winter.”

While the tournament is on, it has already lost one team as Lee’s Summit North had to bow out because of COVID-19 quarantining.

“You know, Mike’s team beat us for the championship in the first year of the tournament, and we wish Coach (Mike) Hilbert and all his players the best and hope they get healthy and back on the court,” Kates said.

“We got a very good St. Joseph Lafayette team to come in and take their place. This year’s field might be the best yet.”

The other teams are Truman, Lee’s Summit, Lee’s Summit West, Raytown, Park Hill South and Kansas City Central.

Kates’ Bears will play Lafayette at 7:30 p.m. Monday, while Truman will play host to Lee’s Summit West at the same time on its court.

The semifinals will be 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Chrisman and consolation semifinals will be at the same times at Truman. On Friday, the third-place game and championship will be played at Chrisman at 5:30 and 7:30, respectively, with the seventh-place and fifth-place games at Truman at the same times.

Kates will have something in common with Blake Little, the coach from Lee’s Summit, as both suffered from the COVID-19 virus and had to spend time away from their respective teams.

“It’s kind of funny because Blake and I went back to our teams at the same time,” Kates said. “I had a couple of pretty rough days, but I’m back at school, back with my guys – life is good.”