By Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
For East Newton Patriots head coach Kyle Fields, it feels good to be in familiar territory.
Fields — after spending the past three years at his hometown McDonald County as head coach — decided to return to the Patriots.
And his Patriots, who went 10-16 last season, will court a veteran group this season as they return three starters and one senior: giving the team cautious optimism against the competition throughout the Big 8 West.
For Fields, it feels good to be back in the blue and white.
“Eight years ago I started my career at East Newton,” Fields said. “I was here four years and had some success, some good players and good teams.”
Fields guided his program to a district title during the 2015-16 season.
“I am glad to be back. It was a good fit for me before and I really enjoyed the people,” Fields said. “I look forward to some more good things here. Glad to be back.”
As for his 2019-20 Patriots, the team graduated four players off last year’s team.
But returning is senior Austin Brewster — and combined with the three returning juniors in Kyson Lahman (all-conference honorable mention), Connor Killion (11.3 points, four rebounds per game), and Tanner Youngblood (10 points, six rebounds per game) — the current landscape give the Patriots plenty of court generals on the hardwood.
“He is athletic and has really improved,” Fields said of Youngblood. “He can give his all on both ends.”
For Lahman, the progression in his versatility over the past year is evident to Fields.
Said Fields: “He has had a great summer and a good fall. Looking for some good things defensively in the post. He can step out and hit shots; play in and out on offense. He is just a tough-nosed kid —a kid we expect a lot from on both ends. He can do some good things on the glass. He is definitely going to be one of our go-to [players].”
Three returning starters this winter include: Lucas Kimbrough, Killion, and Lahman.
As for Kimbrough and his evolution on the back line of the offense: “He is a strong guard [with] quickness.”
Competition throughout the Big 8 West should bring out the best in all seven teams: Cassville, the Patriots, Lamar, McDonald County, Monett, Seneca and Nevada.
“Nevada is probably leading the pack a little bit,” Fields said, “[but] I see it open after that. Everybody is tough, especially once you get into conference play toward the end of the year and everybody has gotten a little better. ”
Executing on both ends of the court will be vital to the team’s success this season, and Fields is preaching defense-into-offense in his first year back at the helm for the Patriots.
So, what can fans expect from the gritty, defensive game?
“We will learn to play with an intense, aggressive mindset. The philosophy is to demand it every day. Accountability is an important core value of ours, and we want to make defense very important no matter what our X’s and O’s are,” Fields said. “Our aim is to secure the ball, play great defense and rebound. I feel that if we can do these things, then we can be successful. Championships are won in the half court.”
The Patriots open the season Nov. 22 at Aurora, followed by a road trip to Clever four days later.
The home opener is scheduled for Dec. 10 against Southwest.