By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Bronson Schaake had no intention of leaving Riverton, Kansas after getting the basketball program rolling there. The Rams finished with a 14-5 record last winter in his fourth season at the helm.
But when Jeff Hafer stepped down after seven seasons at Joplin, Schaake had to take a look.
“I liked the interview, I liked the administration, the facilities and I got to look at some of the returning talent so I thought it was a good opportunity,” he said.
Now Schaake, who assisted at Basehor-Linwood High School in the Kansas City area before taking the Riverton job, will take over an Eagles squad that went 12-13 last season and finished sixth in the Central Ozark Conference with a 3-6 record. After winning 21 games in 2019-20, Joplin won 10 of 14 to open last season but lost 9 of 11 to close it out. Three of those losses were by two points or less.
“I worked with them this summer and we got a few tournaments in and played in the Webb City league,” Schaake said. “Coach Hafer did a really good job with the program. I’m kind of spoiled taking over some kids that have a lot of experience. There’s a good core of kids and we’ll mix in some new ones coming up.”
Joplin’s list of returning players is highlighted by 6-foot-3 senior combo guard Always Wright, who also quarterbacked the football team. The sharpshooter averaged 12.4 points as a sophomore and scored a career-high 32 against McDonald County early last season. Then, he followed that up with a 40-point effort in January against Gateway City. He had at least eight games last season with 20 or more points and poured in 25 in a district matchup against Republic. It earned him all-area, all-district and second-team all-conference honors.
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“He’s a calm, cool and collected kid but he’s also competitive,” Schaake said. “It’s a good mix. He has good court sense, really good range. My goal is to try to get him to attack the rim more and maybe even post him up a little bit. He’s 6-3 and starting to fill out a little bit.”
Younger brother All Wright returns as a sophomore and he also had a standout season. He scored 28 against Republic in February and had 30 against Branson in January. He finished with at least 10 games scoring 20 or more and was an All District and third-team COC player.
“He’s an ultra-competitive kid, very coachable,” Schaake said. “He’s got a very high ceiling and just based off what I saw this summer with him he’s extended his range a little bit but he’s really good around the rim. I’m hoping to expand their game and I want them to be players on both ends of the floor. I’ve noticed they accept challenges like that. Two of your best players are accepting that and they’re coachable, which makes everything else fall into place with the other kids.”
The Eagles return 6-4 junior Terrance Gibson, a forward who saw varsity time as a sophomore and has a “very high ceiling.”
“He had a really good summer starting to finish around the rim,” Schaake said. “He’s a heck of a rebounder.”
Bruce Wilbert, a 6-1 senior guard, is another returning player who will mix it up defensively and hit a couple shots. He provides good leadership, too.
LT Atherton, a 6-3 senior, started last season and is a hybrid player who can play the post and also play on the wing.
“He’s going to try to open his game up a little bit,” Schaake said.
Whit Hafer is a 6-7 sophomore who dealt with a leg injury last year that hampered his season but he had a good summer and also has a “very high” ceiling.
“I still see a group with a lot of potential and from what I’ve gathered they’re very coachable kids and as a first-year coach that’s what you want,” Schaake said.
He will especially focus on the team’s defense, saying that will account for 60 or 65 percent of what he emphasizes, and rebounding will be a key.
“My thing is I want them all over the place defensively, down on the floor, sliding over, taking charges, getting the ball out and going,” he said. “Sometimes people get the idea if you’re a defensive coach you don’t want them being aggressive on offense. That’s not the case. I want them jumping lanes and trying to get easy buckets. Other than that my philosophy is I want mentally tough kids that you won’t be able to break.”
Joplin looks to have a huge freshman class out for basketball. Schaake said there were about 30 freshmen playing during the summer.
The Eagles are tentatively scheduled for a jamboree on Nov. 19. They’ll open the regular season at McDonald County on Nov. 23 and will once again host the Kaminsky Classic in January.