As the coaching carousel spun last spring, some big-name hires landed in the Ozarks.
And, as they have said, it’s no accident.
“It’s a basketball area,” said Dale Lamberth, the former Missouri State University standout, who now coaches Crane High School. “People love basketball. If you went to Missouri State or Drury, you’re a recognizable figure in the community.”
Southwest Missouri has long been a hotbed for strong high school hoops, and high-profile coaches — such as former college stars Lamont Frazier and Lamberth, and former members of the Missouri State coaching staff like Mark Bernsen and Trevyor Fisher — have come to the region to try and build winning programs.
The results, for some of the bigger names, have been mixed.
All four coaches will really see where their teams stack up locally later this month in the Greenwood Blue and Gold Tournament.
Fisher’s Republic Tigers and Frazier’s Willard Tigers will be expected to make deep runs, and could meet in the Gold Division semifinals as the second and third seeds, respectively.
“The biggest thing is you have to make the decisions,” Fisher said. “As an assistant sometimes, you’re just making suggestions. Now, whatever you think, goes.”
Frazier, a former basketball and football player at the University of Missouri, has picked up lots of tips from his coaching and playing days.
He coached in the college ranks, but had spent the last six seasons at Poplar Bluff. He references old Norm Stewart stories about his former MU coach, and also has an offensive set called KU, his rival from his collegiate days.
“I have been pleasantly surprised with the way things have been going at this point,” Frazier said. “I was expecting a little bit more work to be done. I just wanted to kids to get everybody on the same page in terms of playing as hard as they could possibly play.”
As a player in Charleston, Mo., growing up, Frazier said he knew southwest Missouri as a basketball area.
He had an opportunity to start a new program at Battle High School in Columbia, going back to his MU college roots with the city’s new public school, scheduled to open next year.
“I think southwest Missouri should have a part to play in the state tournament,” Frazier said. “This is a basketball-crazed area. It was really one of the attractive reasons to taking the job. You are going to have a good fan base no matter where you go. You’re going to have a good crowd for you, or a good crowd against us.”
Willard (4-2) has a talented crew of juniors, led by Chris Kendrix and Damon Wester.
Lamberth and Fisher both are first-time head coaches.
Fisher had been the director of basketball operations for the Missouri State men’s team since his four-year playing career ended. The Tigers are 5-0 after winning their opening-week tournament by topping Hillcrest in the final.
Lamberth has been on the Hillcrest bench over the past couple seasons, helping the Hornets to a state runner-up finish in Class 4 last season. His Pirates are 6-1 and may soon land in the Class 2 state rankings.
The Oklahoma City native came to Springfield to play for coach Barry Hinson, and he’s never left.
“It’s different because I’ve never been in charge of so much,” Lamberth said. “But it’s also fun at the same time. I love all my kids, all the students and faculty. It’s been a great experience thus far.”
Former MSU head coach Bernsen and the Panthers are winless in six games, dropping them by an average margin of 25.8 points per game.
All four coaches will be in action tonight, as Frazier and Willard are at Marshfield, Fisher and Republic play Elgin (Ill.) Larkin in Waynesville’s Route 66 Shootout, Lamberth and Crane play at Chadwick, and Bernsen and Mountain Grove play host to Mansfield.