Griffon men’s basketball will look to utilize selfless team play to bounce back from last season’s 11-16 record.
“I think we have better character this year, our work ethic is better, our willingness to play together has been better,” coach Tom Smith said.
Key losses for Missouri Western include last year’s two leading scorers, Jonathan Phelps at 17.4 points per game and P’Allen Stinnett at 16.7. Another loss is point guard Adrian Thomas.
The Griffons return two starters from last season’s team in senior post player, Lavonte Douglas and senior small forward, TJ Johnson.
Johnson averaged 12.8 points-per-game last season, while shooting a very efficient 50.8 percent from the field and starting in all 28 contests.
“TJ is the type of player that has an all-around game,” said Smith. “Making players better, passing, driving, rebounding, running, all those things.”
The last shot Johnson took last season was a missed jumper in the MIAA tournament against Fort Hays State with no time left on the clock. The Griffons lost by one point, and their season was over. Johnson used that experience as added motivation during the off-season.
“Ever since I missed the game-winning shot last year, I have been in the gym every day,” Johnson said. “I can’t wait until the season starts. If I get that chance again, the shot is definitely going down.”
Douglas averaged 12.3 points-per-game and six rebounds last season and is known as someone who will outwork the opponent in the post.
“Lavonte is tough enough inside to give a us a post presence,” Smith said. “He is 6’5” but plays bigger.”
Speedy senior combo guard Deionta Mitchell is the other returning contributor from last season’s team and will play the role of a starter this season. According to Smith, Mitchell can play either guard position, but his comfort zone is off the ball.
Smith has added six junior college transfers in guards Ladarius Frazier, James Harris, Dylan Frantz, Alex Tuluka-Mfumupembe, and big men Shawn Tarver and Justin Reid.
Harris was a JUCO All-American at South Suburban Junior College last season, averaging 18 points, six assists, five rebounds and two steals per game. He will look to take over the starting point guard position once he heals from a fractured hand that will keep him sidelined approximately ten days. Frazier will also play his minutes at the point guard position.
Tarver and Reid, both 6’8”, will add a post presence to go along with Douglas that the Griffons were missing last season, due to losing several players during the season.
“We have an inside threat that I think will make up for what we didn’t have last year,” Smith said. “We did not have that capability of going inside very much last year.”
There are also three true freshman perimeter players on the team. 5’11” point guard Reed Mells from Des Moines, 6’3″ guard/forward Freddie Manyawu from Platte City and 6’5″ guard/forward Tevin Harris from the Chicago area. Mells is currently out with mononucleosis and is expected to return a few weeks down the road when he regains full strength.
“Making the move from 1A in Iowa to the MIAA is a tough move but Reed has done well,” Smith said. “Tevin is very athletic and Freddie is athletic and very very smart. I think all three will contribute this season.”
The Griffons may not be picked to finish at the top of the MIAA when the preseason poll is released, but the players are confident that they will have a successful season.
“I expect us to surprise a lot of people because a lot of people aren’t expecting a lot from us because of last year and how we had a bad season,” Johnson said. “But we are planning to turn that around. We got a lot of leaders here. We got new guys who came in and everyone works hard. It’s going to be a team effort.”
“I expect us to do way better than we did last year,” Douglas said. “Every one is playing together now, and I just hope it stays like that for the rest of the season. I expect a 20 plus win season and being one of the top teams in the conference.”
The Griffons will look to slow down the tempo of the game on offense this season and use ball movement to take the smart shot.
“I see us being very conservative offensively because I just don’t think we have the firepower to get in any kind of shootouts,” Smith said. “Our emphasis will be on defense and ball control.”
According to Douglas, the biggest strength of the team is playing together.
“Playing individually would be our biggest weakness,” Douglas said. “Everybody plays their role, plays their position. We don’t have any heroes or wannabe superstars. Everybody just plays together and makes it work.”