Early season basketball takeaways

By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)

Woooooo *Rick Flair voice*

We play some darn good basketball here in the Ozarks. Honestly, I’m not sure I remember a first full week in the last several seasons as exciting as the one we just saw. Not only did we have marquee matchups, upsets and unreal individual performances, but even the Bears got on their horse and picked up a huge win. So, let’s go ahead and talk about what we learned last week.

• The champs are still here

Entering the season we knew that Strafford girls, Skyline girls and Walnut Grove boys were defending champs that returned a ton of fire power. And, last week, all of them looked the part. The Strafford girls beat an insanely good Walnut Grove team to win the Ash Grove Tournament, Skyline won the Warsaw Tournament with margins of 68, 29 and 42 and while Walnut Grove didn’t win the Clever Tournament, they showed very well. Maybe the most impressive of anyone was Walnut Grove and hear me out. The Tigers went toe-to-toe with Hartville and Mount Vernon, losing both games by a combined nine points despite not having all-state point guard Hunter Gilkey. Pro tip, Gilkey might be the grittiest player in the Ozarks. Kid dislocated his finger, causing the bone to break the skin, calmly walked off the court and went to the hospital. The trainer in Clever took it harder than Gilkey did. So, in short, all three of these teams seem like safe bets to be in a position to defend their title come March. Oh, also have to mention the fact that Logan Thomazin went for 48 against Mount Vernon in the third-place game. The senior is averaging 31.5 points per game.

• Tournament champs turned contenders

o Ozark wins Republic Tournament – This wasn’t necessarily a surprise, but the way it happened was impressive with the Tigers locking down Rolla and Rogersville. Ozark’s three wins came by 19, 24 and 19. That’s how you handle business entering a week that will present a regionally-tough challenge in Blue Valley Northwest (Kan.). Senior Quinn Nelson averaged 27 PPG in the tournament semifinals and championship.

o Springfield Catholic wins Clever Tournament – Catholic received the No. 1 seed and defended it by defeating Aurora, Mount Vernon and Hartville. Catholic does not look like a Class 3 team from a size or depth standpoint. To bounce back from that loss to Mountain Grove with three impressive wins is huge, especially with Leon Perry and Confluence Prep coming.

o Fair Grove, Mount Vernon girls win tournament titles – Okay so hear me out, what if Strafford was to lose? I know, I sound crazy and I’m writing this at 3 a.m., but let’s pretend that we live in a world where the Lady Indians aren’t invincible. The two teams in Class 3 most capable of knocking them off are probably Fair Grove and Mount Vernon. The Lady Eagles had an awesome run in their own tournament, beating Rogersville and Clever. Mount Vernon knocked off Rogers (Ark.) to win the Carthage Tournament. Both have star power, proven coaches and experienced rosters, it may be time to start entertaining the fact that they can give Strafford a run.

o Lamar wins Dennis Cornish Classic – Lamar has had three full practices but still had enough to get past Lockwood in the Dennis Cornish Classic. They have pockets of inexperience and will have to knock off some football rust, but Tyler Ryerson has a team that checks every box. He’s got some size, guys that can stretch the floor and athletic 3-and-D guys… but he also has senior guard Ian Moore, who looked like an absolute stud on Saturday. Tuesday’s game against Webb City is the perfect early barometer game.

o Joplin wins Carthage Tournament – With most teams in Class 5 reloading or integrating new talent, there’s an opening for someone other than Kickapoo/Nixa/Republic to win district championships and Joplin may be best positioned to be one of those teams. The Eagles won the Carthage Tournament, picking up a win over a very good Class 4 Nevada team. It’s not a resume-defining win, but it’s a start for a program that hasn’t had a .500 season in years. Joplin returns a ton from last season and sophomore Evan Guillory has been a man so far this season. When Joplin is playing fast and in transition their length and athleticism can give people problems.

o Forsyth, Purdy earn tournament wins – Both Forsyth and Purdy got off to great starts by winning the Forsyth and Pierce City tournaments respectively. The Panthers lost to Fair Grove in their season opener, giving up 88 points. In their three tournament wins (Marshfield, Blue Eye and Strafford) Forsyth allowed just 37.6 points a night. Micaiah Rocha is legitimately one of the toughest matchups in the area and Anthony Stanford is one of the area’s top rim protectors. This team is capable of giving any one some problems. Jeremy Dresslaer is in his first season at Purdy, but apparently, he’s not planning on losing any games. Purdy won the Pierce City Tournament, one that everyone assumed PC would walk through. The Eagles are undefeated so far, but this is a team that could rip off several more wins before mid-December. Also, keep an eye on senior guard Colt Keeling. He’s averaging 25.7 points for Purdy in his first season after transferring from Berean Christian Academy.

o Blue Eye wins own tournament – Skyline is still the favorite to win a Class 2 state title, but Blue Eye is quickly closing that gap. The Lady Bulldogs are 4-0 after winning the Blue Eye Tournament, beating Class 4 Cassville by 30 in the championship game. Cassville is legitimately good with a 6-foot-3 D-2 post. That win is extremely impressive. We’ll find out a lot more about Blue Eye on Thursday when they visit Fordland, who also rolled through its own tournament and has a loaded backcourt.

• She Got Game

It’s no secret that the most skilled players in Missouri reside in the Ozarks. On the girls side its not even fair. We knew the 2019 class was loaded, but 2020 isn’t far behind at this point. Hayley Frank might be the best basketball player in the history of basketball besides for the big dude that played for the Monstarz. Kidding. Kinda. She’s averaging 29.3 points and 11.2 rebounds, including 34 points against Walnut Grove in the Ash Grove Tournament championship… Frank’s summer teammate, fellow 2019 standout Piper Francis, continues to prove that she’s a walking bucket. The 5-foot-9 guard is averaging 29 points and 7.5 rebounds with a 57/44/81 shooting split and a 40-point bomb. She could average 30 a night this season and I’d yawn and tell you that water is wet… And yet another 2019 standout is Alana Findley. She could very well end up with D-1 offers in volleyball and basketball. Right now her stat line is extraordinarily epic with 28.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, four steals, three assists and two blocks. Sigh. Her motor is off the charts and she’s already had a pair of 30-10 games… Then there’s 2020 phenom Priscilla Williams who has absolutely lived up to and exceeded the hype surrounding her game since she arrived in Branson. The 6-foot-2 guard has played four games and put up 39-30-30-43. Yes, she’s averaging an Ozarks-high 35.5 points. Smooth. At this point, we’re just waiting on a Branson vs. Strafford matchup, which I’m assuming several Power 5s also want to happen… Fellow 2020 point guard Karlee Holland is not so quietly putting on a clinic out east. Licking won the Frisco League tournament and Holland is torching opponents for 21.5 points, 6.5 steals and 6.3 assists a night. In an area full of great point guards, she’s putting up numbers that suggests she’s among the best.

• That Guy Ty…

Maybe the biggest piece of offseason news was Tyem Freeman transferring to Parkview. And, maybe the biggest early-season news is how the human highlight reel that is Ty Freeman has been even more entertaining this year. He’s averaging a cool 30.5 points, but the 6-foot-5 wing is just doing things that only guys like Zion Williamson can do. He’s still just scratching the surface of who he’ll be as a basketball player and watching him go 4-for-5 from deep in the opener or seeing him knock down 17-foot pull-up jumpers has to be bad news to everyone on Parkview’s schedule. Also, don’t sleep on sophomore point guard Dontae Taylor. He’s averaging 17.5 points alongside Freeman and he’s still playing defense at a high level. Again, this duo is scary good with ceilings somewhere in the stratosphere.

• Dancing Bears?

Missouri State is sitting at 7-2 and have won five straight games. Those two losses came by a combined four points. The Bears came in with high expectations and drilling South Dakota State on the road has been their most complete game of the season. Holding Mike Daum to seven points on 3-for-14 shooting is incredible from a team defense standpoint. Daum averaged 25 a game as a sophomore and already has a pair of 30-point games this season. That is the third-lowest total of his career. Furthermore, Alize Johnson was a man in that game with 20 points and 14 rebounds. That was his fourth 14-rebound game of the season; only Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy has more this season. If MSU can beat North Dakota State on the road tonight, the Bears will likely enter conference play at 11-2.

• The mighty have not fallen

There were several teams that seemed like they may be in the process of rebuilding but that may not be the case, at least not now. Kickapoo and Mitch McHenry went 1-2 in the Arvest Classic, which includes a win over Parkview. The Chiefs have a ton of inexperience, but they can shoot the garbage out of the ball and are extremely disciplined. McHenry has his fingerprints all over the program already… Hartville wasn’t in our first power rankings but they’ll likely be in the second one. The Eagles beat Fair Grove and Walnut Grove before losing to Catholic in the Clever Tournament finals. This is another group that gets after you defensively, but Wyatt Ward has matured into a capable scorer, Wyatt Mahan can shoot the lights out and Cody Kelly dropped 40 pounds in the offseason and is a problem in the paint. This team is Final Four good.

• Diaper Dandies

It was no secret that the freshman class around the area is loaded and several of them have already lived up to the hype. The most impressive has been Isaac Haney, who went 20-plus in his first three games of his career. Thayer was able to slow him down a little bit, but the combo guard is still averaging 22 PPG. He’s not the only Diaper Dandy in Dora, Coach Rick Luna’s triplet sons (Bryson, Mason, Auston) have also found tremendous success immediately… Nixa’s Kaleb Wofford has easily transitioned into a scoring role for the Eagles and he makes it look effortless. He can shoot it from anywhere and has a nice pull-up game if you close out too hard. It was one thing for him to hit up Lebanon with Braeden Combs out, but for him to put 15 on DeSmet in the third-place game of the Arvest Classic should have the COC worried… Anton Brookshire may be my favorite freshman of all. He’s just a cool kid. His expression suggests that he’s about to go sit through a boring school play, but then he goes out and balls. Coach McHenry has given him the ball and let him do his thing, which is getting into the paint and creating offense for himself or others… Dadeville freshman Carter Lakey dropped 41 points on Hermitage last week. Unfortunately for him, he has a sister that’s lighting up scoreboards too so his 25 PPG still aren’t quite enough to get him top baller in the house honors yet… Walnut Grove point guard Faith Gilkey is averaging 19 PPG and she’s basically the female version of her brother, Hunter, except she might shoot it better at this point. A more accurate player comparison might be Kaylee DaMitz. It took Strafford several different defenders to slow her down, nobody in Class 1 will be able to do that… Lexi Berry has wasted little time in establishing who the next big name at Bolivar will be. She’s putting up 12.3 points and 3.8 assists with a 2:1 assists-to-turnover ratio. She does a little bit of everything and she’s extremely efficient.

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