By Tyler Thompson (For OzraksSportsZone.com)
Last season, the Willow Springs boys basketball program authored a 14-13 record.
While some smaller programs throughout the Show-Me State may approve with the above-.500 record, the Bears are searching for an improved, more polished résumé this winter.
Veteran head coach Mike Wilson — who found great success over his 29 years in the coaching game — amassing a record of 531-238 as coach and now enters season two as head coach of the Bears.
The Bears lost one starter off last year’s team to graduation in first-team all-conference selection Ryan Cawvey.
Willow Springs also suffered a terrible tragedy this off-season when Jonah Smith died in a car wreck in late July. Smith started most every game as a sophomore.
Willow Springs returns two all conference players in sophomore Owen Duddridge and classmate Scottie Osborn. Both were all-conference honorable mention selections. returning is a solid core — which include sophomore Owen Duddridge (all-conference honorable mention in ’18) and sophomore counterpart Scottie Osborn — who also made the all-conference team via honorable mention.
“Their roles will be expanded this year,” Wilson said. “They both averaged about 10, 11 points per game. Owen will be our primary point guard. From their freshman to sophomore years, they both have grown some this summer, gotten stronger while having good summers. We just expect them to improve like kids their age do.”
Wilson enters his second season at the helm for the Bears, and said the current experienced landscape makes the preparations a bit more seamless: making the offseason a bit more smooth for a team looking to make a run throughout the South Central Association conference.
“We have quite a bit of returning lettermen,” Wilson said. “We started two freshmen last year. We should be a little better this year.”
Returning seniors include guard Brady Walton, guard/forward Carson Lowe, and forwards Jackson Bailey and Tryton Henley.
Henley is the lone senior with previous starting experience.
“He started every game but a few. Missed a few with injury,” Wilson said. “He plays in the post and plays hard.”
But looking to assert added dominance this season are the two current sophomores: Osborn and Duddridge.
Wilson said he sees parallels between his highly-successful teams from Strafford and the current program in Willow Springs.
“The kids have worked really hard. When I got here last year, they were very receptive,” Wilson said. “They didn’t miss. Came in and worked hard every day, which is what I asked. I told them upfront: ‘These things we are going to try to do, we are going to work harder at practice than everybody else does.’ I feel like that is what’s had success, for me, is working as hard at practice as in the game.”
With the revolving door that is high school athletics, competition throughout conferences come and go, but this year, Wilson expects something new.
Added Wilson: “From top to bottom, I think the conference will be better. Mountain Grove lost several [players], but so did Thayer, and they both have really good coaches. Houston has several [players] back. Ava started a couple freshmen, sophomores, so I think the conference will be more competitive.”
With Wilson and his Bears, having one full off-season and regular season together under their belts, the team looks to hit the hardwood running and gunning this year: setting the temps from the onset.
Said Wilson: “I am more familiar with the kids and their ability, and them more familiar with what I am trying to do. We have done a lot of different things than what they were used to. It should be a little easier to pick up this year. The biggest thing is I am more familiar with the people we play. When I got here, I may have played, three or four of the teams that we play on our schedule. It should be easier for the kids.”
The Bears open the 2019-20 campaign Nov. 30 at home against Purdy High School.