TOPEKA, Kan. – Topeka West had just finished off a 78-60 win over Hayden to improve to 5-0, but Charger coach Rick Bloomquist knew it was time for a sit down with one of his top players to that point.
So in front of the entire team, Bloomquist laid it out for senior point guard Marque Wilkerson.
“There was a time where I thought about getting rid of him, that addition by subtraction was going to work this time,” Bloomquist said of that post-game talk, a game in which he benched Wilkerson for the entire second half. “Thank god I was wrong.”
Wilkerson took the constructive criticism to heart. Instead of getting turned off by his coach’s demands, Wilkerson turned up the dial.
His transformation from a solid role player for the Chargers into arguably West’s most invaluable player not only keyed arguably the best season in program history — a 21-3 record, Centennial League title and Class 5A state runner-up finish — but also earns Wilkerson City Player of the Year honors for the 2020-21 season.
“He was like, ‘We can really use you, but we can also lose you,'” Wilkerson recalled. “I just knew my spot could get taken, I could get kicked off the team. Anything could happen. You can’t take anything for granted. He was just pushing me to get better and better.”
Wilkerson played in 22 games as a junior in 2019-20, averaging 6.8 points per game. He showed flashes last season with six double-figure scoring games, including a then-career-high 15 against Ottawa.
Though Bloomquist expected an improved version of Wilkerson this season, in no way did he expect the Wilkerson he got.
Wilkerson opened the season with games of 18, 12, 21 and 10 points before his brief lull at the start of January. He finished with double-figure scoring in 16 of West’s last 17 games and finished the season leading the Chargers in scoring at 17.1 points per game.
“Marque’s a great example of a high school kid developing himself,” Bloomquist said. “A lot of it wasn’t physical, but mental. He took a lot of grief from me about the way the game should be played. But more importantly, he not only took the grief but applied it. A lot of kids won’t take constructive criticism, but Marque did and turned himself into a marquee player.
“Marque does a lot of things on a different level. He has a skill and talent in the open court that a lot of kids can’t emulate on the high school level.”
Wilkerson’s transformation also helped turn West from a good team into a great one. The Chargers won the first Centennial League title in program history and won 15 straight games after a mid-season two-game losing streak, riding the wave to the 5A state championship game.
Thought the season ended with a 55-43 loss to Maize in the championship game, it was a run all the Chargers won’t soon forget.
“His talent took us to a different level,” Bloomquist said. “I thought we were good and had good players, but Marque helped make it a little more great.”
“This was the best year I’ve ever had playing basketball, that’s middle school, AAU, everything,” Wilkerson said. “It was time for me to grow up and be tuned in. It was a lot of fun. We had so many accomplishments and to share it with these guys was incredible.”
Wilkerson is joined on the All-City first team by two Charger teammates, senior Trevion Alexander and junior Elijah Brooks, each earning first-team honors for the second straight year. West swept the city honors with Bloomquist named coach of the year and junior transfer Zander Putthoff earning Newcomer of the Year honors.
The other two first-team spots are held by repeat selections as well. Washburn Rural’s Joe Berry earned his third straight first-team nod, while Highland Park’s CJ Powell makes the first team for the second straight year.
BOYS ALL-CITY CAPSULES
TREVION ALEXANDER, TOPEKA WEST — No player in the city was hotter than Alexander at the start of the season. After averaging 12.9 points per game last year as a junior, Alexander began his senior season with three games of 30 or more points in the Chargers’ first four contests, including a career-high 33 against Topeka High. Though he scored 20 or more in just two of West’s final 20 games, Alexander still finished as the Chargers’ second-leading scorer at 16.6 points per game. He also added 5.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.3 steals per game and shared Centennial League player of the year honors with teammate Marque Wilkerson and Washburn Rural’s Joe Berry. Alexander earned first-team All-City honors for the second straight year and helped lead the Chargers to their first Centennial League championship and a runner-up finish at the Class 5A state tournament.
JOE BERRY, WASHBURN RURAL — Last year’s co-City Player of the Year, Berry got off to a somewhat slow start to his senior season before turning it on. He ended up averaging 15.7 points per game to lead the Junior Blues. Berry shot 63% from two-point range and also was Rural’s leading rebounder with 4.6 per game as well as tops in assists (47) and steals (42). Berry, who has signed with Army, shared Centennial League player of the year honors with Topeka West’s Trevion Alexander and Marque Wilkerson and is a three-time first-team All-City selection.
ELIJAH BROOKS, TOPEKA WEST — Brooks is also a repeat selection to the All-City first team, despite battling a left foot injury that kept him out of four games this season. Brooks saw his scoring dip slightly this season, going from 17.2 points per game as a sophomore to 15.4 points per game this season. He led the Chargers in rebounds at 7.5 per game and also had 2.6 assists per game, helping West to its first Centennial League title and a second-place finish at the Class 5A state tournament. A first-team All-Centennial League pick for the second straight year, Brooks scored 24 points in the state semifinal win over DeSoto and had a season-high of 29 against Emporia.
CJ POWELL, HIGHLAND PARK — One of four repeat selections from last year’s All-City first team, Powell led the Scots in scoring for the second straight season. He averaged 15.5 points per game this season, shooting 47% from the floor. Powell went over the 1,000-point mark this season, finishing his career with 1,084 points. He also led Highland Park in rebounds at 7 per game and chipped in 2.1 assists and 1.7 blocks per game. Powell earned first-team All-Centennial League honors for the second straight year.
MARQUE WILKERSON, TOPEKA WEST — No player in the city made a bigger leap in production from last year to this season than Wilkerson did, a huge reason for West’s run to its first Centennial League title and a runner-up finish at the Class 5A state tournament. After averaging 6.8 points per game as a junior, Wilkerson nearly tripled his scoring, leading the Chargers with 17.1 points per game to earn City Player of the Year honors. Wilkerson shared Centennial League player of the year honors with teammate Trevion Alexander and Washburn Rural’s Joe Berry and also averaged 5.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.2 steals, all career-best marks as well. He scored 20 or more in nine games and shared team-high honors for the Chargers with 13 points in the 5A championship game.
Trevion Alexander, Topeka West;6-4;Sr.
Joe Berry, Washburn Rural;6-3;Sr.
Elijah Brooks, Topeka West;6-3;Jr.
CJ Powell, Highland Park;6-7;Sr.
Marque Wilkerson, Topeka West;6-2;Sr.
Noah Hastert, Cair Paravel;6-6;Jr.
Ty Henry, Seaman;6-4;Jr.
Jack Hutchinson, Washburn Rural;6-0;Sr.
Juan’Tario Roberts, Highland Park;6-2;Jr.
Jalen Smith, Topeka High;6-1;Sr.
Zach Clark, Cair Paravel;6-3;Jr.
Mateo Hyman, Seaman;6-0;Jr.
Joe Otting, Hayden;6-4;So.
Isiah Johnson, Shawnee Heights;5-10;Sr.
Zander Putthoff, Topeka West;6-4;Jr.
Cair Paravel — Luke Fay, so. Hayden — Jake Muller, so.; Trey Pivarnik, sr. Highland Park — MuKhajae Daniels, sr.; Jahi Peppers, sr. Seaman — Kaeden Bonner, so.; Aron Davis, jr. Shawnee Heights — Harvey Davis, sr.; Nathan Pewe, jr. Topeka High — Isiah Esquibel, jr.; Jayden Leesman, sr. Topeka West — Sincere Austin, so. Washburn Rural — Jack Bachelor, so.
Player of the year — Marque Wilkerson, Topeka West.
Newcomer of the year — Zander Putthoff, Topeka West.
Coach of the year — Rick Bloomquist, Topeka West.