By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Jordan Burton takes a look around at the area’s basketball scene. You can reach him on Twitter @thejordanburton with suggestions for players, teams and stories he should highlight.
• Aminu the G.O.A.T?
Aminu Mohammed is (obviously) an elite high school prospect. But, at this point, his name is in the conversation as the best high school player Missouri has ever seen. His career numbers are astounding. He passes the eye test every time he steps on the court. And, if you want mystique, no his name isn’t Tatum or Beal yet, but the kid got 1,300 people to fill a high school gym in the midst of a global pandemic. People showed up to see Kickapoo, but the overall goal was to see what Aminu would do against a loaded Kickapoo squad. The answer was 43 points – 25 of which came in the second half – and one of the best performances on a massive stage we’ve seen locally. This from a guy that scored 100 points and grabbed 52 rebounds in three games at the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions.
In an era where every high school kid is a “bucket” and is “different” – Aminu is something more. He’s wired at a level most players today just aren’t. Is it as sexy as Jayson Tatum at Chaminade? No. But Aminu has two elite-level traits that will be the reason he makes it to the NBA. He has a motor that never stops running and he’s an absolute killer on the court. In the Kickapoo game, the Chiefs attempted a lob for Trevon Brazile in transition that would’ve been a highlight play until Aminu ran it down and broke it up. Nearly everyone else had given up on the play. The reason why he’s an elite rebounder is because of his motor; he chases everything off the rim. He’s also a terminator. The names on jerseys don’t matter, nor do the faces in them; he’s trying to get his 35 and 15 against everyone. Golden City, Kickapoo, Oak Hill… it really doesn’t matter, his effort level and intensity never waver. Does he need to continue to improve his perimeter jumper? Of course. Is he still developing as a play-making lead guard? Yes. There have been wings that have been superior shooters and playmakers as seniors in high school, but I’ve not seen anyone with that combination of pure skill, athleticism and motor.
I talk with Earl Austin regularly and several NBA comps make sense. There’s a whole lot of Victor Oladipo and Malcolm Brogdon in Mohammed. Both developed their elite guard skills in college. Even Otto Porter and young Kawhi Leonard make sense. What makes it tough to assess Aminu is just how quickly he progresses. I saw video of him when he first got to America. His rawness was undeniable. I first met him weeks after he enrolled at Greenwood. The following summer I coached him at the Midwest Showcase which featured elite prospects from Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Iowa and Nebraska. In all three phases, his game has seen remarkable strides, with him progressing from raw combo forward to skilled combo guard.
His story is still being written whereas we were able to see Beal, Hansborough, Tatum, etc. dominate in college and progress to the NBA as well. But, at his grade level, he’s put together a body of work that has him in the conversations with the elites. He’s the best player in the history of the Ozarks, he’s now chasing Missouri royalty and rapidly narrowing the gap.
• How good is Parkview?
Landon Cornish has had some hard luck with seniors. Two years ago Ty Freeman tore his ACL on a team that would’ve had a chance to make a Final Four run. This summer the Vikings lost Trevon Brazile due to transfer. And here we are with Parkview owning wins over Rogersville and Ozark. We’ve been beating the Elijah Whitley drum for a while – but sophomores Amarre Clark and Kevin Parker are the perfect backcourt mates with Whitley. Anthony Green is a physical freak that can do a little bit of everything. This group is putting it together quickly. Kickapoo and Nixa will dominate headlines all year, but the Vikings will be one of the top dark horses among projected Class 6 squads.
• Willard, Carthage Lady Tigers impressive early
Nixa and Republic are the favorites to win the COC, but Willard and Carthage cemented the fact they are both legitimate challengers in conference and district title races. Willard (4-0) defended home turf by winning the Willard Tournament, doing so in impressive fashion. Willard beat Bolivar (64-34), Strafford (68-61) and Camdenton (81-56) on its way to a title. JJ Adamson again has a team that plays fast and has several people that can beat you. The scary thing is how their roster is made. Adamson plays positionless basketball with nobody over 5-foot-9 but nearly everyone is right around that size. Addy Adamson, Jada Holloman, Ariana Patillo, Brielle Adamson and Carolina Crawford all reached double figures in the championship win over Camdenton. Both Adamson girls play like coaches kids with their IQ and ability to score it, but that seems to be a theme with this group. Willard was a team that was the top seed in their district and beat Ozark and Republic last year. This is a group to keep an eye on… Carthage has the best 1-2 punch you don’t know enough about in senior Hailey Fullerton and sophomore Kianna Yates. Fullerton has been a great player on struggling teams throughout her career. As a 6-foot-1 wing, she’s a tough matchup. Yates’ pace as a PG is rare. She was great as a freshman, averaging 10.7 points and 2.9 assists. They have Carthage off to a 3-1 start with that one loss being the most impressive game so far, a 67-58 loss to Kickapoo. The Lady Tigers were the runner up to Poo in the Carthage Invitational, drilling Lamar (59-29) and Webb City (62-43) aside from the loss to the Lady Chiefs. Fullerton (11 vs. Lamar, 21 vs. Kickapoo, 25 vs. Webb City) and Yates (28 vs. Lamar, 15 vs. Kickapoo, 21 vs. Webb City) were in their bags. Carthage coach Scott Moore has college experience and in his second year, expect a quantum leap for a program hungry to compete with the rest of the league.
• Kickapoo and West Plains on a collision course
If you have Kickapoo or West Plains on your schedule, expect the game to end with a turbo clock. These two perennial powers have opened the season by verifying their status. I was excited to see Kickapoo (4-0) step out of Springfield for more intriguing matchups and they responded by taking care of business, handling Webb City (83-24) and Miller (62-27). Carthage is the only team that hasn’t been mercy-ruled by the Lady Chiefs this year. Incarnate Word Academy coming to the 417 next week will be another great test… West Plains (4-0) won the Fair Grove Tournament and it wasn’t really competitive. The Zizzers topped Monett, Fair Grove and Lebanon by an average of 47(!!!) points. WP is holding opponents to just 25 points a night for the season. The scary thing for opponents is that for as good as Kenzie Brunson has been, West Plains is more than a one-man band. Junior Ashton Judd, a 5-foot-10 guard, had 19 points and a school-record 12 assists against Fair Grove, then followed it up with 23 in the title game against Lebanon. Freshman Allyssa Joyner has been as good as advertised, proving that the 6-footer is a future star in the Ozark Conference, averaging 12 PPG in three tournament games. They’ll play to decide the OC title in a few months, and there’s a chance they’ll see each other at the Final Four… not as opponents, but with both playing for state championships.
• Molly Miller and Katie Scott representing the 417
Molly Miller is winning games. Katie Scott is being disgustingly efficient. Sounds familiar, right? Grand Canyon is off to a 3-0 start and folks in the desert are quickly realizing that her teams play one of the most entertaining brands of basketball in America. Scott is averaging 20.7 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 54 percent from the field, 56 percent from 3 and 83 percent from the line. Over the next week GCU will host Northern Arizona and visit Southern Utah and Eastern Washington, the Lopes first road trip of the season, which will tell us much more about just how good this team is. Miller is still doing her best DJ Khaled impression. As a head coach she’s won 35 straight games overall, she’s 70-1 since the start of the 2018-19 season and she’s won 71 consecutive regular season games. Her last non-playoff loss came on Jan. 18, 2018.
• Performances of the Week
o Senior Landon Austin, Neosho – 39 points in season-opening win vs. Aurora
o Senior Bug Bailey, Hollister – 32 points in Crane Tournament Championship win vs. Crane
o Senior Kaden Daniels, MV-BT/Liberty – Averaging 31 points and 14 rebounds though two games
o Junior Jaesik Friggle, Aurora – 34 points, 16 rebounds and six steals in win vs. Camdenton
o Junior Zach Howell, Catholic – Averaging 27.3 PPG through four games (two 30-point games)
o Senior Bryce Gelle, Crane – 88 points through first three games, including 37 points vs. Fair Grove
o Paden & Paris Gilbert, Chadwick – Paden scored 21 points to lead Chadwick to the Fordland Tournament championship. Sibling Paris led the Lady Cardinals to the Fordland Tournament title on the other side, also earning MVP honors
o Senior Drew McMillin, Republic – 30 points vs. Parkview in Republic Tournament championship game
o Junior Connor Lewandowski, Greenfield – 37 points in a win vs. Hurley
o Sophomore Kyle Pock, Bolivar – 35 points vs. Kickapoo
o Junior Claudia Hadlock, Miller – Scores 1,000th career point
• Must-See Games
Nixa at Fayetteville (Ark.) (Girls)
On paper, this is a huge game. Fayetteville is a team that beat a loaded Fort Smith – Northside last year in Arkansas’ 6A state semifinal. The Lady Bulldogs missed a chance at a state championship due to COVID. The Lady Eagles just ended Carl Junction’s 30-game winning streak. Nixa (4-0) has won its games by 34, 91, 49 and nine. This will be another major test for them entering next week’s showdown at Kickapoo.
Pittsburg (Kan.) at Nevada (Boys)
Obviously, this isn’t the most local game ever. But, if you like great point guards, this game is worth your time to stream. Nevada senior Logan Applegate will reclassify after this year, but he’s without question the area’s best player not currently at Kickapoo or Greenwood. He holds multiple D1 offers. Pittsburg (Kan.) is led by senior PG Javon Grant, who is also a D1 recruit and just put up 34 points against Joplin. Both are highly skilled but also highly competitive.
Parkview at Nixa (Boys)
Kickapoo gets all of the headlines, but Nixa isn’t far behind in the talent gap with a D1 backcourt of its own in junior Colin Ruffin and sophomore Kael Combs. Seniors Jason Jones and Kaleb Wofford have been quality four-year guys for the Eagles, who opened the season with a win over Fayetteville (Ark.) and top prospect Corey Williams. Williams holds multiple D1 offers. Ruffin vs. Whitley and Clark vs. Combs are matchups I’m all about.
NOTE: Someone please tweet the video of Combs’ dunk at the end of the Nixa-Fayetteville game. It was without question one of the top plays of the week.
Carl Junction vs. Carthage – Joplin Girls Tournament
Carthage lost to Kickapoo and Carl Junction lost to Nixa. Now it’s time to see where these two are at. Is Carthage a legitimate contender, especially if they land in Class 5? Is Carl Junction capable of reloading instead of rebuilding? This is a barometer game and a dress rehearsal for what could be a pivotal COC game in a couple months. Also, you’d potentially see Hailey Fullerton matchup with CJ freshman Kylie Scott, who is averaging 10 points, 13.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks through her first two varsity games.
Republic vs. Incarnate Word Academy (Girls) – Ozark Tournament
IWA is one of the top programs in the nation, producing state championships and elite players. The next on that list is junior guard Saniah Tyler. She’s only 5-foot-6, but is seen as one of the top point guards in the nation. Awaiting her in Southwest Missouri is a matchup with three of the best two-way wings in the state. Republic gets the first crack at IWA and it’ll be the Lady Tigers season-opener, meaning Kaemyn Bekemeier and Republic’s gritty backcourt will be tested right out of the gate. It’ll be interesting to see how things go over the three days. Tyler and IWA will follow up with Kickapoo on Friday and Ozark on Saturday.
Webb City at East Newton (Boys)
This seems like an odd game to pick, but this is a sneaky good one. East Newton (4-0) has wins over Clever (70-41), Pierce City (53-36), Billings (70-39) and Crane (55-53). The Patriots just won the Pierce City Tournament and have a senior class that has been the core of the program since their freshman year, including 6-foot-6 wing Connor Killion who has an offer from Navy. Webb City is knocking off the football rust against fellow football powerhouse on Tuesday against Lamar. The trip to East Newton will give us a better idea of if Webb City is reloading behind guards Khai Howard and Cohl Vaden, or if the Cardinals were only relevant because of Terrell Kabala.
Joplin vs. Nixa – Carthage Tournament (Boys)
This will hopefully be a semifinal matchup of the Carthage Tournament if Joplin is able to top West Plains, which isn’t a given at all. But, should it happen, you’ll again see great backcourts going at it. Always and All Wright, as well as Dante Washington, are going to give the COC fits. We’ll see if they’re capable of crashing the party of COC favorites.
Mount Vernon vs. Carl Junction/Carthage – Joplin Tournament
This is another projected lineup, but it seems safe to assume that Mount Vernon will play one of these two programs. It’s a big game for pride reasons, but it also will present an elite point guard match up. We mentioned Yates above, seeing her go head-to-head with Missouri Southern signee Lacy Stokes of Mount Vernon, or fellow sophomore sensation Destiny Buerge of Carl Junction would be a treat. Buerge has scored 77 points through three games.