2020-21 Boys Basketball Player of the Year: Van Horn's Jaden Monday caps prep career with dream season
When Van Horn boys basketball coach Max Sollars was working out with his team four years ago, he was approached by a skinny eighth grader.
He asked the first-year coach if he could practice with the "big boys."
"Back then, he was skinny, but he was fearless," Sollars said. "I knew he was going to be great!"
Fast forward to that skinny eighth grader’s senior season. Shooting guard Jaden Monday clearly benefited from that practice. He averaged 23.3 points per game – second best among all players in the entire metro area – along with 5.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 3.1 steals per game while leading the 20-10 Falcons to a Class 5 third-place state finish and earning first-team all-state honors by the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association.
After leading the Falcons to the program’s first state final four appearance since 1983, he finished his career as the Falcons' all-time leader with 1,865 points and 340 assists.
And to wrap up what Monday calls "a dream season," he was a near unanimous selection as The Examiner's 2020-21 Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
"I'm so happy for Jaden because he really deserves it," Sollars said. "I know Cole Keller was a beast at Grain Valley and (Braden) Appelhans did a lot of good things for Blue Springs. Those dudes are great players, but you had to see Jaden – game in, game out – to know what he meant to our team.
"I wanted to come over here and create a culture, and he helped me do it. There were a lot of other players who helped, but he was the dude everyone followed. He's such a great team player, and he was the man for our team."
The bigger the game, the better Monday performed.
"Nothing – and I mean nothing – he did on the court ever surprised me," Sollars said. "The last month of a season that ends with a third-place state trophy, he was our No. 1 option. We knew it, everyone in the gym knew it, and he still delivered. He played every quarter, every game like it was his last. Man, what a ride."
Photo gallery:Class 5 boys basketball final four: Van Horn Falcons
In typical Monday fashion, he was quick to direct the attention to his coach and teammates.
"I don't know where I'd be without Coach Sollars – man, he's like a second father to me," Monday said. "And everyone played so well this season, especially in the big games late in the season. When I was a kid, Van Horn wasn't winning anything.
"And I met Coach and asked if I could practice with the (varsity) team and they kicked my butt. But I kept coming back because I knew Coach was going to create something special and I am so honored to have been a small part of it.”
He was a big part of it, averaging 27.7 points in six postseason games, including a 41-point performance in a 91-83 upset of No. 2-ranked Mexico in the state quarterfinal.
"As far as The Examiner's award, I can't thank you … enough for … letting everyone in Eastern Jack know that Van Horn has a strong program and that we're going to be good for a long, long time,” Monday said. “I can't wait to come back and watch the boys next year and see what's happening."
He won't have a long drive as he will play basketball at NCAA Division II Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas.
"Oh man, we've been talking about the classroom and what he needs to do to succeed at college and I think I'm as excited as Jaden is," Sollars said. "He's going to have a great career at Washburn, and we're all going to go watch him play. He's a part of our family! Just because he's at Washburn doesn't mean he's left our family – it just means he's ready for a new challenge. And I can't wait to see what he does there."
2020-21 Examiner All-Area Boys Basketball
• Braden Appelhans, Blue Springs, 6-6, jr., G/F — Averaged 16.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.3 steals; shot 50.4% from field, 88.4% from free throw line (led metro area), 51.4% from 3-point range (led metro area); All-Suburban Big Eight, all-district.
• Ikenna Ezeogu, Blue Springs, 6-5, jr., F — Averaged 14.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.4 steals; shot 54.8% from field, 71.8% from free throw line; All-Suburban Big Eight, all-district.
• Cole Keller, Grain Valley, 6-5, sr., F — Averaged 19.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2 assists, 2.6 blocks, 1.3 steals; shot 64.4% from field, 59.8% from FT line; All-Suburban Middle Six, all-district.
• Jaden Monday, Van Horn, 6-0, sr., PG — Averaged 23.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 3.1 steals; shot 45.5% from field, 36% from 3-point range, 71.3% from free throw line; All-Crossroads Conference; all-district; MBCA Class 5 All-State; 2020-21 Examiner Player of the Year.
• Deuce Roberts, St. Michael the Archangel Catholic, 6-0, sr., G — Averaged 16.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.9 steals; shot 46.6% from field, 32.6% from 3-point range, 76.4% from free throw line; all-district; all-district; MBCA Class 4 All-State.
• Devin Tomlinson, Blue Springs South, 6-3, sr., F — Averaged 15.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.6 steals; shot 48.7% from field, 30.9% from 3-point range, 76.6% from free throw line; All-Suburban Big Eight, all-district.
• Najee Williams, Truman, 6-2, sr., G — Averaged 20.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 steals; shot 52.5% from field, 33.3% from 3-point range, 70.5% from free throw line; All-Suburban Middle Six, all-district, MBCA Class 6 All-State.
• Max Black, Truman, 6-5, sr., F
• Kyle Bruce, Blue Springs, 5-7, jr., PG
• Mike Haggerty, St. Michael the Archangel Catholic, 6-4, jr., F
• Dayne Herl, William Chrisman, 6-4, jr., G/F
• Runey Hernandez, Truman, 6-6, sr., F
• Jeremy Paige, Van Horn, 5-11, jr., PG
• Anthony Watkins, William Chrisman, 6-2, sr., G
• Eli Wingert, Blue Springs, 6-8, sr., F
• Arthur Wyatt, Fort Osage, 6-3, jr., F
Blue Springs: Mike Harrison, 6-2, jr., G; Blue Springs South: Ty Mauck, 6-3, sr., F; Dallas Whitney, 6-6, jr., F; Fort Osage: Trent Hogland, 5-10, jr., G; Braden Pottberg, 6-2, sr., G; Zekiah Tucker, 5-8, jr., G; Grain Valley: Owen Herbert, 6-0, soph., G; Jayden Yung, 6-1, sr., G; Lee’s Summit North: Jeremy Moore, 6-5, sr., C; St. Michael the Archangel Catholic: JJ Adams, 5-10 jr., G; Lawrence Roccaro, 6-2, sr., F; Van Horn: Brycen Dean, 6-0, jr., SG; Sean Mitchell, 6-3, sr., F; William Chrisman: Alex Atagi, 6-5, sr., F.