By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
From 2011 to 2015, Kickapoo posted an 88-26 record with a pair of district championships and Jack Simpson played in a then school-record 113 of those games. Now, Simpson is returning to the hardwood, but this time he’ll be on the sidelines as the new head coach of Springfield Catholic.
He’ll now look to build on the tradition of a program that has won at least 17 games in each of the last five seasons, including a pair of district titles and a Final Four run in 2019.
Any time there is a coaching change it is important to establish new culture and expectations, something Simpson was able to do this summer through bonding with his new group.
“Taking over a program is definitely hard; the first thing any coach should look to establish is relationships with his/her players,” said Simpson. “Relationships are so important. Fortunately for me I am blessed with a great senior class who can really play the game. In order for them to buy into me and the things I sell they first have to get to know me and trust me. So I have really worked hard this summer/fall to build these different relationships.”
Catholic returns just two starters from last year’s 17-9 district runner-up team, but the Irish are reloading with talent and will again be in the conversation for conference and district championships.
Senior guards Zach Howell and Liam O’Reilly are already names basketball fans in the Ozarks are familiar with.
Howell was an All-Everything selection, averaging 26 points and 9.8 rebounds. The 6-foot-4 guard currently holds offers from Texas Tech and SIU-Edwardsville. O’Reilly – a Missouri State football commit – averaged 11.3 points, 5.2 assists and 4.3 rebounds as a junior.
They’re one of the top backcourts in Missouri.
“I have known Zach since he was 5th or 6th grade; the kid is really special,” said Simpson. “His work ethic is off the charts. The kid is a straight worker. He won’t impress anyone by his speed or anything like that but he works. Zach has a chance (in my opinion) to go down as an all-time great shooter in the Ozarks, right up there with guys like Austin Ruder, Jared Ridder, Alex Hall and Anton Brookshire. Zach is extremely skilled and rebounds the ball extremely well. The other thing about Zach is he wants to guard the other team’s best player. He is the ultimate competitor. I am excited to be a part of his senior year.
“Liam is a great leader. He can get to the rim extremely well and he has the opportunity to be one of the best defenders in the area with his size and strength. Obviously a tremendous football player, but guys respect whatever he is doing. Football, basketball, classroom etc. I am so blessed to have guys like Liam in this program. He is essentially like having another coach out there. It’s awesome and makes my job easier. With eight seniors who are all capable of leading….I really got lucky.”
Catholic will have one of the most senior-dominated lineups in the area.
Ty Lyon is a guard that sat out last year after transferring from Ozark. He averaged more than 20 PPG at the JV level in 2020-21. “He is extremely aggressive and can really attack the basket,” said Simpson. “With the ball in his hands he is extremely quick and can shoot the ball consistently as well. He will have a major impact for us this season.”
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Cameron Krueger will be the ultimate glue guy for Catholic. Major Riley is a 6-foot-7 big that has a great frame and feel for his role. Both seniors will be major assets defensively.
Quinn Roubal gives Catholic another perimeter shooter. Evan Mayse and Josh Palmer add toughness and athleticism for the Irish. Juniors Andrew Hamilton, Reece White and Jackson McDaniel will also compete for minutes alongside the huge senior class.
Simpson is excited about the brand of basketball this team will bring to the floor.
“With a team of this much talent you really have to trust your players to make plays,” said Simpson. “We will run a lot of different dribble penetration motion actions and set a lot of ball screens. I am not going to be a coach who doesn’t give his players the freedom to make plays. Hopefully this will bring an exciting brand of basketball to watch.
“I am a defensive-minded coach. I was the same way as a player and I pride myself on that side of the floor. We will run packline principles. I was fortunate to play for Kramer Soderberg in college and his dad is the head assistant at Virginia and Kramer really knows his stuff and I learned a lot from him and continue to pick his brain. We will have different types of zone presses/zones, but our bread and butter has to be tough nosed man to man defense without fouling.”
On paper, many would assume a roster with just two starters returning and a new head coach is planning on a rebuild. That is not the case at Springfield Catholic where the Irish still have high expectations.
“We won the KAMO hoops shootout in Kansas City,” said Simpson. “We went 9-0 on the weekend and beat a couple of Blue Valley and Olathe schools. There were over 40 teams competing so we really finished the summer on a high note and I think it made all of us more excited for the upcoming season.
“There is a lot of really good talent in this area. I think in order to separate ourselves from everyone else we have to guard. Not for half the game or the majority of the game, but for all 32 minutes we have to guard and we have to do it without fouling. We have a lot of guys who can score but I want to see how much pride this team will take on the defensive end of the floor.”
Catholic will open the season on Nov. 29 with the 87th Clever Invitational.