By: Jalen Pauley
Prior to this year, Missouri Western men’s basketball had back-to-back seasons of winning seven or fewer games. The future of Missouri Western basketball did not look bright.
At the start of the 2018-19 season, the Griffons basketball team had a new look with a new head coach. Sundance Wicks was named head coach of the Griffons in March of last year with hope he could spark the basketball program. With his vibrant personality and a passion for winning games, coach Wicks helped the Griffons win more games this season than each of the last two seasons. They finished with a 12-18 record.
“He’s an excellent coach who cares for each and every one of his players, and we’ve felt that since day one,” junior Beau Baker said.
This year’s team had three seniors that played a huge roll in the success the Griffons experienced this year: Lavon Hightower, Bryan Hudson and Alex Martin. Lavon Hightower had a stand-out season, becoming third on the all-time scoring list in Missouri Western history with a total of 998 points. He also became third in all-time three-pointers made and first in defensive rebounds. Hightower averaged 18.7 points and 7.7 rebounds a game.
Bryan Hudson finished sixth in the MIAA for field goal percentage (.516) and averaged 15.1 points per game. Hudson came in huge this season giving the Griffons energy on both ends on the floor and hitting clutch shots that helped lead his team to wins.
Alex Martin didn’t have a stat packed season offensively, but was a defensive help for the Griffons every game, constantly coming up with game changing blocks and rebounds. Martin’s putback dunk against Pitt State helped fuel one of Missouri Western’s two home wins.
“I thank them for everything they’ve given us and our program,” coach Wicks said. “You guys have to understand from a coaching perspective, when you come into a program and get three seniors that don’t complain or make any excuses and step up and carry the team on their back, you can’t ask for much more.”
The three seniors weren’t the only players to have an impact this season. Freshman Tyrell Carroll had an amazing first year averaging 14.1 ppg and 3.5 assists as the starting point guard for the Griffons.
The biggest mishap for Missouri Western was their inability to win close games. The Griffons lost six games this season by three or fewer points. They lost nine games by single-digits. For this reason, Missouri Western did not finish in the top ten in the MIAA and will not be competing in the MIAA Conference Tournament.
There is still optimism. Coach Wicks was able to help turn this basketball program around in one long, hard fought season. Being able to win 12 games, seven of those on the road, the Griffons were able to show that they are a more competitive team and will be recognized as so in the MIAA. Coach Wicks knows that his team still has some growing to do if they ever want to get to reach their season ending goals, but this is only the beginning. Missouri Western is hoping that this may be the start of a new and improved basketball program.