Reflections of the 2007 Basketball Season
By Gary E. Mitchell
The 2007 basketball season was truly one-dimensional. Our household followed Tara Mitchell to every game of a 22-game season. It was a time of constantly being on the move. On a typical game day, we would go to work, rush home, change into comfortable clothes, load up the riders of the day and head off to wherever Royal Valley was playing. It was the same pattern as last year. We would arrive at the game, pay the $4 entry fee, buy hot-dogs, popcorn and pop for our basketball supper and sit back and wait for the game to start. We hardly ever got to watch other games because the Royal Valley games were our true focal point or obsession. It was truly rewarding from a grandparents’ view to see all the hard work pay off for Tara. She was the consummate team player and thought ‘pass first’. Teamwork is great, but the word sometimes drags down statistics. Here are some thoughts on Tara’s season.
Tara Mitchell, daughter of Joanna Mitchell, had two goals in mind when the season started. She wanted the Royal Valley High School girls’ team to win the Flint Hills Shootout and go back to the state tournament. She played on the Royal Valley team that went on to play in the state tournament when she was a sophomore. Her team accomplished the first goal, but not the second. Yet, the season was a positive one for her and the team, but most of all; it was rewarding to watch for her family and friends who followed every game.
In preparation for her senior season, Tara played summer league basketball at Washburn University and attended a 5-Star basketball camp at the University of Massachusetts this past July. She, along with her family, raised the necessary money for airfare and expenses. She learned the value of raising her own money and discovered the good in people. There were tribal members who bought chances from her on different raffle items; and, for that support, she will always remain grateful. The summer work, along with long hours of practice shooting the basketball on the concrete courts of the rez, with her brother Nyeh Washkeh and cousin Rusty, paid off in her senior season.
Tara scored 35 points in one game and 23 in another. In her senior season, Tara followed up her All-League and All-County Junior season by leading the All-Big Seven League in scoring averaging 14.5 points per game, rebounds 9 per game and steals 2.5 a game. She is expected to add the same all-league and all-county honors this year. Tara was also All-Tournament at the Flint Hills Shootout, where Royal Valley won the championship. She was named by the Holton Recorder as ‘Athlete of the Week’ twice this season.
She is now listed in the Royal Valley record books for scoring 2nd on the all-time list for a single game with 35 points, most 2-point shots made in a game (14) and steals. For the year, she scored 318 points, which places her seventh on the schools all-time list for single-season scoring. Tara hopes those records will be broken by another Potawatomi in the future. Tara also was the choice for queen in the King of Queens event earlier in the year.
Royal Valley finished their season 14-8, placing third in the Big Seven League, advanced to the semi-finals for the second straight year, and lost to Hayden High School of Topeka, Kansas, for the second straight year. This disappointing loss to Hayden didn’t take anything from Tara Mitchell “stellar senior season,” as a local sportswriter said in one of his columns.
Tara is now deciding on where she will go to school next year, but her basketball playing days will not end anytime soon. For now, Tara and some of her friends are again raising money for an All-Indian high school basketball tournament in Phoenix, Arizona, in July.
At one point in the season, after Tara got through playing her game at Royal Valley, we rushed off to watch Topeka High play at 7:45pm. Justin Purdee plays for Topeka High and they were playing Seaman High School at Seaman which is only located 15-20 minutes down the road, but we still had to hustle to see the opening tip-off.
Some facts about Purdee. He is a tribal member and the son of Angela Emmert. He is a 6' 4" guard (forward) and followed up an outstanding junior season with a solid encore performance as a senior. Topeka High gets up and down the court fast and has a strong combination of outside shooters and a strong inside game. Purdee fits well on this team and has made a name for himself. Purdee can shoot out the lights with his 3-point shooting abilities; he’s averaged over 12 points per game as a junior - and during his senior seasons. Last year, he was chosen third team All Class 6-A. Purdee was also chosen as a candidate for the McDonalds All-American team this year.
I was able to take a few pictures during the game and, afterwards, to share with our tribal members. It doesn’t hurt to see the people you’re writing about. I remember seeing him as he grew up and it’s rewarding to see a tribal member do so well.
My daughter told me about a kid named Adrian Herrera who played for Highland Park and said he was a tribal member. Of course, I didn’t know that. Our tribe has close to 5,000 members and it’s hard to know everybody especially when they live all over the United States. I told her I would go see him play if I got the chance.
Once Tara’s team was eliminated in the sub-state finals, I read that Highland Park was playing the next day. So, I persuaded my wife and granddaughter to go with me to watch the sub-state finals between Highland Park and Bonner Springs. My wife said, “Sure, I’d like to go watch a Potawatomi play.” Of course, by then, I think we had turned into basketball junkies and we had to have some time to withdraw from watching Tara’s games – a painful process for sure. Here’s what I wrote about Adrian.
Adrian Herrera, a Potawatomi tribal member, contributed to a great basketball season at Highland Park High School in Topeka, Kansas. Highland Park is a traditional 5-A power-house in Kansas basketball.
Highland Park is loaded with Division 1 talent and is ranked 15th in the country by one poll. The school located on the East side of Topeka finished undefeated in the regular season at 20-0 and won the 5-A sub-state regional held at Seaman High School by beating Bonner Springs High School 83-43. Highland Park is a heavy favorite to win the 5-A state tournament.
During the season, Highland Park defeated many 6-A schools and is a team that plays a fast-paced game getting up and down the court with lightning speed. They have a blend of top, outside shooters and big men who can wake up the house with slam-dunks. On top of all that, they lose little at substitution time.
Herrera is a 5'11" Junior Guard with a super smooth shooting motion. His shooting touch has enabled Herrera to score 24 points in one game and 23 in another this basketball season. For the season, he is a 51% 3-point shooter - figures that will no doubt draw Division 1 interest. Illinois State has shown the most interest at this time. “If that doesn’t work out, he will go the JUCO route and then work toward playing at a Division 1 school,” Herrera said.
Highland Park Head Coach Ken Darting had confidence in Herrera, gave him the green light to shoot, and wanted him to play a tough defense. “I’m a shooter and Coach Darting is one of the best coaches he ever played for. He teaches us about life as well as basketball,” Herrera said.
That confidence by the coach has paid off in the two big scoring games. “I was feeling it, so I just kept on shooting,” Herrera said, after the 24-point game against Emporia High School. “As a shooter, if you’re feeling it, you just keep shooting no matter what. I’ve never shot like that before - that was probably one of my best games of the year.”
Scoring points in bunches like Herrera did this year didn’t come about by accident. He started to play basketball at seven years old with his older brothers in the driveway. “It helped his game to play against older kids,” he said. This prepared him for organized ball as he advanced through the lower grades and high school. One of the older players, who he admired and wanted to emulate, was Robert Townsend, who recently passed away. Herrera said he was one of the best players ever at Highland Park.
His advice to younger players is to go the gym everyday, develop your game and work on shooting drills. Herrera said kids need to stay in the gym, stay hungry and always compete. “Everything won’t be perfect,” said Herrera, “you can’t be perfect, but by practicing everyday your game will improve. It is so important for kids to listen to their coaches; and, then and only then, can they move forward and get better.”
Next year when Herrera is a senior, he will once again dial in those high arching shots from the perimeter and those 24-point games will become a regular occurrence on the courts of Topeka, Kansas, and elsewhere.
As for us, 2007 will always be remembered as the greatest of times in high school basketball. We got to see some top guns, both boys and girls. It’s better yet when they were Potawatomis. Next year should be more of the same.