Republic High School honored former all-state basketball player Nick Yocum last week during a ceremony recognizing some of the top players in program history.
And throughout the early going this season, the Tigers have been figuring out how to replace last year’s standout, now a freshman at Southwest Baptist University.
It’s been a collective effort from first-year coach Trevyor Fisher’s group, which features many of the same faces from last year’s Gold Division champions at the Greenwood Blue and Gold Tournament.
“Nick was a tough player, and he led the team in all aspects of the game,” Republic senior Jake Fletcher said. “We felt like if we could get a little bit here from everybody that we could make up for such a great player that he was.”
The Tigers (6-1) will try to recreate the magic of last holiday season starting today in the Missouri State University-set event, which continues through Saturday.
Fletcher is one of the players emerging as a reliable option, along with the versatile Cody Geiger and the post tandem of Grant Hancock and Marcus Miller.
Fisher said, in addition to the occasional scoring burst, Fletcher has helped provide leadership for the experienced team.
“He’s been through the battles, and he has the ability to score from the perimeter, and he’s able to get inside a little bit,” said Fisher, who spent seven seasons on the bench at Missouri State University, where he played from 2000-01 until 2004-05.
“Any given night, you’ve got those two big guys (Hancock and Miller) you can throw it down to, and you have Cody, who is kind of an inside-outside guy, our guards have the ability to score some points.”
In addition to the offensive output, the Tigers have been able to fall back on their defensive prowess at times.
With active guards, and size provided by the 6-foot-5 Hancock and 6-foot-7 Miller, Republic is stout on that end.
Fisher’s group has allowed just 41.4 points per game.
“We’re a fairly solid defensive team,” Fisher said. “You can always get better, but if we keep playing defense even on nights when you don’t make shots, it gives you a good chance to win.”
Getting the second seed in the Gold could be a good omen for the Tigers — the team was in the same half of the same bracket last year on its title run, when they were seeded third.
“It’s just fuel,” said Fletcher, who repeated it again.
The road to a title could be a familiar one, as Central Ozark Conference foes Branson or Willard could be a semifinal opponent.
But, of course, the confidence gained from beating Dorial Green-Beckham and Hillcrest in last year’s final can only help the Tigers in their defense.
“We’re trying to defend it,” Fletcher said. “There’s a lot of stuff that we feel like we could get better on, and we feel like we’re ready for No. 2.”
* Possible darkhorse: Call me crazy, but I’m going to say unbeaten Clever’s first-round game against winless Reeds Spring is no gimme.
It’s hard to see any of the other unseeded teams pulling an upset, although Spokane against seventh-seeded Hartville could be interesting.
* Players to watch: Blayne Armstrong of Marshfield, Erik Durham of Parkview, Dalton Fisher of Clever, Coday Garrison of Bolivar, Shade Piper of Hartville, Jake Fletcher of Republic, Thatch Unruh of Branson and Chris Kendrix of Willard.
1. Mark Bernsen is coaching the Mountain Grove boys, who play in today’s first game at 9:30 a.m. against No. 8 seed Marshfield. Bernsen coached the then-Southwest Missouri State men’s basketball team from 1992-95. He’s seemingly coached in every area of the state, at every level, but today will be his first taste of the Blue and Gold.
2. The final game of the first round has third-seeded Willard playing host Greenwood at 9:30 p.m. Normally the hosts are dangerous foes, and could be again. However, Willard has some Blue and Gold demons to exorcise after last year’s upset loss to Morrisville.
3. The jumble of Central Ozark Conference teams at the bottom of the bracket creates some interesting matchups. Branson and Willard could meet in the second round with Republic waiting in the semifinal. It could be a preview of what’s to come as these teams will battle to be among the league’s title contenders come February.
— Matt Schoch