TOPEKA — The Topeka Capital-Journal is proud to announce that NBA champion and former Kansas All-American Paul Pierce will be the featured guest speaker at the inaugural Best of Kansas Preps Awards Banquet on June 19 at the Kansas Expocentre’s Landon Arena.

The Capital-Journal will honor and celebrate the state’s top high-school student-athletes for the 2017-18 school year and name the overall male and female athletes of the year, as well as the most inspirational male and female athletes.

“The Capital-Journal has a long tradition of honoring student-athletes for excellence on the field,’’ Capital-Journal publisher Stephen Wade said. “Because of that, we’re excited to invite members of our All-State teams to our event in Topeka in June, and we’re excited that Paul Pierce, certainly a former KU great, has agreed to come and speak to these student-athletes.

“Our parent company, Gatehouse Media, owns newspapers all across the state, so our footprint truly is statewide.’’

The awards banquet, presented by The Capital-Journal and sponsored by Envista Credit Union, is the first of its kind in Kansas, honoring the top performers from all 22 varsity sports offered by the Kansas State High School Activities Association. Honorees will receive invitations, and the general public may purchase tickets.

“Envista is proud to sponsor the inaugural Best of Kansas Preps Awards,” said Ron Smeltzer, president and CEO of Envista Credit Union. “It is an honor to recognize the student-athletes across the state for their achievements both on and off the field. These young women and men have been selected for their exemplary demonstration of talent and leadership — giving us great hope for the future of Kansas.”

Pierce is a retired professional basketball player who played 19 seasons in the NBA. He was a high-school McDonald's All-American and earned consensus first-team All-America honors in his junior year at the University of Kansas. Pierce spent three years at Kansas between 1995 and 1998.

He earned honorable mention All-Big Eight honors and was selected second-team Freshman All-American by Basketball Weekly. He was also honored as the Big Eight Co-Freshman of the Year with Colorado's Chauncey Billups. During the summer of 1996, Pierce earned a spot on the roster of the USA's Under 22 team and helped it go unbeaten in the World Championship-qualifying tournament in Puerto Rico.

As a sophomore, Pierce captured the first of two Big 12 Conference Tournament Most Valuable Player awards after averaging 21.7 points and guiding Kansas to the inaugural tournament championship. As a junior in 1997-98, Pierce won Most Valuable Player honors in both the Preseason NIT and the Big 12 Conference Tournament. He was selected first-team All-Big 12 by both The Associated Press and league coaches, and was named an AP first-team All-American and a finalist for the 1998 John Wooden and Naismith awards.

He scored 777 points as a junior — the fifth-most single-season points in Jayhawks history. He ranks as the fifth-leading scorer in Kansas history (1,786 points) and 11th on the all-time rebounds list (676). Pierce left KU following his junior season and entered the 1998 NBA draft.

Pierce spent the first 15 years of his career with the Boston Celtics, who drafted him with the 10th overall pick in 1998. He became a bona fide star as captain of the Celtics, earning 10 All-Star nods and becoming a four-time All-NBA selection.

After nine seasons of leading the Celtics as their star player, Pierce combined with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in 2007 to form a "Big Three" that led Boston to the NBA Finals in 2008 and 2010, winning the 2008 NBA championship. Pierce was instrumental to the Celtics' 2008 championship run, as he was awarded the Finals MVP after averaging 22 points.

Pierce is one of only three players — along with Larry Bird and John Havlicek — to score more than 20,000 points in their career with the Celtics. He holds the Celtics' record for most 3-point field goals made and also ranks third in team history in games played, second in points scored, seventh in total rebounds, fifth in total assists and first in total steals. He has also made the fourth most 3-point field goals in NBA history, behind only Jason Terry, Reggie Miller and Ray Allen.

In July 2013, Pierce was included in a deal that sent him to the Brooklyn Nets, along with teammates Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry. He signed with the Washington Wizards the following offseason, but after just one season with the Wizards, he moved back home to Los Angeles and reunited with his former Celtics coach Doc Rivers with the Clippers. He spent two seasons with the Clippers before retiring following the 2016-17 season. On July 17, 2017, the Celtics signed Pierce to a contract, enabling him to retire as a member of the organization with which he spent his first 15 NBA seasons.

“We’re extremely excited to launch this inaugural event, and the appearance of Paul Pierce, an iconic Jayhawk and NBA champion who still has a great many fans in Kansas, only adds to that excitement,’’ Capital-Journal executive sports editor Tim Bisel said.

The event will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. June 19 at the Kansas Expocentre. For more information about the event, including how to purchase tickets, visit cjonline.com/preps.

For more information or to learn about sponsorship opportunities, contact Kristy Green at kgreen@cjonline.com or (785) 295-1142.