Manhattan High first-year head coach Benji George’s job got a little bit tougher this week.
The rookie boys’ basketball coach, who was promoted to head coach after the resignation of Tim Brooks last winter, will embark on his first campaign without the services of senior forward Payton Stephens, who instead opted to transfer to McPherson High.
The news came as a surprise to George, who said the team took it hard.
“We had a great summer and I found out three days after school started that he wasn’t in class,” George said via text message Friday morning. “I was told he couldn’t speak to me about it — not sure what that means, but I’ve not had any communication with him. It’s been pretty hard on myself and the guys.”
Manhattan High teammates Gabe Awbrey and Pierson McAtee wished Stephens the best in his future endeavors via Twitter on Thursday.
Stephens averaged double-figure scoring for the Indians last season, while serving as its most effective post player. He often drew double teams and could score around the basket with ease.
Stephens joins a McPherson team that won a Class 4A-Div. I title last winter with a 57-40 win over Topeka Hayden. The Bullpups are coached by Kurt Kinnamon, who has five state titles as coach at McPherson.
Stephens plays in the offseason with the MidKansas Basketball program alongside former McPherson guard Kyler Kinnamon, Kurt’s son. He also played with St. John’s 6-foot-8 forward Dean Wade, who is coached by Clint Kinnamon, Kurt’s brother.
Several players and parents expressed concern last winter regarding the conduct of Brooks and his coaching style. The Stephens family was involved in the effort to have Brooks removed as coach.
A frustrated Brooks took to Twitter Thursday night.
“Dude got me fired and then transfers. Not even human,” he wrote.
Brooks remains at Manhattan High as a physical education teacher.
With the departure of Stephens, Manhattan returns three starters from a year ago in Awbrey, McAtee and Chris Martin, as well as reserve guard Garrett Francis. The team has the potential to meet up against Stephens and the Bullpups in the annual McPherson Invitational Basketball Tournament, which runs from Jan. 22-24.