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By Jordan Burton
Follow Jordan on Twitter @thejordanburton
Christmas in the Ozarks is every basketball fan’s dream, with Santa bringing no shortage of great games with an abundance of basketball tournaments. Up first on our list is the Blue and Gold Tournament. Here are the “gifts” fans should be looking for.
Deck the Hall… with Buckets (Top Scorers)
2018 F Matt Miller, Aurora
At 6-foot-4 with a great frame and footwork, Miller is a load on the block. He dropped 44 points on Fair Grove and followed that up with a 21-point outing in an upset of Catholic, which earned him SWMO Basketball Player of the Week honors. Miller’s shoulders are broad enough to carry Aurora to Blue and Gold run.
2018 G Quinn Nelson, Ozark
Nelson is back on his grind this season, averaging 20.4 points and shooting 54 percent from the field and 42 percent from 3. He’s hit at least four 3-point FG in four different games this season, including Blue Valley Northwest (Kan.). He’s progressed into more than just a scorer, pulling down 4.4 rebounds and 2.3 steals. Nelson is 15 triples away from Ozark’s career record and 100 points away from 1,000, both could happen this wek.
2019 G Broc Smith, Republic
I feel like he’s poised to have a breakout week. The 6-foot-4 wing can score from any spot on the floor, which is why he’s averaging 20.6 points on 55 percent shooting from the field and 47 percent from deep. Smith is also averaging 8.1 rebounds. He reminds me of Hoody Melo because he can post guards, take bigs off the bounce and has a natural knack for scoring.
2020 Quenton Shelton, Lebanon
After a historic freshmen campaign, Shelton has picked up where he left off last year by averaging 21. The difference is he’s receiving constant attention and help every time he catches. He’s already had a 40-point game this season, including nine 3s.
2020 F Daniel Abreu, Willard
The departure of Kenny Chambers opened an opportunity for someone to score for Willard and Daniel Abreu has taken full advantage. The 6-foot-4 wing is averaging 20.3 points and 6.7 rebounds, shooting 57 percent from the field.
2021 G Anton Brookshire, Kickapoo
Brookshire is rapidly growing from elite freshman to elite scorer, period. Brookshire dropped 22 on Pacific, 19 on Ozark and 21 points and eight assists against Branson. Those are three of his last four games. Few players are better at creating space and getting to the rim. The UNLV offer he picked up earlier this month just speaks to his ability.
Gift of Giving (Top Facilitators)
2018 G Devan Hampton, Clever
Hampton is one of the best scorers on this last, averaging nearly 15 points per game, but the senior PG is handing out nearly five helpers to go along with four steals. Hampton has great size and is a guard that understands attack to create for others.
2018 Lane Carroll, Reeds Spring
The 6-foot point guard continues to add to his game each offseason and this season he’s become one of the area’s best scoring point guards. He’s averaging a team-high 18.9 points and 4.1 assists, shooting 39 percent from 3 and 81 percent from the line, which is a please he’s gone frequently.
2019 G Kelly Vaughn, Mount Vernon
The ultra-savvy point guard is excellent at understanding his teammates and who needs the ball where. Vaughn is averaging a team-high 4.1 assists. Maybe most importantly, his ability to handle the ball and make good decisions makes it difficult to press Mount Vernon.
2019 G Jake Branham, Springfield Catholic
Branham continues to prove that he’s one of the area’s top point guards and seeing scrappy Crane and athletic Willard in the first two rounds should be intriguing tests. Regardless, he’s proven his ability to score at all three levels, but what he does as well as anyone is draw help and find teammates. Oh, Branham also has some sneaky bounce. He’s averaging 22 over his last four games.
2019 G Parker Ramsdell, Ozark
The junior point guard has quietly been a key cog to what the Tigers are doing, allowing Quinn Nelson and Parker Hanks to spend time off the ball. He’s averaging 3.6 assists and, aside from the BVNW game, has done a great job limiting turnovers. He’s also shooting nearly 50 percent from the field and 38 percent from deep.
2020 G Cole Gilpin, Fair Grove
The 6-foot-4 combo guard continues to make plays for himself and others. He currently leads the Eagles in scoring (14.3 points) and assists (four assists) with his ability to get into the teeth of the defense, draw help and find shooters being great.
Red Ryder Rifles… They’ll shoot your eye out (Top Shooters)
2018 G Cade Coffman & Connor McNew, Mountain Grove
I feel bad lumping them together, but these two cats are just efficient scorers. Going back to last year’s Class 3 Final Four, Coffman dropped 25 in the semifinal before McNew scored 25 of his own against Hogan Prep in the third-place game. They combined for 41 points in a season-opening win over Catholic, maintaining their status as one of the area’s top scoring duos.
2018 G Cole Pryor, Hillcrest
He’s been a sharpshooter since Day One at Hillcrest and nothing has changed. The 6-foot wing is averaging 13 points and averaged 25 in a three-game stretch in Florida. Pryor is at his best when he is catching and shooting.
2018 Cale Miller, Mount Vernon
Miller is the perfect compliment to a point guard that wants to facilitate and a big man that can command double teams. Miller is averaging 9.5 points, shooting 52 percent from the field and 46 percent from 3. He’s also grabbing 5.6 rebounds.
2018 G Caleb Peck, Clever
Peck is a Glendale transfer and its apparent as soon as you see him play because of how well he shoots the basketball. The senior sniper is averaging nearly 17 points and four rebounds, shooting a blistering 38 percent from 3-point land.
2021 Kaleb Wofford, Nixa
The freshman guard is leading Nixa in scoring a team-high 13.9 points, but he’s getting it almost exclusively from the perimeter. Wofford – who was offered by Montana State earlier this month – is shooting a ridiculous 50 percent from deep. He also has a wet pull-up jumper.
Gift of Boards (Top Rebounders)
2018 F Kyle Bushman, Mount Vernon
The 6-foot-8 big might be the gem of all the centers at this year’s tournament. Bushman has made noticeable improvements throughout his game, averaging 12.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. He’s shooting 60 percent from the field and commands attention on the block.
2018 F Ian Cochran, Springfield Catholic
Cochran is yet another legit 6-foot-6 big that does a lot of good things. He’s great with his back to the basket because of his footwork and length. He’s coming off of a double-double against Springfield Central.
2018 F Logen Plumb, Reeds Spring
The 6-foot-5 forward is one of the area’s best rebounders, averaging 9.7 rebounds per game. Plumb has grabbed at least three offensive rebounds in six of his seven games this season. He’s also averaging 12.3 points, shooting nearly 58 percent from the field.
2018 F Evan Matthews, Hartville
The Stoutland move-in has been everything the Eagles have been missing, averaging 13 points and 12 rebounds. The 6-foot-4 post is extremely athletic and has no problem making plays above the rim for Hartville. His athleticism also allows gives Brett Reed the luxury of going big and playing Matthews at the 4-spot, or using him in small ball.
2019 F Luke Vandersnick, Rogersville
Speaking of players growing into their game, the 6-foot-4 junior has exploded this season, averaging 14.6 points, eight rebounds and 2.5 steals. Vandersnick is also averaging a block per game, but what has made him special is his efficiency, shooting 64 percent from the field and 47 percent from deep.
2020 F David Oplotnik, Fair Grove
He’s not a true post at all, but he rebounds like one. The sophomore is snagging a team-high 8.6 rebounds. But, at 6-foot-5 his ability to score (13.6 points) – especially from the perimeter – make him difficult. Oplotnik has made multiple 3-point FG in six times this season.
Modern Day Grinch (Top Defenders)
2018 F Payton Nichols, Ozark
Each time you see him on the floor it seems like he’s improved from the previous game. The game winning shot he hit against Kickapoo shouldn’t be too surprising, considering he’s knocking down 62 percent of his shots. But Nichols is averaging 7.1 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and a steal, giving Ozark a big that can defend all over the floor regardless of matchup.
2018 F Max Bilbrey, Nixa
The 6-foot-7 senior has patiently waited his turn at Nixa and is now the best shot blocker in the COC, averaging 2.4 blocks this season. It’s not just the blocks, there are several shots that he alters with just his presence. Bilbrey is also averaging 8.9 points, 10.1 rebounds and shooting 55 percent from the field.
2018 F Tim Washington, Hillcrest
It’s no secret that Washington has been one of the premier defenders in the Ozarks, possessing the ability to defend 1-5. But, the senior wing has also improved his ability to score, averaging a team-best 13.5 points. Washington is a kid that every coach would want because of his desire to play both ends.
2019 F Dylan Caruso, Mansfield
One of the best around at erasing shots, the 6-foot-8 junior is averaging 2.4 blocks this season. He went over the 200-block plateau against Gainesville, rejecting a season-high five shots. Caruso is also averaging 14.3 points and 7.6 rebounds.
2019 F Isaiah Bean, Spokane
Also one of the better scorers in the field, Bean has the unique ability to not alone jump passing lanes, but also block shots. Bean is averaging 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks for the Owls, going nicely next to his 17.3 points and 5.8 rebounds.