A coaching icon, two standout freshmen and three senior leaders prove that quality can top quantity in Eastern Jackson County when it comes to the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association All-State team.
Mark Spigarelli, whose 24-5 Blue Springs High School girls team earned a trip to the Class 5 final four, only to see it canceled due to the COVID-19 crisis, joined the other three coaches as the Class 5 co-coaches of the year.
His standout freshman guard, Jada Williams, joined Grain Valley Class 4 freshman guard Grace Slaughter, proving that youth was served on the all-state team.
And three seniors who have been heart and soul players for their respective teams – Class 3’s Ben Palacio, a forward from St. Michael the Archangel Catholic, and Class 5 guards Kaimen Lennox from Truman and William Chrisman’s Isaiah Jackson – round out the representatives from Eastern Jackson County.
"Jada came in with so much attention and hype and all you have to do is look at our record and her numbers to see that she lived up to – and maybe even exceeded – what was expected of her," said Spigarelli, who had led the Wildcats to five previous state final four appearances and won four state championships at Pembroke Hill.
"She is the type of player who is going to continue raising the bar, bringing in a new skill each season. And she’s such a great kid that all her teammates loved playing with her.
"Our coaches talked all the time about how much fun we had this season – and winning had something to do with it, but so did the fact that we had so many great players. And I know you can’t name each one of them, but every player who played for us this year contributed in some fashion."
Williams, who averaged 17.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists and 3.1 steals per game, said she is honored to be an all-state performer.
"I was surprised and happy to be all state as a freshman," Williams said, "but I’m only a freshman and I have so much to improve on. I want to keep getting better and better.
"And I can’t wait to get back with my girls. It was tough the way the season ended (with the final four being canceled) but we’ll come back bigger and better than ever. Spig and our coaches are great."
Slaughter, who averaged 23.4 points (second best in the metro area), 4.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 2.8 steals per game, was also thrilled to earn the top state honor as a freshman.
"My mom called me to tell me and I couldn’t believe it," Slaughter said. "I didn’t know what to expect my freshman season, but with great teammates and Coach (Randy) Draper and our great coaches, I thought we would have a lot of success.
"Winning something like this just makes me want to go out and work harder."
That comment comes as no surprise to Draper.
"Some players receive an honor like this and are satisfied," Draper said, "and others, like Grace, use it as motivation to do bigger and better things. She will be better next year, and better the next year – do you see where I’m going with this?
"The next three years in Grain Valley are going to be a lot of fun."
Truman coach Rod Briggs is thrilled that Lennox is the first Truman all-state player since Steve Moore in 2008.
"I am so proud of Kaimen," Briggs said. "He really developed over his four years with us. I don't think most people would have thought he would be an all-state player when he was a freshman. He worked hard and took advantage of getting a lot of playing time early in his career."
And that hard work paid off as he averaged 18.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists for the Patriots.
"I didn’t even think about all-state as a freshman, I just wanted to make junior varsity," Lennox said, chuckling. "I worked hard, real hard, the four years I played for Coach Briggs and he and my teammates helped me earn this honor.
"When a season is over, you can think about something like this, because all I think about is winning during the season. This is a great honor and I am so thankful for everyone who voted for me."
Chrisman coach Jake Kates calls Jackson "a member of the Bears family. A young man who leads on the court and in the classroom. I am so fortunate to have been his coach and now I look forward to being his friend."
The silky smooth guard averaged 15.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. He was the sixth-leading rebounder in the metro area and the only point guard in the top 10.
"What an honor," Jackson said. "I think it makes it even more special to get all-state as a senior, and to have someone I have played with, and really respect, like Kaimen to get it the same season.
"This is just going to make me work that much harder."
Lennox has signed to play basketball at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Jackson has signed with 2019 NCAA Division II national champion Northwest Missouri State University.
St. Michael coach Mark Scanlon calls Palacios, "The best player in the area and one of the best players I ever coached. I am so pleased that he was selected to this all-state team because he really deserves it."
Palacios averaged 23 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game for the Guardians.
"The greatest thing about this honor," said Palacios, who has signed to play collegiately at Drake, "is that it gives me another opportunity to talk about my teammates and my coaches.
"It was such an honor to be on the first team in the history of St. Michael three years ago and to help build a foundation for the program that will keep getting stronger. This is a great honor and I want to share it with everyone."