At a Jarrett Middle School faculty vs. students basketball game four years ago, AJ Green officially put his classmates on notice: Yes, come high school, he would be spending a lot of time above the rim.
That day, he dunked for the first time in his life.
“The crowd got energetic off of it, and it was amazing,” said Green, who dunked for the first time as a varsity player last year against Willard. “It boosts up our confidence and helps get the crowd into the game.”
Now a Parkview Viking, Green has been throwing ’em down all year. But so, too, have many others, prompting the News-Leader to turn to you, the fans, for your opinion as we roll out the Ozarks Throwdown.
So who ya got? Enjoy our videos online and decide who’s got the best dunk.
Vote on our website — www.news-leader.com/throwdown — where videos of five dunkers await. Voting begins today and ends Feb. 22. Results will be announced two weeks from today.
And the winner receives … bragging rights.
Of course, most years, you have to rely on memory and the legend of big-time slam dunks to remember the top dunkers from any given year. You would have to believe players such as Dorial Green-Beckham last year, or Trey Starks and Deven Mitchell from years ago, once could claim the title of best dunker in the Ozarks during their high school years.
But for this winter, there is healthy competition from all over. The Ozarks Throwdown, which was open to all high schoolers through queries to area high school coaches and athletic directors, is whittled down to five players who got the OK from their coaches.
Who’s the best?
Is it Rogersville senior Justus Boever, the baseball pitching star who has emerged as the basketball team’s star this season after heavy graduation losses for coach Rod Gorman’s Wildcats?
Or Hillcrest’s Juwan Johnson, the guard who is hoping to take the Hornets back to the Class 4 state tournament despite losing Green-Beckham to graduation?
How about Central High School’s Tavion Neal, who moved from Springfield, Ill., to Springfield, Mo., in the offseason and is providing a steadying senior force for a young Central team that could be dangerous in the future?
Or Kickapoo’s Chris Ward, the big man who has proven to be nearly unstoppable in the post after losing about 30 pounds in the summer?
Or what about Green, the Parkview standout who set out to prove his senior year that he’s more than just a high-flyer by elevating the rest of his game?
Each player performed three dunks in front of News-Leader cameras, and each had their own flavor.
Boever is long and smooth like old Chicago Bulls All-Star Scottie Pippen, and brought the ball from his right ear for the powerful slam in the Ozarks Throwdown.
His first dunk was during his sophomore year, in a junior varsity game at Marshfield.
“I just decided to dunk it,” Boever said. “I didn’t even know that I could.”
There must be something about that gym, though, as Boever dropped 38 points against the Blue Jays this year in a double-overtime loss.
Johnson is the smallest entrant but is the most seasoned, having already won a dunk contest this season at the Lindbergh tournament.
He didn’t wear his trademark orange shoes as he did at state last year in his breakout performance. But he still showed serious hops despite a 5-foot-11 frame.
Neal is a newcomer to Springfield, and helped endear himself to his Central teammates with his dunk in this season-opener — a tip dunk off a missed jump shot by Bradley Hardin.
“It was a tip dunk,” Neal said. “It was one of the moments, where you just feel it. You jump, go get a rebound, you’re above the rim and you just put it down.”
Ward showed off some of the increased athleticism he’s picked up with the weight loss, going with a 360 dunk that not many players who are 6-foot-5, 245 pounds can pull off.
His increased conditioning has helped the Chiefs to the driver’s seat in the Ozark Conference. A few well-placed power dunks from the big man have helped.
“It definitely hypes our team up, boosts our morale, and makes us play a lot harder,” Ward said. “It helps us get W’s.”
Green went with a windmill from the side, and kept his legs kicking during the dunk for extra effect. He has pulled off what he calls a two-handed “Derrick Rose” dunk in games, but remembers the first dunk from middle school most fondly.
His high levels of athleticism bring to mind his favorite dunker, Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Basketball fans, it’s now up to you.
Who impressed you the most in the Ozarks Throwdown?