FIVE TEAMS TO WATCH
By SAM McDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
Lee’s Summit West
Shaquille Harrison received most of the attention last year for Lee’s Summit West, which finished third in the Class 5 state tournament. Harrison is now starting for the University of Tulsa, but the Titans’ expectations remain high. LS West will again rely on a stingy defense, and it will count on Monte Harrison, Dale Brown and Trevor Gregory to pick up the slack offensively. All three averaged at least eight points per game last season.
A 16-win improvement highlighted a 2011-12 season that saw Liberty North reach the state semifinals in Class 4. Four starters are back from that team, which finished 24-7, including all-conference selection Zach Starr, along with three-year starting point guard Jake Hanson, Brinkley Jolly and Nadhir Daughtery.
The Rams have played for a state championship each of the past three seasons, winning the Class 3 title in 2010. A short but crafty point guard, Anthony Ridley, leads a group of three returning starters. No matter the personnel, coach Steve Stitzer’s group will again be fast and look to rely on an uptempo, fastbreak offense to score in bunches.
Blue Springs South
Trying to rebound from a Class 5 state quarterfinal loss to LS West a year ago, the Jaguars will rely on experience in their backcourt. Senior guard Justin Pitts broke the school’s single-season mark with 125 steals last season and was named to the all-conference team due to his defensive prowess. Senior guard Carl Martin also returns, and coach Jimmy Cain expects to see an impact from sophomore big man Kevin Puryear.
Lee’s Summit North
As the defending conference champions, Lee’s Summit North projects as a top contender for the crown in the newly aligned Suburban Gold Conference. The Broncos return seven seniors who were letter winners from last year’s 20-win squad. LS North lacks size, but post player Tyler Anderson is the exception.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Tyrone Taylor II, Grandview, junior
Expectations are high at Grandview following a 22-win season, and Taylor is certainly a major reason for that. He is already collecting a handful of Division I looks after averaging 11.6 points per game as a sophomore. He buried 42 percent of his three-point attempts a year ago.
Brad Smith, Pleasant Hill, senior
The school’s all-time leading rebounder, Brad Smith has also developed into a true scoring threat. He is the closest thing to a guarantee for a double-double each night, averaging 16 points and nine rebounds per game last season. Recently, Smith has added shot blocking to his arsenal, as well.
D’Vante Mosby, Fort Osage, senior
After making his mark on the football field for the state finalist squad, Mosby is back where he’s most comfortable — on the basketball court. A 6-foot-6 wing player, Mosby represents matchup problems for opponents. His ball-handling skills have improved from a year ago, further developing his ability to get to the basket.
Monte Harrison, Lee’s Summit West, junior
Mostly known simply as the brother of Shaquille a year ago, Monte Harrison appears ready to step into the spotlight. The leading returning scorer from last year’s team, which reached the Class 5 state semifinals, Harrison is as athletic as they come in the high school arena.
Kevin Puryear, Blue Springs South, sophomore
Puryear may not be a big name yet, but he soon will be. One of the area’s finest college prospects, Puryear, who is 6-7, saw plenty of playing time as a freshman last season, and coach Jimmy Cain expects him to take over the leading role in the post for the Jaguars.
FIVE MUST-SEE GAMES
Oak Grove at Harrisonville, Jan. 4
Oak Grove lost all-state guard Eric Gant, but the Panthers return the remaining four starters, putting them in the hunt for the top spot in the competitive Missouri River Valley Conference. Harrisonville, meanwhile, returns five starters who saw significant minutes a year ago.
Grain Valley at Pleasant Hill, Jan. 15
Two more contenders in the Missouri River Valley Conference square up for the first time. Grain Valley, winners of 21 games last year, have already seen improvement from junior perimeter player Daniel Mahurin, who opened the season with a 30-point night. Pleasant Hill returns top players Brad Smith and Josh Shewmaker.
Grandview at Rockhurst, Jan. 22
Rockhurst held all but one opponent under 60 points over the final two months of the 2011-12 season. Grandview is certainly to challenge that mark in a January matchup. The Bulldogs, led by Tyrone Taylor II and Nelson Nweke, consistently topped 70 a year ago and expect another offensively-charged season this winter.
Lee’s Summit West at Ruskin, Jan. 22
Ruskin has had the Titans’ number over the past two season, tallying five wins against LS West, which hopes to again be one of the metro’s best teams. Tayron Holden, Jamari Chalmers and Tyron Daniel are part of a deep Ruskin rotation.
Blue Springs South at Lee’s Summit North, Feb. 22
In the regular season finale, the Suburban Gold Conference title could be up for grabs. Lee’s Summit North won the league championship a year ago, but Blue Springs South earned its payback in the postseason. Aside from potentially deciding the league title, it’s a possibility the matchup will provide a playoff preview.