The Blue Springs boys basketball team is going through a transitional period as it lost five rotational players from last year’s team, including senior sharpshooter Tyree King.
King was one of three players that took the majority of the shots for the Wildcats last season as they went 17-10 and fell to Columbia Rock Bridge in the district championship game.
Two of the players left from Blue Springs’ “Big Three” are returning and they will be surrounded largely by players who were on the junior varsity squad last season.
Those two players are forward Daniel Parker, who averaged 17.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, and point guard RJ Lawrence, who averaged 17.1 points, 3.3 assists and 2.4 steals per game.
While those two coming back will certainly help matters for the Wildcats, it doesn’t come without its challenges. Parker, a big football recruit who just finished his season with Wildcats in the Class 6 state championship game last Saturday, is just now starting his first week of practice for basketball.
Lawrence separated his left (shooting) shoulder during an AAU game over the summer and had to have surgery. Head coach Adam Jones said he expects Lawrence won’t be available until mid-December. Blue Springs’ first game is Dec. 2 against Park Hill South.
Added forward Jay’Von McKinney: “We still have some good shooters who aren’t as good as RJ. We will be excited to have (Lawrence) when he gets back. We have the shooters to fill in for him.”
While Lawrence is rehabbing to get back on the court, Stephen Black, who is the only other player returning with significant varsity experience, will help fill in at the point guard position.
The rest of the spots will be filled by JV players from last season.
“We have a bunch of young kids who have never played varsity basketball before and that’s our biggest challenge,” Jones said. “We have a couple of kids who played some freshman ball last year that will have a chance at some varsity minutes. It’s kind of exciting because we can see if these kids can play at this level.”
Some of the newcomers include McKinney, Braylon Culler, Michael Berger Azaiah Bello, Fred Burton and Justin Smith.
“Jay’Von is full of energy,” Jones said. “Then we have Justin and Fred, who will create problems for other teams defensively just because they are so quick and they play so hard. We have some pieces there that give us some options to build off of. Azaiah is such a bruiser and so competitive, he’s going to be able to help us with our physicality.”
Even with so many new players coming into the fold, Jones isn’t ready to say it’s a rebuilding year. He said he feels his team still has the athleticism to compete with the teams in the Suburban Big Seven Conference.
The Wildcats’ speed and athleticism will allow them to play the same brand of basketball it’s always played under Jones – aggressive defense with a lot of full-court presses and scoring in transition.
“We’ll still be able to speed up the offense a little bit,” McKinney said. “Nothing is going to change really. We’ve got some fast guys who can handle the ball.”
One area he wants his team to focus on is defense.
“It’s a little sloppy – both in the halfcourt and in transition,” Jones said. “It’s just about the new guys understanding our philosophy. Some of these guys are still learning.”
Even with a lot players having to face a learning curve of playing varsity basketball, Jones still plans on aiming for a conference championship and district title. However, it will be tough.
“We have a loaded schedule,” Jones said. “The Big Seven is going to be tough. It’s every team’s goal to win conference and districts. We’ll see how our season goes, but I am excited about this group.”