By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Jordan Burton takes a look around at the area’s basketball scene. You can reach him on Twitter @thejordanburton with suggestions for players, teams and stories he should highlight.
The COC has a pair of REALLY good guards coming
Republic senior Drew McMillin and Joplin junior Always Wright aren’t strangers to the COC. Both were All-Conference selections last year and both have been varsity regulars since their freshman seasons. However, both now how sidekicks that will alleviate a lot of pressure for them.
Sophomore Tae Askew was picked as our breakout player and he lived up to the billing in a season-opening win over Helias. Yes, Helias was short-handed but Askew still went for 26, keeping Republic’s offense afloat in the first half before the Tigers got things rolling on their way to a 60-42 win. It’s not just the scoring, he took multiple charges and even had a great open-court steal. White currently has an offer from D1 Bryant. Askew is the real deal. McMillin finished with a 20-piece and showed why he’s one of the favorites for COC Player of the Year.
Not to be outdone, Always Wright finished with 32 points and knocked down six 3s. And that scoring output won’t be his highest of the season. However, the contributions made by sophomore Dante Washington and freshman All Wright, Always’ brother, can’t be ignored. Washington scored 20 points and the football standout flashed that athleticism in the open court. He’s a strong, explosive guard that lives in the paint. All Wright added 10 and showed a poise far beyond his age. Both Washington and Wright will only get better. The 80-60 win over McDonald County was a great way for a young team to open the season.
Elijah Whitley is a bucket
Another player we felt like could have a breakout season, the junior guard absolutely lived up to the hype on Monday night in a 48-43 win over Rogersville, scoring 27 points. He even flashed some athleticism that he didn’t have last year, throwing down a two-handed dunk in traffic. This isn’t a “we told you so” but simply a notice that the talent level around the Ozarks is insanely high right now. Whitley is going to have a chance to have a special season.
Terry Writer picks up 800th win
Writer continues to stack them up. He quietly slid over to Spokane and continues to do what he does best. Congrats to a great man and great head coach on yet another milestone.
Juggernauts in Southwest Missouri
Class 2 Hartville boys basketball beat Class 4 St. Genevieve 79-48. Kickapoo girls beat a really good Thayer team by 50, 69-19. The Nixa girls turbo-clocked Parkview and Licking’s Wilson Murray scored 51 against Houston… Basically, the Eagles might run through everyone in Class 2, especially if/when Greenwood moves to Class 3. The Kickapoo girls, at full strength, are the most talented team in the Ozarks. Having a healthy Bella Fontleroy back solidifies that. Thayer will be really good in Class 2. Potentially Final Four good. But Kickapoo is a different kind of monster when they’re healthy. The biggest challenger to Kickapoo will be Nixa. The Eagles junior backcourt of Ali Kamies and Macie Conway, along with the complementary pieces, make Nixa extremely scary. The program struggled to score it last season. In the opener, they proved points will be easier to come by this year. They then followed that up by scoring 95 points on Monday night. In our watch list we said that Murray was a name people needed to know. So naturally, he opened the season with a 51-point explosion. He’ll continue to be one of the best unknown players in the Ozarks, which is nothing new. Lane Duncan, Brady Smith and Nathan Wilson were all studs that were unknown and under recruited because of location.
Navy senior Cam Davis reaches 1K
There isn’t enough that can be said about former Kickapoo star Cam Davis. After a brilliant career as a Chief, he’s followed that up with a great three-plus years in Annapolis. As a junior he started 30 games, averaging 16.3 points and 2.5 assists, which earned him All-Patriot League honors. In three games as a senior he’s averaging 17 a night, with his 26-point outburst against Mount St. Mary’s on Saturday putting him over the 1,000-point mark. That’s also the second-highest total of his career. Just 11 players in the last 30 years have reached 1,000 points at Navy and it is likely that Davis will pass five of them on the career scoring list by season’s end. As he’s done his entire career, Davis continues to get better with every game played.
Kickapoo beat Barstow in January 2016 in a shootout at Ozark. Both teams went on to play in the state title game that year. Kickapoo lost to a Jayson Tatum-led Chaminade team and Barstow lost to a Michael Porter-led Father Tolton Catholic team. The point guard for Barstow that year was Jacob Gilyard. He’s currently an All-Conference player at Richmond. He led his Spiders to an upset of Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Saturday. Hindsight is always 20/20, but there are several programs in Missouri that could’ve used Davis and/or Gilyard.
Must-See Games (Dec. 1-5)
Republic Boys Tournament
Pool A: Rogersville, Parkview, Ozark | Pool B: Republic, Rolla, Glendale
This continues to be one of the premiere tournaments in the area. I wish I could give you a championship game prediction, but it honestly doesn’t matter because Saturday will have three quality games. This is a chance to see some of the top non-senior prospects in the area with Whitley, Askew, Ethan Whatley (Ozark) and Glendale’s duo of Carter Harrell and Aaron Ledgerwood.
Willard Boys Tournament
There are two games here that will be the type of game where you might need to FaceTime someone in Willard so you can see the action. Barring upsets, on Friday at 8:30PM we are going to see Kickapoo’s “Fantastic Four” battle the most skilled big in the area, 6-foot-7 Bolivar sophomore Kyle Pock. Pock is an absolute stud and he doesn’t really care about names, rankings and offers. That’s been a Polk County thing, even back to their days in the TOC under Robby Hoegh. Both these teams will be Final Four contenders. And then, for an encore on Saturday evening (Dec. 5) the Kickapoo-Bolivar winner will likely see a loaded Greenwood team. Everyone is chomping at the bit for a Greenwood-Kickapoo matchup, which could be the first of multiple meetings, but even a Bolivar-Greenwood game would be a compelling matchup.
Carthage Girls Tournament – Kickapoo vs. Miller (Dec. 5)
I know this isn’t what you expected to see. Kickapoo’s enrollment is 1,538, while Miller comes in at a mighty 150. However, the mismatch on the court isn’t as great as it may seem. Kickapoo is the most talented girls’ team in the area and quite possibly in Missouri. They don’t have any holes in their lineup, led by future McDonald’s All-American Bella Fontleroy and all-state senior Indya Green. But let’s not forget this Miller group has won 50 games over the last two years, with back-to-back district championships. This year they are looking to make their first Final Four appearance since 2010 when current head coach – Hannah Wilkerson – was feeding kids buckets to the tune of 30-plus a night. Like Wilkerson, juniors Claudia Hadlock, Kaylee Helton and Payten Richardson are RELENTLESS. The Lady Cardinals went to this tournament to get this game and others like it. This is one of those games that makes the Ozarks unique. Getting to see powers from different classes never gets old. Fans in Carthage for this one should enjoy watching two championship contenders.