Now that he’s lost 25 pounds, Kickapoo High School’s Chris Ward is hungry.
The 6-foot-5 senior is down to about 245 pounds, but expects his basketball numbers to go up this winter.
The opener was smooth as his Chiefs cruised to a 72-25 victory Thursday against Reeds Spring in the opener of the Kickapoo Tip-Off Classic.
“I was nervous and couldn’t stop shaking before the game, probably too nervous,” Ward said. “It was always a given, that ‘He’d be such a better player (if he lost weight).’ I’d always heard that, and I just took it as a personal goal that I’d do it to become a better player.”
So Ward went to work, running laps around the block, doing lots of pushups, and staying away from the snacks in the offseason.
Ward, who was dismissed from the team late last season for disciplinary reasons, also has shown coach Dick Rippee a new attitude.
“He wants to prove something; not just to me, or to his parents or family, but to his teammates and his coaches, and he wants to play in college,” Rippee said. “Chris just figured it out. He just wasn’t happy. He was disappointed in himself.”
Ward scored 14 points, and was active throughout, grabbing seven rebounds and five steals, and then throwing down a hard fast-break dunk early in the third quarter.
The Chiefs will play host to Springdale (Ark.) at 7:30 p.m. today in the event, which features six teams.
Kickapoo forced 26 turnovers with guard pressure. Jack Simpson, who tied game-high honors with 14 points, had six steals.
“We’re not worried about scoring on offense because everybody can get their own buckets,” Ward said. “We’re just worrying about talking on defense, and executing more, and getting more stops. Because that’s going to open more opportunities for us to score.”
Sophomore Matt Ridder scored 13 points in his first career start.
Reeds Spring had 20 turnovers at halftime and trailed 44-17 after a Luke Thomas jumper beat the buzzer for the Chiefs, who then allowed eight points after the break.
The Chiefs will be without sophomore Tyson Batiste for about half the season. The guard, who played significant minutes as a freshman, has a fractured ankle and will be out until January, Rippee said.
First-year coach Barry Yocom said Reeds Spring (0-1) will benefit from the experience.
“We knew they were going to pressure our guards, and we knew that was something we had to handle,” Yocom said. “Obviously we didn’t do a very good job.”
Reeds Spring, which was led by Skylar Murphy’s four 3-pointers and 14 points, plays Memphis Mitchell at 4:30 p.m. today.
With Missouri State coach Paul Lusk in attendance, MSU signee Tyler McCullough of Fayetteville (Ark.) scored 16 points in a victory against Mitchell.
The 6-foot-10 center will play at 6 p.m. today against Liberty. McCullough will play Ward and Kickapoo at 1 p.m. Saturday.