By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
There may not be a program in Missouri with more pressure than Kickapoo. And, there may not be a roster and coaching staff more equipped to handle that pressure than Kickapoo.
Entering Mitch McHenry’s fourth season leading the Chiefs, coming off of the program’s third Final Four appearance since 2016, Kickapoo is hungry to finish what was taken from them last spring.
The Chiefs advanced to the Class 5 Final Four before the season was suspended due to COVID-19. Kickapoo had just drilled 24-3 – and defending Class 5 state champion Rock Bridge – as part of a stretch that saw them win 11 of their last 12 games entering the semifinal matchup with CBC.
“We are hoping our group goes into the season hungry and determined after having their season ended early last year,” said McHenry. “Our group still has a lot to prove and they want to accomplish, and I think that will be on display this season. One of the most fulfilling aspects of coaching is when your group plays their best basketball at the end of the season in the biggest games and that is what we were doing.”
Kickapoo hasn’t won a state championship since 2006, but a case can be made that this is the program’s most talented roster since that year.
It all starts with the state’s best returning backcourt in Mizzou commit and Mr. Show-Me Basketball candidate Anton Brookshire and fellow senior Cameron Liggins.
Brookshire is a four-year starter coming off a season that saw him average 20.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists. Liggins added 14.3 points and 6.2 rebounds, but exploded for 57 points in Kickapoo’s two state playoff wins. Liggins, who plans to reclassify to join the 2022 class, already holds an offer from Division One program Western Illinois.
“Anton possesses a great basketball IQ,” said McHenry. “He always knows his job but also directs his teammates on the floor and gets them where they are supposed to be also, which is crucial as a point guard. He has been the heartbeat of our program the last three years and that will continue going into his senior year. He has improved his all-around game each season and I think this year his overall skill will be on display again with his ability to make his teammates better.
“Cam will play a major role for us this season. He was a difference maker for our program during our postseason run last year. He is one of the best rebounding guards I have coached and has the ability to get hot and score points in a short amount of time. He has the ability to impact the game on both sides of the floor with his athleticism.”
Brookshire and Liggins are the lone returning starters for Kickapoo, but they’ll be joined by a pair of instant impact talents in Mizzou commit Trevon Brazile and Missouri State commit Isaac Haney.
Both would’ve been Mr. Show-Me Basketball candidates on their previous squads, but now form one of the most highly-touted quartets SPS has ever seen. Haney was on pace to go down as one of the state’s most prolific scorers ever. The 6-foot-2 combo guard averaged 31 points and 4.4 rebounds, knocking down 114 3-point FG as a junior. He has nearly 2,500 career points entering his senior year. Brazile averaged 11.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. The 6-foot-8 combo forward had a monster summer, which helped boost his recruitment.
“Isaac is a fierce competitor and a winner,” said McHenry. “He is well-known for his ability to score, but he is a complete player on both sides of the floor. He plays with a high basketball IQ that will be on display his senior year. Trevon is one of the top athletes in the state. He plays above the rim and is continuing to improve his scoring and play making abilities. Has the potential to average a double-double during this season year, and influence the game on both offense and defense.”
Seniors Mitchell Kellogg and Kooper Carlson, as well as Michael Lemetyuynen will also be rotational players. Kellogg is a glue player with a high motor, Carlson is a guard that is slick with the ball in his hands and Lemetyuynen is a knockdown shooter. Juniors Carson Noel and Andrew Robinson, as well as standout sophomores Harrison Doennig and Zaide Lowery, will also compete for rotational minutes. Doennig and Lowery have proven themselves as two of the top sophomores in Missouri.
Kickapoo is accustomed to playing with a bullseye on its back year in and year out; that’s the price you pay when you’ve won at least 20 games in nine of the last 10 seasons, with six district titles and three Final Fours. But, the target they’ll have this season may feel a little different because no local team has won a championship in the largest class in more than a decade.
The Chiefs will again be in the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions and the favorite to not only win Ozark Conference and district championships, but the expectation is they’ll be back in the Final Four. With so much talent and only one ball, the idea is that Kickapoo may struggle with chemistry issues. But the reality is that they’ve already been playing together for years.
There will be some hurdles to Kickapoo optimizing its potential, but chemistry isn’t likely to be one.
“We have a group that is competitive and wants to win,” said McHenry. “Many people see them as really good players and scorers and automatically think they are selfish or can’t play together because they are worried about their own stats and that is the furthest thing from the truth. They have fun around each other, push each other, and want to win. They will put an exciting brand of basketball on the floor.
“I think a key this season for all teams will be handling adversity and change. We will enter the winter with a lot of unknown and a lot of factors that could impact the season that we have no control over. Our focus will be on our team and getting better each day. Each game is a challenge and any team can win in our conference on a given night if you don’t bring your game. The hunger to get better every day and the need to dominate. It is nearly impossible at our level to win big games or make a run in the postseason if you can’t bring an intensity or focus to get better each day and every game. If we are able to do these things, I think our group will have an opportunity to win some of these big games.”
Kickapoo will open the 2020-21 season on Dec. 3 at the Willard Basketball Classic.