By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Jeremy Dresslaer’s first year at Willard saw the team win 17 games, the program’s second-highest total in the last five years.
The Tigers return just two starters and three letterwinners from last year’s team, but that will hardly cool expectations as Willard brings back two of the top players in the Ozarks, seniors Daniel Abreu and Maurice Grayer.
Abreu – who has already committed to Division Two power Northwest Missouri State over Division One offers – averaged 27.9 PPG, 7.9 RPG and 2.7 APG. He was not only an All-Central Ozarks Conference selection, but also the COC Player of the Year and a Class 5 All-State selection.
Grayer, also an All-COC pick, averaged 16.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG and 3.0 SPG as a junior. Grayer is receiving interest at multiple levels. He averaged 21 PPG down the stretch for the Tigers.
The duo is largely responsible for this being one of the most offensively explosive teams in program history with a 90-point game, three 80-point games and multiple 70-point performances as well.
“What makes Daniel such a great high school basketball player is that he is the complete package,” said Dresslaer. “He makes great grades, has a very supportive family, is individually motivated, caring and supportive of the development of his teammates, and overall he is just a really good person. When you take all of those combined with his skill set, you have a product of great high school basketball player. Additionally, when your best player is your hardest worker and best leader then that will allow for great team success. He was getting his D1 offers based more on who he is as a person combined with his talent level rather than just his talent level alone. From a basketball standpoint, Daniel, is easily the most fundamental basketball player that I have seen at the high school level. What he lacks in the athleticism department, he makes up for by just being a really skilled basketball player.
“The biggest thing that allowed Mo to become a more productive player is the development of his basketball maturity and IQ. Once he understood the mental IQ side of the game, he transformed into one of the best combo guards in Southwest Missouri. There are very few athletes that can compete with Mo’s intangibles athletically. When he is focused and engaged, he is as good as anyone the state of Missouri has to offer.”
The challenge for Dresslaer and Willard will be filling the spots around its two stars.
Sophomore Caden Mowell got varsity minutes last year and Dresslaer believes the guard can take another step forward this winter.
“Caden was the only other player returning on the roster that had consistent minutes at the varsity level, even as a freshmen,” said Dresslaer. “Caden will have a much larger role this season as one of our primary ball handlers and we look for him to improve on his offensive aggressiveness.”
Haden Brown, Elijah Hill, Hayden Roberts and Gavin Davis will all find rotational minutes, offering a range of different qualities from making shots to being lockdown defenders.
“Haden is a strong athlete with a lot of skill,” said Dresslaer. “He may be the most versatile player in our program when you combine all of his attributes. Elijah is a physical guard who is very disruptive on the defense end. He had a great summer for us and we are looking for him to have a major roll on this year’s roster.
“Hayden came in late in the season and was able to provide an offensive spark when needed off the bench. Hayden is one of the better shooters in our program and we look for a much more consistent role from him. Gavin is one of the better defenders in our program and will be competing for playing time with upperclassmen. He has one of the hardest workers in our entire program.”
Adjusting to new roles and the speed of varsity basketball will be yet another obstacle in Year Two for Dresslear, it comes with a mixed feelings.
On one hand, Dresslaer got a full offseason to get his guys acclimated with his system and expectations. On the other hand, the Tigers are still learning how to win big games that come down to the wire. Eight of Willard’s losses came by eight points or fewer with three of those coming in the final 11 days of the season.
“Last year was a difficult year on many levels, starting off with my transition from Purdy to Willard,” said Dresslaer. “I was not able to have a summer with my team, and therefore we missed out on many situational learning points. I truly feel that if we would have had a summer to learn and grow, then we would have 4-5 more wins than what we did. However, with this year’s group, the ability to value the basketball and make high IQ decisions will be the deciding factor to see if we will continue to be just a good time or if we can develop and become a great team.”
For Willard, this season will be dictated not only by how quickly its newcomers can make the varsity adjustment, but also by how competitive the Tigers can be within the COC. There’s an extremely large possibility that eight of the league’s 10 teams will be in Class 5, meaning Willard could again find itself matched up with the likes of Nixa, Republic, Ozark, Joplin or Carthage in district play.
How well they do against conference teams will not only decide the COC title, but also play a major role in Willard’s hunt for a third district championship in the last four years.
“The biggest challenge the COC brings is the mental challenge of being mentally prepared and focused to bring your very best each and every night,” said Dresslaer. “If you don’t, you get beat. I don’t feel like there is one specific game bigger than the next. Every game in the COC is a big game on everyone’s schedule. That is the beauty and challenge of having the opportunity to compete in this conference. High IQ decision-making on both ends of the court and being able to solely focusing on ourselves will dictate how our conference and district races go. If we can take care of our jobs, stay humble and hungry, and work every day at maximizing our potential then the rest should take care of itself.”
Willard will open the 2019-20 season at home on Nov. 26 against Springfield Central.