While there’s likely no future Big 12 Conference player in this bunch, there are similarities between this Republic High School boys basketball team and the one from 50 years ago.
Because, as players of the1963 team repeatedly said this winter in anniversary celebrations, it was all about the complete team with coach Leland Brown’s bunch, the only boys basketball state championship in school history,
This year’s group, which opens Class 4 state play against Liberty North at 5:10 p.m. today in Columbia, conjures memories of that group with its balance and togetherness.
“This is one of the best teams I’ve been on, chemistry-wise,” senior guard Jake Fletcher said. “That’s how we get most of our wins. We have a lot of depth.”
First-year coach Trevyor Fisher’s experienced Tigers (26-4) have a mix of shooters, ball-handlers and tough defenders. That might just be enough in what appears to be a wide-open Class 4 field.
And just like the 1963 team featured Don Carlson and Howard Arndt, who would go on to play at for the Kansas Jayhawks, this season’s Tigers have two of the area’s most imposing post players in seniors Marcus Miller and Grant Hancock.
Despite all the success of the past two seasons for Republic, though, the team did not survive its district either season, falling last year in the district semifinal to Rogersville.
The Tigers avenged that loss — and another loss to Rogersville earlier this season — with a 61-41 district final win against the Wildcats this year.
“I’d never been more disappointed than I was last year,” Hancock said. “I think I was more excited to work and put in the time to get back and work because I knew we’d have another shot at Rogersville. Luckily, it worked out and we played them again in the district final.
“It couldn’t have worked out any better.”
The posts will need to be tough inside today against Liberty North’s 6-foot-6 junior post player Brinkley Jolly, an imposing tight end/defensive end in the fall. Jolly helped the Eagles to state for the second straight season.
Republic counters with an experienced group used to big-game atmospheres, as evidenced by two consecutive Greenwood Blue and Gold Tournament championships.
Fletcher has handled the point-guard position this year with poise, junior Canyon Smith has hit big shots for the Tigers, and Cody Geiger showed the ability to rise to the moment in the quarterfinal.
The junior forward scored 11 consecutive fourth-quarter points in Saturday’s 46-33 victory against St. Francis Borgia, lifting Republic to its first trip to state since 2010.
Hancock was a freshman on that team, knocking away a late inbounds pass to secure a 2010 quarterfinal win over Bolivar.
“It was surreal, but it feels a lot better now being a bigger part of it,” Hancock said. “We were just role players before — practice bodies. Now it’s our team and we’re just enjoying it that much more and appreciating it.”
Fletcher and Miller were bench players during that run to state, which helped dedicate them to return to Columbia.
“This was our goal from all along,” Fletcher said. “When we were freshmen, we told ourselves that we would get back when we were seniors.
“So far, we’ve got there. But we’re not finished yet.”
At Mizzou Arena, Columbia
Coverage: Semifinal and third-place games will be streamed on FOXSportsMidwest.com. Finals will be broadcast on Fox Sports Midwest
Friday’s semifinals: DeSmet vs. Vianney, 3:20 p.m.; Columbia Hickman vs. Rockhurst, 5 p.m.
Saturday: Consolation, 11:30 a.m.; Final, 6:40 p.m.
Today’s semifinals: Sikeston vs. Normandy, 3:30 p.m.; Republic vs. Liberty North, 5:10 p.m.
Friday: Consolation, noon
Saturday: Final, 3 p.m.
Friday’s semifinals: St. Joseph’s Academy vs. Cor Jesu Academy, 6:40 p.m.; Columbia Rock Bridge vs. Blue Springs, 8:20 p.m.
Saturday: Consolation, 1:15 p.m.; Final, 8:30
Today’s semifinals: Dexter vs. Incarnate Word, 6:50 p.m.; Webb City vs. Smithville, 8:30 p.m.
Friday: Consolation, 1:40 p.m.
Saturday: Final, 4:50