Fair Grove came up just short of an appearance in the Class 3 Final Four last year after suffering a 50-49 loss to Mountain Grove in the quarterfinals.
Three players graduated from that team in Garrett Kesterson, Evan Fullerton and Dalton Cloyd. Kesterson will leave the biggest hole to fill after putting up 21.6 points per game to go with 6.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 2.2 steals per game as a senior. He finished his career as one of the most prolific three-point shooters in Missouri high school history.
His graduation will be felt both on the court and in the locker room.
“Garrett has definitely left his mark on our program and will go down as one of the best players to wear a uniform for us. He broke school records and he broke state records. Anytime you’re able to coach a player like Garrett you count your blessings, but Garrett was an even better teammate and person than he was player and I believe that he made in impact in our locker room with our players that will extend for years to come,” Brown said. “We have talked about building a championship level program and a championship level culture and he fought for that every day and we have a lot of talented players returning that he mentored and showed the ropes that have the ability to continue the tradition of our program.”
Leading that group of returning players is sophomore Cole Gilpin. Gilpin had a strong freshman season that saw him finish second on the team in scoring with 12.6 points per game to go with a team-high four assists per game. He also pulled down 3.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals per contest.
“Cole has just matured as a player and physically,” Brown said, “He is 6-foot-4 now and is going to continue to physically come into his own. He was 14 years old all last basketball season putting up the productive numbers that he did. We expect Cole to play like a first team all-conference and all district player for us each night we take the floor. He has set his standard and we expect him to continue to be coachable and get better.”
Sophomore David Oplotnik and senior guard Garret Potter each played in at least 28 games last season and will see their roles expand this year. Oplotnik, who stands at 6-foot-6, averaged 5.5 points and 2.7 rebounds last year. Potter chipped in five points per game.
Kyle Stacey, Kam Stacey, Rhett Hill and Brian Carroll all saw limited varsity action last year and will see their roles expand this season. Kyle Stacey, a 6-foot-2 guard, was a leader of a junior varsity squad that only lost two games last season. Kam Stacey is a 6-foot, high-energy guard that brings a lot to the defensive end. Hill is a 5-foot-10 guard that will be one of Fair Grove’s better shooting threats. Carroll, who stands at 6-foot-4, can guard multiple positions and knock down perimeter shots.
Brown’s expectations for his team remain high despite losses of key seniors.
“Our expectations remain the same for our program; we want to play the game the right way and be playing our best basketball at the end of the season. We want to put ourselves in a position to compete for a conference and district championship,” Brown said. “Our program has played in five straight district championship games and players know how special and how difficult that is in our district. We have one of the toughest districts and with a lot of good players, programs and coaches. So our players are going to have to be completely bought in to accomplish their goals.”
Fair Grove opens the season on Nov. 21 at home against Forsyth.