Justin Pitts, a former Examiner Player of the Year, and Carl Martin combined to give the Blue Springs South High School basketball team one of the best guard combos in the state.
“They were good, no doubt about that,” said coach Jimmy Cain, whose 27-2 Jaguars meet 19-11 St. Louis University High at 2:30 p.m. today at the Mizzou Arena in a Class 5 state semifinal.
“But we have a couple of pretty good guards now, too. And I think one reason they are so good is because they got to practice against Carl and Justin to learn what it takes to be the best.”
K.J. Robinson, a junior who averages more than 16 points a game, and Brandon Kilgore, a senior who adds 13.5 points a contest, will be key players as the Jaguars attempt to claim their first state championship in school history.
“Carl and Justin used to beat up on us pretty good when Brandon was a sophomore and I was a freshman,” said Robinson, who was grinning at the memory of those grueling practice sessions. “Brandon and I would watch Carl and Justin play and we wanted to help the team like they did.
“And I think that we became good players because we practiced against the best guards in the state every day. We had to get better to survive.”
Kilgore nodded his head in agreement.
“They made it tough, but they made us better players,” said Kilgore, who looked across the South training room and was surprised to see Martin walk in.
“Man, we were just talking about you,” Kilgore said as he shook hands with Martin, who is now playing at Graceland University in Iowa. “You made us tough. You and Pitts (now a standout at Northwest Missouri State) made us what we are today.”
Now, it was Martin’s turn to grin.
“Those two guys, we were so hard on them,” Martin said, “but look at where they are today. We came close to making the final four, but we never quite made it. These guys are living the dream. And when they win it all, we’re all going to feel like we had a little part of it.
“We’re living through them, and we’re so proud of them. You can have the big man (Missouri-bound Kevin Puryear), but you have to have the guys get him the ball. You have to have the guys score some points when he’s double-teamed, and you have to have the guys play defense.”
He just gave the perfect description of Robinson and Kilgore, who have each enjoyed their moments in the spotlight throughout this memorable season.
Robinson scored a team-high 20 points in a 54-52 quarterfinal win over Nixa last Saturday, in which Puryear was double- and triple-teamed throughout much of the game – although he broke away at the end to score the winning points with a game-deciding dunk with seconds left.
With Jefferson City defenders hanging all over Puryear the moment he left the bus in a big sectional win, Kilgore lit up the State Fair Community College gym with a team-high 19 points and rock-solid defense in the sectional playoff on March 11.
“To go from Justin and Carl to Brandon and K.J. is pretty special,” Cain said. “I remember watching Carl and Justin work K.J. and Brandon over pretty good in practice, and it did make them better players.
“K.J. is just so explosive, and Brandon can take a game over defensively, and score some points. They are so important to our transition game – offensively and defensively – and they’re great kids, too.”
Robinson and Kilgore are in agreement when asked about this weekend’s challenge.
“We’re the first team from South to go to the final four, and we want to be the first to win it tall,” Kilgore said.
Robinson then added, “Going to the final four was never our goal. Winning it – bringing the championship home to South – that was our goal. And now, we get the chance to make it happen.”