By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
It wasn’t too long ago that Zane Culp was a player for the Neosho High School boys’ basketball team.
Now, he’s coaching the Wildcats.
Culp, a 2011 NHS graduate, inherits a team that finished 6-20 last season and returns four starters.
Culp said the Wildcats have made significant strides in the offseason.
“The time the guys have put in will pay off in a big way this upcoming season,” Culp said. “The players on this team have really bought in to what we are trying to do. I think success is going to follow.”
Culp becomes Neosho’s third head coach in four seasons. He was previously the assistant boys’ coach at NHS; former Wildcats head coach Tony Branscum left to become the athletic director at East Newton.
Culp will look to four seniors to lead the way: Kaden King, Cole Seward, Cade Cradduck and AC Marion.
Marion is Neosho’s top returning scorer (14 ppg) and rebounder (7.5 rpg).
“One of his goals is to average a double-double,” Culp said. “He brings great excitement, energy and passion to each possession.”
King, who averaged just over two assists per game last season, will direct the offense at point guard.
“He has the ability to bring reassurance to the game,” Culp said. “He limits his turnovers and is great at recognizing the defense and getting the offense going in the right direction.”
Seward (8.6 points per game last season) provides shooting and leadership.
“He has the ability to take over the game offensively once he gets going,” Culp said. “He has one of the best pull-up jumpers in the area. He brings great leadership along with two years of varsity experience.”
With a 6’4” frame, Crudduck (3.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg) offers versatility and the ability to impact the game in multiple ways.
“He can produce at high levels on both ends when he is playing to his capability,” Culp said. “He also leads by example, which is very valuable.”
Junior Sam Cook, a 6’3” post, will anchor the defense.
“He’s our big man in the middle,” Culp said. “He will be a rim protector that grabs many offensive and defensive rebounds.”
The Wildcats graduate two seniors from last season’s team: Brady Wise and Yeej Lee. Wise led Neosho in scoring and assists; Culp described Lee as a team leader who brought energy and passion to the team.
Three juniors and one senior are also in contention for varsity playing time.
Senior Derek Ferguson, a 6’5” forward, is known for his rebounding and shot-blocking abilities, Culp said.
Junior Mason Gammons is one of the team’s most improved players. Culp likes the athleticism and strength that Quincey Willis brings.
Kaden Dickens, the third junior, is a dangerous perimeter shooter.
“Kaden has always been a good shooter as he moved up through the grade levels,” Culp said. “As a sophomore, he came into some big games last year and knocked down some huge 3-point shots. He continued to define his craft by putting up more shots than anyone on our team this offseason.”
Neosho opens the regular season November 26-December 1 at the Carthage Invitational. The Wildcats host Cassville on December 3 for their home opener.