Blue Valley Northwest boys basketball coach Ed Fritz enjoyed some down time last weekend. He needed it as he still is trying to catch his breath after an improbable three-week whirlwind.
Fritz guided the Huskies to another Class 6A state championship March 10 in Wichita. The next weekend, he was in Dallas watching former BV Northwest stars Clayton Custer and Ben Richardson play for the University of Loyola-Chicago during the first and second rounds of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Next, it was off to Atlanta then San Antonio as the Ramblers’ Cinderella run went all the way to the Final Four.
“It just kept going and going and going,” Fritz said. “It was just wild.”
After resting up from following Loyola’s improbable Final Four odyssey, Fritz will be busy again this week coaching the Kansas boys’ team April 13 in the 21st annual Kansas vs. Missouri High School All-Star Challenge presented by Nike and the Greater Kansas City Basketball Coaches Association.
The games, which pit seniors from opposite sides of the state line against one another in boys’ and girls’ all-star showdowns, will take place this year at Avila University’s Mabee Fieldhouse. It’s a far cry from the giant arenas and stadiums Fritz found himself in during the last month.
Fritz sat courtside at the American Airlines Arena in Dallas when Custer hit the go-ahead basket with 3.6 seconds left against Tennessee. He celebrated in Atlanta’s Phillips Arena when Richardson pumped in a career-high 23 points during an Elite Eight victory against Kansas State.
Then, there was the Alamodome, where he basked in the national spotlight with his two former stars, Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser and Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the team’s 98-year old team chaplain.
“There are a lot of really, really good players that never played in a Final Four,” Fritz said. “For them to do it, and to do it together and the way they did it was just so overwhelming. And with the way basketball was at the beginning of the year with scandals with the shoe companies and all that, it just seemed like Loyola was such a great story.”
Fritz is coaching the Kansas all-stars for the first time since 2014, when he had Custer and Richardson on the squad along with David Salach and his son, Vince Fritz. This year, he has three players off his latest state-champion squad on the all-star roster — 6-foot-6 forward Joe Pleasant, 6-5 guard Parker Braun and 6-3 guard Sam Ward.
Ezekiel Lopes of Class 4A, Division I champion Bishop Miege also is on the team along with Garrett Luinstra and Jalan Robinson of Class 6A runner-up Lawrence Free State.
They’ll be joined by Cooper Kaifes of Mill Valley, Luke Waters and Jackson Nicodemus of Olathe Northwest, Tyron Grant Foster of Schlagle, Drew Nusbaum of St. Thomas Aquinas, Cameron Southern of Shawnee Mission West, Miles Emery of BV North, Doc Covington of Piper, and Joshua Williams of Bonner Springs.
BV Northwest assistant coach Zach Harsh will join Fritz on the bench along with Ryan Darst and Hunter Henry from SM West.
“It’s great to be able to do this,” Fritz said. “I’ve had a long association with the coaches association. To see what this has grown into is really nice. Hopefully, it will be a meaningful experience for all who participate in the game.”
The Kansas girls’ team features two of the five DiRenna Award finalists. Sereena Weledji, a 6-0 forward from St. Thomas Aquinas, averaged 13.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game as she led the Saints to a third straight Class 5A state title. Sydney Wilson, a 6-0 forward from Olathe East, averaged 19.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game for the Class 6A runner-up Hawks.
Aquinas’ Allison Thomas is also on the Kansas team along with E’lease Stafford of Lawrence, Sydney Dwyer of Wellsville, Evan Zars of Mill Valley, Courtney Harms of Bishop Miege, Skylar Washington of Gardner Edgerton, Jordann Nachbar of SM Northwest, Brooke Lansford of BV West, Mary Goetz of St. James Academy, Catherine Szukalski of Blue Valley, Abby Ogle of Baldwin, Christen Curry of Olathe Northwest and Chesney Downing of Atchison.
Brock Campbell of Wellsville and Bob Martin of Baldwin are coaching the Kansas team.
The All-Star Challenge will begin with the girls’ game at 6 p.m. followed by the boys’ game at 7:45 p.m.. A slam-dunk contest will take place at halftime of the boys’ game. Tickets, which are only available at the door, are $10 for adults and $5 for students.