Jimmy Cain wants his Blue Springs South High School boys basketball team to realize that the first time they step onto the court at 2:30 this afternoon in the Class 5 final four semifinal game against St. Louis University High, it’s going to be a different experience.
“I haven’t asked a lot of people for much advice, but I asked (two-time state champion football coach) Greg Oder what it was like the first time to ever walk on field as a coach of a championship game,” Cain said before a recent practice session. “I wanted to know how he handled looking in the stands and seeing the entire community there, and he said, ‘I’ll give you some advice. Just look down.’ It will be overwhelming having everyone in our corner, very humbling.
“We’ve sold over 500 tickets to the students in our school, and it’s going to be different. The school buzzing, and that’s humbling and a blessing. It will be overwhelming the first time we step on court.
“But we want them to know this is fun. Before we go out for warm-ups, we’re going to address the fact that the whole city will be out there, and that everyone is right out there fighting with you. We will embrace that. As opposed to saying it’s another game, it is not another game. It’s a great experience, and it’s OK to embrace that.”
Cain added that he hasn't had much sleep this week, but that's perfectly fine.
"The only difference for me is getting up earlier and going to bed later," he said, "because once regular working hours start at school your game watching and film preparation end. I just set my alarm for the middle of the night and get a lot of work done earlier than usual.”
In their firstever final four appearance, the 27-2 Jaguars take on the guard-oriented 19-11 Junior Billikens from St. Louis University High.
“They have great playmakers and they make great decisions,” Cain said of today’s opponent, “and the most dangerous thing they bring is outstanding transition. We have to limit their ability to run and get into transition because about 70 percent of their offense is from their transition game. We have played so many great teams this year that play a similar style and that will help us prepare for them.”
Guards Brandon McKissick (14.3 points per game) and Matt Nester (12.4) are the guards who make things happen for the Junior Billikens.
“Our schedule this year made all the difference in the world,” Cain said. “It’s easy to find out who the top teams in Kansas City are, so we played a lot of Kansas schools and Webster Groves from St. Louis. That allowed us to build confidence because we found out about the top schools who aren’t right here in the metro area.”
The Jaguars starting five of Kevin Puryear (19.9 points and 7.8 rebounds game), K.J. Robinson (16.4 and 3.1 assists), Brandon Kilgore (13.1 and 2.1 assists), Briley Moore-McKinney (4.5 and 5.4 rebounds) and Marcus Meyer (4.6 and 5.0 rebounds) are accustomed to big games and know the importance of playing to their strengths against SLUH.
Puryear, who will play basketball at the University of Missouri, is the Jaguars’ go-to player. Kilgore and Moore-McKinney provide a great defensive presence, Robinson is an explosive guard and Meyer can alter many shots in the paint.
“Our starters know what to do, our bench is ready – we’re all ready to go,” Cain said. “You can sense the guys wish the game was getting here a lot sooner than Friday.”