By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Mitch McHenry is entering his third season at Kickapoo and this is the most experienced Chiefs roster in his tenure.
Kickapoo returns three starters and nine total letterwinners from last year’s 22-5 group that lost to eventual Class 5 state champion Rock Bridge in the Elite Eight.
The experience of making that deep playoff run, coupled with a stretch that saw the Chiefs win 18 of their last 20 games, gives McHenry an experienced, battle-tested roster entering this season.
“We pride ourselves on playing a difficult schedule each year,” said McHenry. “We played elite competition early in the season that provided us growth. We also harp on playing our best basketball in February. We also had several players going into their 2nd year of varsity experience. Playing experience is something that cannot be taught and I believe our team found out how to consistently win on the varsity level. The more “win or go home” games you play in the better. We were tested with several of those opportunities last year. Our players know the anxiousness and atmosphere that comes with those games.”
Leading the way in standout junior point guard Anton Brookshire.
As a sophomore he was one of the most efficient scorers in Missouri, averaging 18.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG and 4.1 APG, shooting 52 percent from the floor and 47 percent from three. His 79 3-pointers is one of the highest totals for any returning player in the Ozarks. This earned him a bevy of awards, including Ozark Conference Player of the Year, All-O-Zone and Class 5 All-State.
He currently holds offers from Missouri State, Tennessee State, UW-Milwaukee and UNLV.
“Another year of experience of maturity I think will be a big difference in his game,” said McHenry. “His skill is elite. He is a smart player with a great basketball IQ. I think his knowledge of the game and seeing big picture is continuing to improve. He has also increased his weight and strength which will help take the next step.”
He’ll be rejoined in the starting lineup by senior guards Micah McIntire and Elijah Bridgers.
McIntire averaged 7.1 PPG as a junior, knocking down 46 3s at a 44 percent clip. Bridgers did a little bit over everything, putting up 4.4 PPG, 2.5 RPG and 2.3 APG. He also posted the highest plus/minus on Kickapoo’s roster.
With second-leading scorers Tanner Oetting and David Senn gone, McIntire’s shooting ability will be huge for Kickapoo this winter.
“Micah had a great year shooting the ball for us last year,” said McHenry. “We will look for that same efficiency from the perimeter. Because of how he shot it last year, a lot of teams will try to take away the 3pt line. He will look to improve his finishing at the rim and being able to play off the bounce when attacking hard closeouts this year.”
Seniors Cross Elmquist, Reece Black, Cary Ragan and Evan Brage will again be in the rotational mix, as well as juniors Cam Liggins and Zach McKinnis.
McHenry is also looking for Carson Noel, Mitch Kellogg and Carson Kooper to compete for minutes this winter.
There’s no question that expectations are high this season.
Eight of the last nine seasons have finished with Kickapoo winning at least 20 games. Five of those included district championships.
This group returns enough to continue that tradition and more.
They’ll look to defend their Ozark Conference title first, with the possibility of yet another March run if things come together.
“Each game in conference is a battle,” said McHenry. “We were able to win a lot of games last year, but we had a lot of games that were determined in the single digits. Every game was competitive and anything can happen on a given night.
“To be humble and hungry. This is a new year and a new team. It doesn’t matter what we did or accomplished last year. We have to earn it and understand we will get every team’s best effort each night we lace it up.”
Kickapoo will open the 2019-20 season at home against former OC rival Joplin on Nov. 26. The Chiefs are also in the Blue and Gold Tournament, as well as the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions, meaning they could play 21 games in Springfield during the regular season alone.