Prior to this season’s tipoff, Campus was already hyped as one of the top teams in the state, despite winning just seven games last season.
Although they possessed a talented roster, the Colts were fairly young and simply didn’t have many games go their way. But given the senior duo of Andrell Burton and Kaason Thomas headlining a now experienced supporting cast, it appeared they had the ability to vault far past their 2022-23 result heading into this season.
To those who made that prediction, you were spot on.
At 10-5, the Colts are far ahead of their win percentage from last season, and have won six of their last seven with Thomas and Burton both serving as vital cogs in the Campus machine.
“Two all-state players are extremely important,” head coach Zac Kliewer said. “Yes, they can both score at will, however, it is the other things that are really helping us be successful. KT is so good defensively and has really taken on the role of distributor and getting others involved. Andrell is the best player in the state and has been showing it this season. Whether it is double or triple teams he is still able to lead. His scoring ability at all three levels, his defense, his rebounding, and his ability to impact the game on both ends drives our team and has been really impressive this year.”
This season, Thomas is averaging 13.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 2.9 steals a game, and when needed, he has an extra gear.
In a 55-52 win over Goddard on January 30th, Thomas unleashed in the fourth quarter, scoring 15 points with three rebounds, three steals, and a block, helping clinch a victory over an upset hungry Goddard squad.
Alongside Thomas is his longtime teammate, Burton, who is averaging 25.5 points, 11.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.5 blocks per game.
In a February 2nd outing against Newton, Burton managed a school and career record 45 points on the Railroaders in a 77-52 win, and he did it in a fashion even Michael Jordan would likely approve of.
On the morning of the game, Burton gave his coach a heads up at 5:00 a.m. that he wasn’t feeling great, but was still going to make it into school that day.
“In four years I can count on one hand how many days he has missed,” Kliewer said. “He got some medication and clearly looked under the weather. I tried to tell him not to go to Newton for our Super Colts game, he wouldn’t have it.”
The Super Colts are a special needs basketball team at Campus that Burton helps coach.
“So he got on a bus for his first Newton trip of the day. Got back at 2 p.m. Came into school, took some meds and tried to nap. Got on the bus for the second time back to Newton, clearly feeling not that great. Told me he would give it his best tonight…45 points and a school record.”
While the feat is truly impressive, Burton dominating a game is far from an isolated incident.
“He is the most talented player I have coached and probably top five I have seen in our league,” Kliewer said. “To score 45 with the flu and to still be a great person and teammate. He will go down as probably the best player in our school history and one of the best players in AVCTL history.”
Burton and Thomas hope to continue their impactful play through the final five games of the season. Highlighting those five games are top-ranked league opponent Maize South, and another ranked league opponent in Hutchinson, along with other league matchups against Salina South, Salina Central and Derby.
“Every game is tough in our league,” Kliewer said. “Top to bottom got to bring it every day. This grind has prepped our team for the sub-state games and being mentally tough enough to compete in close games that will happen later in the season.”
The Colts lost their most recent matchup against Maize 62-56 after beating them prior to Christmas break 68-60, and in a season that started with a four game winning streak, then turned to a five game losing streak during a brutal stretch, before switching back to a six game winning streak up until their last Maize encounter, avoiding another multi-game slide is vital.
“It's going to take the whole team playing their parts the best we can," Thomas said. “And just putting together a whole game of basketball with a few mistakes.”
Thomas has interest from multiple college programs and holds offers from Manhattan Christian College and Friends University, but is currently planning on going the junior college route to further his career.
Burton, meanwhile, has already made his decision and is committed to play basketball for Division I Drake University next season. But before either go anywhere, they’ve got other goals in mind.
“We need to come together collectively as a team, play for each other and learn to overcome adversity while also staying urgent, whether it's defensively or offensively,” Burton said. “I believe if we put all that into effect, we not only can be the best in 6A, but also have a chance to play at Koch Arena for a championship.”