Willard and Kickapoo will be the local representatives in the 2014 Bass Pro Tournament of Champions high school basketball tournament, which will feature some more familiar teams for local fans.
Defending champion Fairfax (Va.) Paul VI, along with runner-up Montverde (Fla.) will be playing in the event, Tournament Director Mark Fisher said Tuesday.
The other teams are Memphis White Station, which has won the T of C five times, most recently in 2010; High Point (N.C.) Wesleyan Christian; Los Angeles Village Christian; and five-time champion Christ the King (N.Y.).
Top prospects include Theo Pinson, who is rated the No. 15 prospect in the Class of 2014 by Rivals.com and was a T of C All-Tournament Team player in 2011; Leron Black of White Station, the nation’s No. 16 prospect; and Montverde’s D’Angelo Russell, who is rated No. 22.
In addition, the nation’s No. 5 prospect for the 2015 class, Australian Ben Simmons, will play for Montverde, and last season’s T of C MVP Marcus Derrickson (rated No. 30) will be back with Paul VI.
The tournament is Jan. 16-18 at JQH Arena on the campus of Missouri State University.
Nationally, Montverde is ranked No. 2 by ESPN and USA TODAY. Coach Kevin Boyle’s Eagles are the No. 2 seeds in the upcoming ESPN National High School Invitational, which has become the de facto prep national championship.
Willard and Kickapoo both won Class 5 district titles this year, and coach Lamont Frazier’s Tigers should have the most touted local senior next year in forward Chris Kendrix. Kendrix has said Kansas State offered him a scholarship, among other Division-I programs.
In just his second season in the Ozarks, Frazier will lead his team in the region’s premier event. He said his Charleston team in high school played in the KMOX Shootout in St. Louis, an event he likened to the T of C.
“This opportunity doesn’t come around very often,” Frazier said. “And we talked about, how do you build programs? Well part of it is the competition. If you play 25 games, and 15 are that caliber of play, I like our chances at the end of the year, because guys will be used to competing.”
Frazier credited the progress and maturity of Kendrix this season for helping present the Tigers with the opportunity to play in the event. Willard has three other starters returning next season.
Coach Dick Rippee’s Kickapoo Chiefs will return a solid young nucleus that includes guards Tyson Batiste and Jack Simpson, who will be juniors next winter.
It will be Rippee’s second trip as Kickapoo’s coach, and first since 2010. He coached in another as head coach of Parkview and two others as an assistant with the Vikings.
“A lot of coaches don’t want to go because they might go 0-3,” Rippee said. “But every year that I’ve been a part of it, there’s been something that’s so memorable.
“It’s a great opportunity for our guys to play in front of the fans of southwest Missouri.”