By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Priority No. 1 for new Fordland boys’ basketball coach Brett Rippee?
Establishing a program culture built around defense.
“(Defense) must be a priority in our program,” Rippee said. “I like my teams to play fast and play pressure defense and we can do that this season with our personnel if we will put out the effort.”
Longtime Fordland fans may recognize the name of their new head coach.
Rippee was a player on Fordland’s state-title winning (’98) and state runner-up (‘99) basketball teams in the late 90s. He spent the last two seasons as the Morrisville boys head coach.
As he returns to his alma mater, the Eagles are tasked with replacing two of their top scorers from last season’s team: all-conference selections Noah Abassi and Hunter Sparks. Reserve Hunter Young also graduated.
“It’s always a new team every season,” Rippee said. “I’m not settled on one scheme or style for this season. I envision us being an evolving team throughout the season that has to be adaptable to the situation. It will be a challenge to get us prepared to do that.”
Junior guard Hunter Burks leads the way for Fordland’s returning players. The 6’2” guard averaged around 19 points and 7 rebounds per game last season.
“Hunter is an outstanding player that will be stepping into a bigger role for us this season,” Rippee said. “There is no question he is one of the most talented players on the floor every night. He’s an outstanding shooter who can get to the rim and finish above it from time to time.”
Rippee praised 5’9” junior guard Jake Farnsworth (11 ppg, 6 apg) as the classic “gym rat” type of player. He’ll run the Fordland offense at point guard.
“We want him to get to the rim more and run the team and execute our gameplans,” Rippee said. “It’s a lot of responsibility, but he’s up to it. He has a quick release and a good understanding of the game. He will have to step up on the defensive end and become a leader this winter.”
Sophomore Jace Uchtman is one of Fordland’s most improved players, Rippee said. The 6’1” swingman brings a physical presence to the floor and is a capable shooter.
Rounding out Fordland’s returning varsity players are 6’3” senior Josh Holmes (6 ppg, 5 rpg) and 5’9” senior Colby Gonzalez.
“Josh is an experienced player that has a chance to have a monster season,” Rippee said. “We need him to have more confidence, be tougher on the boards and just increase his motor.
“Colby is senior who is looking for his opportunity this season and has done everything to get it this year. He is an outstanding young man who is a great leader and teammate. Colby brings the ability to hit open shots and fight to our team.”
Newcomers include senior Mason Page, sophomore Logan Fuchs and junior Brett Hyder.
Page sat out last season, but Rippee is excited about the senior’s defensive potential. Fuchs had a breakout stretch during Fordland’s summer-league games and has earned his way into the varsity rotation.
“(Fuchs) is an extremely fast post who doesn’t have a ton of ball skills, but does all the things that fans don’t see. He can run the floor and rebound as good as anybody on our team,” Rippee said.
Hyder also didn’t play last season, but the sophomore brings versatility and scoring to the floor, Rippee said.
Fordland battled “the numbers game” a bit during the offseason, so depth could be an issue over the course of aS four-to-five month season. But, the hunger and want-to is there among Fordland’s returning players.
“We are going to be long and have some speed and I can’t say if it’s a strength yet, but I hope that it pays dividends on the defensive end,” Rippee said. “We have a couple of players that can score. I feel that we have a few kids that are eager to prove something, so I think that could help us. We’ve showed signs of being more aggressive, so I hope that continues.”
Fordland opens the season Nov. 21 at Ash Grove. The Eagles will compete in the fourth annual Fordland Invitational (Nov. 27 – Dec. 2), the Walnut Grove Holiday Classic (Dec. 21-30) and the Sparta Invitational (Jan. 22-27).
Mansfield finished 17-10 overall last season, falling to Mansfield in the semifinals of its district tournament.
“The Fordland Eagles have to play harder; that’s the bottom line,” Rippee said. “I will be very demanding of these young men this season. I like this team and we have some outstanding people on our basketball team with high character. I always believe in my guys and I think we will have our ups and downs this season, with the Summit Conference being brutal as it always is, but overall we have an opportunity to have a great season. It is just a matter of putting it all together and committing to the guy next to you.”