Sunrise Christian hoops makes a fast break

Written by Lauren Boughfman

Ranked first in the state, second in the nation, the Sunrise Christian Academy Buffalos are having a remarkable season. Though, this is no surprise. For years, the Sunrise Christian Nike Elite Team has held a spot as one of the best teams in the country. Sunrise attracts some of the best basketball players in the United States and from around the world. But these young men are more than just great players: At Sunrise morals hold just as much importance as academics and athletics, and the players impressively portray this on and off the court.

How it started

In 1983–1984 Dr. Robert Lindsted started with just eight students who wanted to homeschool. At the time, he was teaching at Wichita State University. More and more families found out about the "school" and started applying. Over the last 30-plus years Sunrise has grown with Lindsted serving as superintendent and it's now considered a "hidden nugget" in Bel Aire, Kansas.

Sunrise is well known for its academics, but with the understanding that some students learn a little differently and sometimes struggle in a rigorous program. That's where the Precept program comes in. Principal Peggy O’Donnell explains, “The program is designed for students who like a smaller classroom (1:6 ratio), need additional help, have IEPs or just want to have a year to ‘catch up’ if they have transferred, etc. Whether it's an honors class or any other class, the faculty and staff are dedicated to a safe, loving and strong educational program.”

The elite team

Sunrise has a variety of sport options ranging from football, soccer, baseball, track and field, softball, cross country, bowling, cheer and golf. However, the sport they have been known for is basketball. Sunrise has two traveling teams, Elite and Select, the Elite team being ranked at a national level. The school also hosts a "home town" team that numerous students play on — many have grown up at Sunrise since grade school.

Currently, the Elite team is 18–2 with wins against the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country. They are currently ranked No. 2 in the U.S.A. As a team, they have boasted two McDonald's All-Americans. The team represents three nations outside the U.S. with a player from Taiwan (Steven Tsui), China (Joe Zhang) and Sweden (Kenny Pohto).

The American population on the team is also extremely diverse representing Detroit (Jaden Akins), Minneapolis (Kendall Brown), Memphis (Kennedy Chandler), San Antonio (Zachary Clemence), Atlanta (Orion Champion), Kansas City (Jaylon McDaniels), Niagara Falls (Willie Lightfoot), Ruston (Fred Payne), and our very own from Wichita (Gradey Dick). “Our team is full of players from all walks of life,” says Coach Luke Barnwell.

Five seniors are committed and signed to play NCAA Division I basketball:

Jaden Akins — Michigan State
Kennedy Chandler — Tennessee
Jaylon McDaniels — East Tennessee State
Kendall Brown — Baylor
Zachary Clemence — Kansas

Recently, local hero Gradey Dick committed to the University of Kansas. He will have one more year in the Sunrise program before attending Kansas.

The team finished tied for first in the inaugural NIBC (National Interscholastic Basketball Conference) and will play for the championship. They have played two nationally televised games on ESPNU and four other games on ESPN3 this season. The Buffalos have once again been selected for a Geico Nationals appearance — the U.S.’s championship in high school basketball — for the third consecutive season, out of only eight teams selected.

This team has a large following in the basketball world. “We have a family atmosphere at Sunrise and people care about our team because they’ve experienced it,” says Coach Barnwell.

Future Jayhawks

Among the many Division I commits coming out of the program are Zachary Clemence, class of 2021, 6–10, power forward, as well as Gradey Dick, class of 2022, 6–7, shooting guard. Both have decided to join the Jayhawk family, committing to the University of Kansas. Clemence, who is originally from San Antonio, Texas, earned the opportunity to attend and play for his dream school, KU.

Dick, a junior at Sunrise, is from right here in Wichita. Though it was a big decision, he committed to the University of Kansas last month and will be joining his current teammate for the 2022–2023 season. For Dick, this was not a difficult decision, he knew in his heart where he wanted to go, which made his decision to stay home in Kansas much, much easier.

Being ranked at a national level, Clemence and Dick will be great additions to the KU basketball team and are two athletes to watch for throughout the next few years. For both of these players, their careers are just getting started.

Coach Luke Barnwell, 2021 Naismith High School Boys Coach of the Year

Luke Barnwell is the head basketball coach at Sunrise Christian Academy. He came into the position straight out of college, where he played at Newman University, and after eight years of experience he has no regrets. Barnwell has a passion for the game that translates to his coaching. “I truly enjoy the talent as well as the level of competition our team has to offer,” says Coach Barnwell. He loves coaching this age of kids and does his absolute best to prepare them for what is next.

“Sunrise has changed my life just as much as the kids. I love the environment this program has to offer. Our mission is to raise kids spiritually, academically and athletically,”
— Coach Barnwell

On March 10, 2021, Barnwell was named the Naismith High School Boys Coach of the Year. In response to the award, he says, “God uses the most unlikely characters and writes an unbelievable story. Humbled to be in the same breath as the inventor of the greatest game on earth. Praise to my players, past and present, our school, my staff of coaches, and most importantly to the highest, God.”

Barnwell says of Gradey Dick: “Gradey is an impressive player, to say the least. He is big, standing at 6-foot-7, and is an incredibly versatile player. He is a great shooter — often called one of the best shooters in the country — and has the ability to play all over the floor. To go with this, Gradey is also extremely easy to coach. “He’s a great kid with a great personality. He is goofy and ornery, and a joy to be around.”

Roster

#0 Jaden AkinsClass of 20216' 3"165 lbs.Guard
#1 Kennedy ChandlerClass of 20216' 0"175 lbs.Point guard
#2 Steven TsuiClass of 20216' 0"180 lbs.Point guard
#3 Gradey DickClass of 20226' 7"200 lbs.Shooting guard
#4 Willie LightfootClass of 20225' 11"175 lbs.Point guard
#5 Jaylon McDanielsClass of 20216' 7"215 lbs.Power forward
#10 Kendall BrownClass of 20216' 8"210 lbs.Shooting forward
#11 Kenny PohtoClass of 20216' 11"240 lbs.Center
#13 Fred PayneClass of 20236' 2"170 lbs.Shooting guard
#15 Orion ChampionClass of 20235' 8"160 lbs.Point guard
#21 Zachary ClemenceClass of 20216' 10"215 lbs.Power forward
#20 Joe ZhangClass of 20236' 7"165 lbs.Shooting forward

 
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