By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Spokane Owls return four starters for the 2019-2020 season – all juniors – which bodes well for this season, and for the future.
However, the Owls will have to find a way to fill the void left by Isaiah Bean. Bean was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder his last two years (17.8 and 7.8 in 2017-2018; 19.8 and 7.9 in 2018-2019) and was a two-time Class 2 All-State performer in addition to earning Class 2 All-District 10 and All-Southwest Central League First-Team honors.
“Anytime you lose a two-time all-state player, it’s never going to be easy to replace,” coach Kyle Johnson said. “Isaiah was one of the best Class 2 players in the state over the last couple of years and we will miss him greatly.”
After getting off to an “awful start” last season, the Owls, who finished 14-12 overall and 5-2 in the SWCL, hit their stride during the new year.
“We really didn’t get going last year until after Christmas Break,” Johnson said. “We got a huge win on the road at (Class 2 state champion) Greenwood and that completely changed our season around. We won 9 of 10 after that, winning the Spokane Invitational over three very good teams (Seymour, Blue Eye and Verona in the championship).”
Spokane will be in good hands with its four returning starters Zayne Gale, Jackson Bray, Daniel Newell and Grant Stewart.
• Zayne Gale, a 6-6 forward, averaged 11.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.3 steals per game last season. “Zayne is our big who plays the forward position,” Johnson said. “He had a great sophomore season and is someone I am very excited about. He has good footwork and can score from anywhere on the floor. He’s one of our best 3-point shooters and our main threat inside. He should be our leading rebounder and will be our best interior defender this season.”
• Jackson Bray, 6-1 guard, averaged 11.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 3.6 APG and 2.1 SPG. “Jackson will slide over from our starting point guard position to our starting shooting guard position this season. He shoots the ball well, he’s quick and can make the tough pass or get to the rim. He has nice ballhandling skills/abilities and has those qualities you look for in a scoring/shooting guard.”
• Daniel Newell, 6-3 forward, averaged 6.8 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.8 APG and 1.5 SPG. “Daniel is our other forward, who is a very natural scorer and has great athletic ability. He is going to have to crash the boards for us and should be in the discussion for leading rebounder for us this season. He is growing, maturing and spending time in the weight room to get prepared for this season. Starting every game last year as a sophomore, should have been very eye-opening for him and what he needed to improve on coming into this season.”
• Grant Stewart, 6-0 guard, averaged 5.4 PPG, 2.4 RPG and 1.3 APG. “Grant made up our back court last year with Jackson. He has range, but he’s best off the dribble getting to the basket. We are looking for Grant to develop his jump shot and be a more consistent shooter and scorer. He will most likely move from being a 2 guard to a 3 now, which will result in him having to rebound more and be more of a defensive presence for us.”
Another junior with varsity experience, who Johnson will be counting on, is Sam Shuman, a 6-0 point guard.
“Sam will have a huge role on our team this season,” Johnson said. “He will be my starting point guard and I have big expectations for him going into this season. We need him to continue to be a floor general. He has all the tools to be a good point guard. He can pass, and great ballhandling skills (which he constantly works on). Defensively, he will draw some tough assignments and he must be ready to guard. I’m very excited to see what kind of player Sam turns out to be.”
Johnson has four more juniors, a senior, a sophomore and a freshman who will look to step in and contribute this season.
• Jacob Wasson, a 6-0 guard, “will come off our bench and compete for a lot of minutes this season. He can play both guard and forward positions and is one of our most athletic players we have.”
• Jacob Wiggins, a 6-5 forward, “will be a big asset for us inside. He can play the 5 and we can move Zayne out or I can play Wiggs at the 4.”
• Brayden Pryer, a 6-1 forward, “has some range, but I will be looking for him to defend and rebound for us this season.”
• Micah Axley, a 6-1 forward, “can play inside and has long arms which we can put to use on the defensive end and crashing the boards.”
• Austin Coberly, 6-2 senior guard, is “THE BEST teammate I have ever coached. He works hard, doesn’t complain and will be fighting for minutes day in and day out.”
• Jaden McCoy, 6-3 sophomore guard, “has all the tools in the bag and could potentially start for us this season. All Jaden has to do is WANT it. He is one of the most gifted players we have.”
• JD Tate, a 6-7 freshman forward, “is a big who’s minutes on the varsity floor I expect to increase as the season goes on. He has the ability and footwork to be a really good player inside for us. If he can improve his quickness/speed and vertical, he will be very hard to stop and one of the top freshmen in southwest Missouri.”
Johnson says the Owls’ team chemistry is the team’s biggest strength heading into the season.
“This team has played a lot of basketball together and I think this will be a very tight-knit group who wants to work hard for each other and wants to win for each other,” Johnson said. “I think our depth (will surprise opponents). We will have guys coming off the bench who will be playing a lot that haven’t seen a lot of varsity action.”
Spokane will host a jamboree on Nov. 19 with Blue Eye and Buffalo, and then open the season by hosting New Covenant Academy on Nov. 22.
“I think we have the talent and ability to be a really good team” Johnson said. “The only thing that can get this team’s way is themselves. We play a very difficult schedule, which I think only makes us better at the end of the season.
“We have huge games to start the year, at home versus NCA and then on the road at Hollister. We lost both of those games last year and we don’t want that to happen again. We want to be a team that puts an entire season together and competes for championships.”