A pair of All-Ozarks basketball players recently switched their college plans and will attend community colleges in the region, with eyes on NCAA Division I basketball down the road.
Nixa graduate Jalen Norman recently said he’s going to attend Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College instead of an Iowa prep school, while Kickapoo’s Chris Ward will attend Kirkwood CC in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, instead of his original plan of attending Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar.
Norman signed last week with the Red Ravens, who finished 32-3 last year including 18-0 in the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference. Coffeyville is in southeast Kansas near the Oklahoma border, about 135 miles from Springfield.
Norman is one of 14 players signed with Coffeyville for the upcoming season, according to the National Junior College Athletic Association. Raytown South’s Earl Peterson is the only other from the Show-Me State, and he is scheduled to return for his sophomore year.
Norman, a 6-foot-6 wing, said he can transfer to an NCAA program after one season and wants to prove to high-level coaches that his right knee, which derailed his senior year at Nixa, will not be an issue in the future.
“(Coffeyville) is a strong program, and I want to be a part of it for a year, and I know they can get me better looks and everything,” Norman said. “I’m pretty much open right now (to any schools), just starting over and getting to where I need to be. That’s why I’m out here playing now and showing what I need to be.”
Norman is playing this summer with the Kansas Select AAU team and will play in events in Las Vegas and Kansas City before heading off to school.
An All-Ozarks and all-state junior season had Norman prepared for a D-I basketball scholarship.
Schools such as Missouri State, Eastern Illinois and LIU-Brooklyn made offers to Norman, who decided to make his decision after his senior season.
However, Norman missed the first three games of his senior season on a team suspension. Then, 11 games later, he suffered a torn medial collateral ligament in his knee during the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions.
While injured, Norman committed to Quakerdale Prep in New Providence, Iowa, and planned to reclassify for the Class of 2014, retaining his four years of college eligibility after prep school.
Norman then unexpectedly returned for the final two games of the season, but top-seeded Nixa lost in the Class 5 district final to Kickapoo. Nixa reached the Class 5 state championship game in Norman’s junior year.
While Norman’s most prominent days on the recruiting map came before his senior year, Ward burst on to the scene during his senior year with coach Dick Rippee’s Chiefs this past winter.
With weight trimmed off his large 6-foot-5 frame, Ward had a strong season for the Chiefs, averaging 15.1 points and 8.4 rebounds for the Class 5 quarterfinalists.
In April, the second-team media all-state selection accepted a scholarship offer from SBU.
This summer, Ward was released from his scholarship by the Bearcats and will instead join former Kickapoo classmate Tyler Bussell with Kirkwood. Bussell and Ward helped lead the Chiefs to a 22-7 season.
Kirkwood finished 19-13 last season as members of the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference.
Ward did not return phone calls seeking comment.