The 48th annual Ralph Miller Classic is set to begin next Thursday at Chanute High School. And if it wasn’t for arguably the greatest Chanute athlete ever to grace the town, this high school basketball tournament wouldn’t be in existence.
Miller, who was born in Chanute on March 9, 1919, had a heralded sports career as a player and coach. He showcased his talents at Chanute High School and went on to earn four letters in football and track, three in basketball and one each in golf and tennis.
Playing on a bad hip, Miller scored 26 points to lead Chanute to its first and only state championship in 1935.
Miller earned All-SEK selections three times as well as All-State selections three times in basketball and football.
The local gregarious athletic hero went on to become an even bigger name at the University of Kansas. The 6’1” forward took the reigns as the starting quarterback, setting school and conference passing records – including five touchdown passes, a record that stood until 2007 – versus Washburn University in his sophomore season.
On the track, Miller held the state low hurdle record.
Accomplishing feats in nearly every sport, Miller’s bread and butter was still the game of basketball. As a Jayhawk, Miller played for KU head basketball coach Phog Allen as a three-year starter and received instruction from Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball. And one year, Miller led KU to the National Championship in 1940, losing to Indiana.
After sustaining a knee injury in 1941, Miller returned in 1942 to lead the Big Six in scoring with 13.4 points a game, positioning the Jayhawks in the conference title and the NCAA tournament. Miller scored 30 points in a game that year versus Wichita, which at the time, was a record for most points ever in a single Kansas game (Wilt Chamberlain currently holds the record with 52 points).
“Dad was a coach, and he was quite a basketball player,” Beverly (Miller) Olson, Miller’s daughter, previously said.
The exemplary basketball player started thinking as a coach when he played at KU. The Chanute native in his junior season suggested to Allen that he implement a post player. Allen didn’t use the idea at first, but after seeing how it could be used by inserting Miller as a post player in a scrimmage, and after a loss to Oklahoma, the KU coach started to use the strategy.
In 1941, while sitting out with the knee injury, Miller coached basketball at Mt. Oread High School as a requirement of his teaching degree. He graduated from KU in 1942 as a physical education major. He then served for three years in the US Air Force during World War II before being discharged and becoming a basketball coach at Wichita East High School, where he went 63-17 and won a state title in 1951.
Miller then coached at Wichita State University, compiling a 220-133 record in 14 seasons. He also coached at Iowa, amassing a 95-51 record and two Big Ten titles in 1968 and 1970, as well as a NCAA Tournament appearance in 1971.
Finally, Miller coached at Oregon State, culling a 359-186 record and garnering four PAC-10 championships and eight appearances. Twice named PAC-10 Coach of the Year, Miller even coached NBA Hall of Famer Gary Payton, who starred for the Seattle Supersonics before winning an NBA Championship with the Miami Heat in 2006.
Chanute has produced quite the basketball event, and now the teams are ready to represent the tournament to the highest standard.
The teams involved this year will be Olathe North High School, Emporia High School, Goddard High School, Andover Central High School, the Wichita Defenders, Soldan International Studies High School from St. Louis, Shawnee Mission South High School, and of course, Chanute High School.
Olathe North High:
For Olathe North High School, Adam Olerich enters as a first-year head coach, but he has been on the coaching staff as an assistant for the last eight years.
Sitting at 4-5 on the early year, the North Eagles lost four starters, including Christian Braun who is logging major minutes for the Jayhawks this year, who played in a tough battle versus Blue Valley Northwest in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs last year.
Led by KT Raimey, Syl Union, Koi Jackson, and Quentin Mason, the North Eagles play seven seniors. Raimey is the one returning starter.
Olerich said the tournament is a good way for his players to learn what it means to be consistently competitive in varsity basketball games, and he is excited.
“We are excited about playing in the Ralph Miller tournament,” Olerich said. “Chanute High School is first class across the board as hosts, and we always enjoy coming down here to play. Our expectations are to play good, tough, hard-nosed basketball and compete. We will play good, well-coached teams whoever we draw.”
Led by head coach Beau Welch the last 10 years, the Spartans finished last year with an 11-10 record and finishing 2-1 in the Ralph Miller Classic before placing fourth.
Emporia returns starters in Charles Snyder and Beau Baumgardner. Snyder, a 6-5 guard and forward, is averaging 23.5 points a game, while Baumgardner averages 10.
With a record of 4-4 thus far, Welch said this tournament serves as a good way to test his players.
“I always feel this tournament is a good measuring stick for our team,” Welch said.
Head coach Matthew Lawson is in his second year as coach for the Lions. Last year, Goddard was 3-18 and lost by a three-pointer to Great Bend in the first round of sub-state.
Returning players from that team include Jaden Wiley, Jackson Lefevre and Blake Mitchell, who was an All-League Honorable Mention.
“We are continuing to try and improve throughout the season,” Lawson said. “The goal of Goddard is to play our best basketball in February. The goal of the mid-season tournament is to try and win the tournament. At a minimum, we want to win two games. As the backend of the season begins, we want to start and collect wins as we play every Tuesday and Friday.”
Leading the team that has won the Ralph Miller Classic the past two seasons as well as the Class 5A State Championship last season is Jesse Herrmann, the head coach since Andover Central opened in 2001.
The Central Tigers graduated two 1,000-point scorers in Braden Belt and Easton Leedom, but returned players Xavier Bell, Jerome Washington, Shomari Parnell, Ty Herrmann, and Kaden Wilson. Bell, who last year averaged 20 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 3.1 assists, is a first-team USA Today All-USA Kansas selection.
“We haven’t become the team we think we can be yet, but I am optimistic that we will become much better as the season progresses,” Herrmann said. “Hopefully getting away from home together will be a good team-building experience and we can use the experience moving forward to make us the best team we can be by March.”
Curtis Cooley is in his first year as the head coach. Last year, the Defenders placed fifth overall in the National Christian Homeschool Basketball Championships in Springfield, Mo. before finishing 21-11.
This year, the team is 5-7, though Wichita didn’t lose any players from last year. The Defenders return Micah Cooley, David Brown, Kip Ammons, Jonah Wolters, Josh Martin and James Rackley.
The best players on the team are Brown, who is a stretch power forward who has the ability to score from anywhere on the court as well as finish hard in the paint, and Wolters, a solid shooter possessing leadership and a high-basketball IQ.
“Honestly, we are not where we wanted to be as we planned for this season,” Cooley said. “We have been plagued by injuries to our starting lineup, and it has made it difficult to find a team rhythm. Most of our players are returning from injury and things are starting to click. I expect a big performance from this group. If we can maintain cohesiveness on the floor, there are not many teams that we cannot beat. Winning big in this tournament will be the right spark we need as we prepare for our Nationals in March.”
Soldan International Studies and Shawnee Mission South:
The Tigers (Soldan International) went 18-12 last season, and this current year the school is 2-2.
For Shawnee Mission South, last year the South Raiders went 19-6 and advanced to the state tournament in Wichita. For the 2019-20 season, Shawnee Mission South is currently 4-5.
The Blue Comets upset Bishop Miege in the sub-state finals last year, advancing to the state playoffs for the first time since 2015 and finishing the season with a 12-11 record.
Showing a level of deference to last year’s team, first-year coach Devon Crabtree said he wants to add to the success the Blue Comets enjoyed just a year ago.
“We’d like to build off of the success they had last year,” Crabtree said. “We’re excited. We lost a lot of players that played. So, we are just going to try and continue that. And hopefully have success like they did.”
CHS finished the Ralph Miller Classic in third place a year ago.
Still, Chanute lost a bevy of key contributors, including Corbett Kimberlin (All-SEK and All-State Honorable Mention player who now plays for Neosho County Community College), Mason Manbeck and Nate Audiss (All-SEK Honorable Mention).
Chanute returned several student-athletes who have positioned Chanute at 4-4 on the year. The team is talented and shows flashes of brilliance.
Ty Bowman (6’5”), who can get to the rim and can finish well around the rim and block shots as well as rebound, is the only returning starter with any experience with varsity minutes from the 2018-19 season; Briley Peavy (5’10”) is a quick guard who can defend and control the flow of the game; Garrett Almond (6’1”) is an exceptional shooter and playmaker; Kam Koester (6’2”) is an off-guard who can shoot the 3 and the midrange basket; Josh Slansky is a Swiss army knife, including blocking shots, rebounding, running the floor, filling the lanes and making layups; Tye Coombs is a good ball-handler who can shoot the 3 and slash to the rim at will.
The official Ralph Miller Classic bracket will be released this weekend.