Chris Kendrix knows his basketball talent can get him to the next level.
But the Willard High School junior is figuring out that growing up means more than just getting in the weight room and extending the range of his jump shot.
“The maturity has grown, about 10 times more,” Kendrix said. “Before, it was all about me. Now, I had to grow up and be a leader.”
Enter new Willard coach Lamont Frazier, a former star for Norm Stewart at the University of Missouri in the 1990s. Frazier inherited a star and program that had a reputation for being long on talent, but short on maturity.
So far, a game and a preseason in, the results have been good. Kendrix scored 15 points as Willard earned a 20-point victory on Saturday at Rolla.
“I’ve seen a night-and-day improvement (in Kendrix),” senior Landon Anderson said. “His mentality is different. He’s working a lot harder and becoming more of a leader.”
Anderson said Frazier’s influence has helped.
“He’s demanding a lot out of us, and making sure things get done a certain way,” Anderson said.
The player-coach relationship was tested early, though.
During a summer scrimmage at Missouri State University, Kendrix crossed the line with his attitude, talking back to an assistant coach.
Frazier set him straight right then and there.
“One thing I won’t have is disrespect to any of our coaches, or any adults around our program,” Frazier said. “It was, more or less, no fault of his own. It’s just one of those things where the old boundaries that once were are no longer. There are certain things that I absolutely do not tolerate.”
It’s clear Frazier has control of the program, but he will need Kendrix to be at top form to compete with the top teams in the region and Central Ozark Conference. With juniors Damon Wester and Skyler Baker alongside Kendrix, Willard is considered a breakout possibility this season, and a possible state-caliber team next year.
Kendrix put up big numbers as a sophomore, scoring 19.6 points and grabbing eight rebounds. But Willard was a disappointing 11-15, and coach Dusty Killingsworth resigned in the offseason, despite the talented roster.
“The knock on the group is that they’re immature,” Frazier said. “But every day that we can show signs that we’re getting better is a good one.”
Kendrix should be all over the court this year, playing and defending every position with his long arms and 6-foot-4 frame.
The junior played with the MoKan Elite AAU program in the summer, and did Crossfit training with the team in Kansas City in the offseason. He said he has had scholarship offers from Missouri State, Kansas State, Miami (Ohio) and Wichita State.
The question is whether Kendrix will be able to keep his composure when the inevitable pitfalls of growth kick in.
“I was a hot head, and if someone said something to me, I just flipped out and couldn’t control myself,” Kendrix said. “I can see a huge difference in everything. It’s helping me even in the classroom, and even just being around people. I’m trying to be nicer to people, and everything like that.
“It hit me. In mid-summer basketball, that’s when it hit me, that (the maturity) needed to get up there.”
Kendrix will have a long winter on the courts of the Ozarks to back it up.
High school basketball previews
Sunday: Class 5 District 9 and Class 5 District 11
Today: Class 5 District 10 and Class 5 District 12
Tuesday: Class 4
Wednesday: Class 3
Thursday: Class 2 and 1