By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Kickapoo Basketball will have a new look top to bottom this year after the loss of all five starters and nearly every letterman, as well as the departure of Dick Rippee to take over at Bentonville (Ark.).
Leading the Chiefs into a new era is a new/old/young face of Mitch McHenry.
McHenry spent 2015-16 as an assistant for Rippee before taking over at Rogersville last year. An Evangel alum, McHenry is one of the youngest coaches in the Ozark Conference at just 28-years old.
“I am very excited to be able to lead this program,” said McHenry. “Growing up in the area and being a Republic grad I never thought about being the head coach at Kickapoo. I have been very fortunate to be a head coach of two really good basketball programs in my short head coaching career. Kickapoo has a rich tradition in all their men’s sports. I am happy to be a part of the community and help continue the success.”
McHenry is now tasked with helping Kickapoo continue one of the best three-year runs in the history of the powerhouse program.
Losing names like Jared Ridder and Cam Davis will be difficult to overcome. McHenry will preach a team-first mentality at Kickapoo.
“We expect our players to support each other and be a family,” said McHenry. “We will place team success over individual success. When teams and programs grasp that concept great things happen. We also expect to be the best communicating team and hardest working team each time we compete against another team.”
Ushering in the near era is a quartet of seniors that don’t have big names, but have been in the gym with them for the last three years in Sam Wallin, Kolton Giefer, Cole Forbes, and Joe McQuarry.
Wallin is the only returning senior letterman and will shoulder a major role this winter.
“We will have a group full of newcomers and I am excited about our group of guys,” said McHenry. “They are a hard working group that have played a lot of basketball and they are going to get playing time. This group is a hard working group and extremely coachable which is what every coach wants from their senior group.
“Sam is our most experienced player and has had a really good summer and fall for us. He will have an increased role on both offense and defense, and we expect him to be a great leader for our team this season.”
The roster will likely be filled out by juniors Tanner Oetting, David Senn, Jalen McGarrah, Colton Thomas and Luke Rebmann. Sophomores Trevon Chew, Micah McIntire and Elijah Bridgers and freshman Anton Brookshire.
McHenry expects the juniors to make major contributions this season.
“Tanner is an extremely hard worker who is constantly working on his craft,” said McHenry. “He is very gifted offensively and plays with high basketball IQ. David gives us needed size. He is a big athletic forward that gives us rim protection and inside scoring. Jalen will be a primary ball-handler this year. He is a leader by example and constantly approaches competition and practice the right way.”
The darkhorse in the group of newcomers is Brookshire.
The freshman point guard created buzz throughout his junior high career and followed that up with a great summer for Yanders Law. While he still has some physical maturation to undergo, Brookshire could find himself playing a meaningful role this winter.
“Anton has given himself the opportunity to compete for significant minutes at the varsity level,” said McHenry. “The things I am most excited about with Anton is his great personality, he works extremely hard, and is coachable. When you watch him compete, he does not look like a freshman. Anton plays with great confidence. He approached the offseason not with the expectation of being handed a varsity spot, but wanting to earn and deserve a varsity spot. The sky is the limit because of these qualities.”
Kickapoo has won 20-plus games in each of the last seven seasons, including a pair of Final Four runs. McHenry and his players are well aware of what it means to have your name associated with Kickapoo Basketball and both are excited about their new roles in that legacy.
“You don’t win as many games as Kickapoo has the last few years without competitive players,” said McHenry. “We have had seniors that have refused to lose and were consistent in how they competed whether that was practice or a game. Jared and Cam spent a lot of time working on their game and perfecting their craft which is why they have experienced the success they have. Our players now are a hard working group, and I think they have realized the commitment it takes to be successful at our level.”