Two teams from the 2016 Bass Pro Tournament of Champions are set to meet Saturday in Columbia with a state basketball championship on the line.
Kickapoo (29-2) takes on Chaminade (26-5) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Mizzou Arena in the Missouri State High School Activities Association Class 5 boys basketball state championship game. Both teams played in Springfield’s Tournament of Champions in January, but they did not play against each other.
Kickapoo will contend against Duke signee Jayson Tatum, who brings a scoring average of 28.4 points per game into what will be the last game of his high school career. Tatum is considered by ESPN to be the No. 2 senior basketball recruit in the nation behind Oak Hill Academy’s Harry Giles, also a Tournament of Champions alumnus.
Chaminade reached the Show Me Showdown last year but settled for third place after taking a 53-50 loss to Park Hill in the semifinals. Tatum remembers the experience and has made winning a state championship his highest priority.
“It’s No. 1 on the list. Since I’ve been in high school with my best friends and my brothers, for four years now we came up short. We’re 32 minutes away,” Tatum said. “We remember every loss, every scrimmage, extra practice that we had—it’s all for Saturday.”
In Chaminade’s 75-49 win over St. Louis University High in the Thursday semifinals, Tatum scored 28 points to surpass Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal as the Red Devils’ all-time career leading scorer.
Tatum said he was impressed by Kickapoo after watching the Chiefs, particularly junior leading scorer Jared Ridder, play in the Tournament of Champions in January.
“First of all, they were at the tournament, so that means they were a well-deserving team to be there. They have a lot of great guys and a lot of great guards,” Tatum said. “No. 34 (Ridder) kind of stood out to me, and he’s a really good player.”
Ridder saw Tatum play in the summer of 2015 in the Nike EYBL, considered the top AAU basketball league in the nation. The 6-foot-7 Ridder looks forward to going head-to-head with the 6-foot-9 Tatum.
“It’ll be really fun. I’ve seen (Tatum) play a lot in the EYBL and he’s just a special talent. It’ll be a lot of fun playing against him,” Ridder said.
Ridder scored 10 points and pulled down 12 rebounds on an injured ankle in Kickapoo’s 85-81 win over Lee’s Summit in the semifinals. He said his injury bothered him in the second half.
“It was kind of sore after halftime, I didn’t really get it stretched before halftime,” Ridder said.
Kickapoo senior Isaac Johnson noted that Chaminade’s talent runs much deeper than Tatum. Tyler Cook, a 6-foot-9 senior, scores 11.8 points per game and is second on the team in rebounding to Tatum.
“That whole team is special. It should be fun, and we look forward to competing against them,” Johnson said.
Chaminade coach Frank Bennett played basketball at Drury University from 2001 to 2005 and scored 1,178 points in his career. The Tournament of Champions trip was a homecoming of sorts for him.
Bennett was disappointed in the Red Devils’ third-place finish in 2015, so Chaminade is taking a more businesslike approach to this year’s final four.
“It’s still exciting, it’s still rewarding, but these guys were up here last year when we lost,” Bennett said. “They’re focused and not that you’re so focused that you don’t enjoy the moment, but you understand the moment for what it is.”
Bennett said he expects Kickapoo to be talented, well-coached and worthy of appearing in a state championship game.
“They’ve earned the right to get this far,” Bennett said.
Like Bennett, Kickapoo coach Dick Rippee is also trying to make the Chiefs’ trip to Columbia a business trip. He spoke as such following the Thursday night semifinals.
“It was just a great team win and that’s what our guys have been doing. We’re just really proud and proud to represent southwest Missouri on Saturday for an opportunity to play for a state championship. That’s pretty special, so we’re very blessed and humbled to play for this opportunity,” Rippee said.