“If you look at today, it wasn’t so good. If you look at the weekend, I thought it was a positive weekend for our guys,” said Kickapoo coach Dick Rippee. “We’re getting some things established and finding some guys that are going to fill in some roles. That’s what this is about.”
It’s hard to imagine Rippee’s squad will face a more talented foe all season. Tyler McCullough, the Bulldogs’ 6-foot-10 post, has already committed to Missouri State. Guard Manuale Watkins is likely to end up at Arkansas, and his back court partner Jawan Smith will head to junior college before likely ending up in Division I.
“Not only are they really good, they’re all seniors,” said Rippee. “They’ve played a lot of basketball together. They looked like a team from February, really. They’re a machine.”
Kickapoo held its own in the early going, as back-to-back buckets by Tyler Bussell and Chris Ward gave the Chiefs a 4-2 lead nearly two minutes into the game. But the talented Bulldogs responded quickly, and forcefully.
Manuale Watkins knocked down a 3-pointer from the left wing to spark a 9-0 run and, just a few minutes later, Jawan Smith connected on a triple from the left corner to ignite a 16-2 run. When the dust settled, Fayetteville held a 29-10 lead after one quarter.
“I thought we shot the ball well at the beginning, but then they got on a roll,” said Rippee. “I just wanted to see where we’re at and how we stack up instead of game planning in the third game of the season. We see that maybe we can’t play that way. And that’s what this part of the season is about; playing good people, finding out where your strengths are and where your weaknesses are, and what we need to do to get better as a team.”
Kickapoo scored the first three points of the second quarter, including a nifty reverse lay-up by Parker Dean, but it wasn’t nearly enough. The Bulldogs stayed on the gas pedal in the second quarter as they built a 42-15 lead at the break and cruised home with victory.
Ward manned up against McCullough for much of the afternoon, holding him to just a handful of points. He finished with nine points to lead the Chiefs. Parker Dean scored eight, while Bussell added seven.
“Chris had a great tournament and he earned his spot on the all-tournament team. No question,” said Rippee. “He’s made great strides and I’m proud of him. I thought Bussell played really well, too. Those two seniors have been through it before, and they were on the attack and pretty aggressive and made some plays for us.”
Smith’s 24 led all scorers, while Cameron Paschke and Watkins added 12 each. McCullough ended his afternoon with 6 points, four rebounds and a pair of blocked shots. Watkins was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.