The Star spotlights Missouri high school boys basketball players, teams, and storylines to watch this season, centralizing on the Kansas City area.
The early signing period last month included more than a half-dozen Kansas City-area players inking letters of intent to secure Division I scholarships. The national recruiting websites have pegged Lee’s Summit West senior Christian Bishop as the top talent among the bunch.
Bishop, a 6-foot-7 forward who spent most of his childhood playing guard, collected college offers before he even played a varsity game, thanks to an ongoing growth spurt. He signed with Creighton after scoring 12.6 points per game last season and will take on more of the offensive load after the graduation of leading scorer Elijah Childs.
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Grandview senior Jordan Lathon generated similar interest for his services before landing with Northwestern. Lathon is a tall point guard with the ability to impact a game in a number of ways, but none more than his scoring prowess. He averaged 16.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game as a junior and was named the Suburban Blue Conference player of the year.
After settling for a runner-up finish in Missouri Class 5 in March, Lee’s Summit West is well-equipped to make another run at the program’s first state championship. Aside from Bishop, the Titans also return their starting backcourt in Mario Goodrich and Phillip Brooks. They added impact power forward Yor Anei, a transfer from Shawnee Mission South who has signed with Oklahoma State.
Hogan Prep is in a similar spot. After placing third in Missouri Class 3 last season, the Rams welcome back leading scorer Damien Daniels, perhaps the area’s most overlooked talent. Daniels, a 5-8 point guard, scored 24 points per game last season and highlights a team that uses speed to offset its perceived lack of size.
More players to watch
Bishop, Lathon and Anei are regarded as the top players in the senior class, but it’s a deep bunch.
At Grandview Lathon will tandem with Mason Taylor, who signed a letter of intent with Air Force last month. Oak Park senior Ochai Agbaji is still weighing a handful of Division I offers, including one from UMKC. Agbaji is a wing player who poured in 23.1 points per game last season and will again serve as the Northmen’s go-to option.
Lest we forget Park Hill senior Ronnie Bell. On Tuesday, Bell won the Simone Award as the top football player in the Kansas City area. But basketball is actually his preferred sport. Few on the court possess more pure athleticism than Bell, one of the best dunkers in the area despite playing point guard. He has signed with Missouri State.
Park Hill South has a trio of players capable of playing at next level, headlined by junior guard Lamel Robinson. In two seasons, Robinson has scored 795 career points, putting him on pace to break the school record of 1,255. Liberty senior Jalen Lewis is already the school’s all-time best scorer, a record he set in the opening week of the season.
Suburban Conference races
Not a single team from the four Suburban Conferences coasted through league play without a loss in 2016-17. The battles for the conference titles should be equally competitive this season.
Lee’s Summit West will be the team to beat in the Suburban Gold Conference, but Blue Springs and Park Hill return multiple scorers who averaged in double figures last season.
Among the six teams in the Suburban Red Conference, five are coming off winning seasons. Raytown, looking to defend its championship, has a pair of two-time all-conference selections in Mason Fair and Devin Drew.
North Kansas City, which flew under the radar before tying Oak Park in the Suburban White Conference last season, has nearly its entire starting lineup back.
The Missouri high school state championships move to Springfield in March, after an extended stay at Mizzou Arena in Columbia. The championship games will be played at JQH Arena, the home of Missouri State. The Class 1-3 Final Four is scheduled for March 8-10, and the Class 4 and 5 Final Four will take place the following weekend, March 15-17.