There are not a lot of differences between last year’s Blue Springs boys basketball team and the one the Wildcats will field in 2016-17.
They lost a tenacious defender and solid leader in Korey Wilson and the athletic dunking machine Justin Hall to graduation. But the Wildcats return a core group of three starters, Tyree King, Daniel Parker and RJ Lawrence, and others who had significant minutes are coming back as well in Hunter Grobmeyer, Ryan McMahan, Corey Bonner and Curley Williams.
The team went 16-9 last year, but this might be a good year as any for the Wildcats to earn their first district title in more than 10 years.
Could the 2016-17 season be their time?
Blue Springs coach Adam Jones said missing Wilson will be a big loss but his team was able to get by without Hall for a few games when he was out with a concussion.
One thing Blue Springs likely won’t have to worry about is scoring. Lawrence, Parker and King all averaged more than 13 points per game last season, with Lawrence and King providing the steady outside shooting and Parker scoring down low.
“I don’t think we need to depend on RJ to score or Tyree to score,” Jones said. “Those guys need to create shots for each other. If they do that, we’ll be OK.”
Those who could inherit the two starting spots left behind by Hall and Wilson could be any combination of Williams, McMahan, Grobmeyer, Bonner and newcomer Keilen White. Jones acknowledged Bonner is someone who could have a starting spot locked down as he’s shown tremendous promise in practice.
McMahan noted that White and Stefan Black II are a couple of newcomers that could contribute right away.
“They are really good guards,” he said. “They can shoot it and pass the ball well.”
Added Lawrence: “The new guys have really come in and played their hearts out, and they’re skilled.”
Bonner is comparable to Hall. He has length, plays good defense and is extremely athletic. He was someone Jones was not shy to rave about.
“Corey is a spark and does everything right for us defensively,” Jones said. “He’s developed a post game inside. He’s only 6-3 but he’s athletic and strong. Right now, I can’t take him off the floor. He’s built a lot like Justin, but he has bigger muscles.”
With him, King, Lawrence and Parker filling out four starting spots, Jones said it will depend on the matchup on who gets the fifth spot on any given night.
“Those next spots will be interchangeable throughout the year based on matchups,” Jones said. “Because if you put Ryan in there with Daniel, we’re pretty big,”
With the Wildcats being so talented in the backcourt, they will attempt to press teams often and get out in transition as much as possible. They have someone who can get up and down the court in a hurry in Lawrence.
But there is one aspect of basketball that Wildcats value above the rest.
‘We just really have to focus on defense, that’s the main thing,” Lawrence said. “That’s the main thing. We might do a lot of pressing and getting in the face and play hard.”
It will also help that the majority of the varsity roster received significant playing time during the 2015-16 campaign.
“We know how each other plays, and we really play well together,” McMahan said.
Only time will tell if the returning experience results in the Wildcats’ first district title in more than 10 years.