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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

COLUMN - WILL NMCC BE OVERWHELMED AT BASS PRO?

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Deservingly ranked No. 1 in Missouri 3A, New Madrid County Central is putting together its best season yet. The Eagles are 12-1, with their only loss coming in a tournament where they played two games in one day.

Poplar Bluff, Caruthersville and Whitfield were no problem. In fact, nobody has been much of a problem. NMCC has won by an average score of 68 to 50.

The Eagles are obviously an area powerhouse, but how do they stack up with the elite teams around the country?

We'll find out Friday when Dereke Tipler and Company travel to Springfield for the 18th Annual Bass Pro Tournament of Champions.

In the first round NMCC will face Oviedo, Fla., a suburb of Orlando. The Lions were 29-2 last year, and return a good nucleus of players.

The most notable returner is Shawn Witherspoon, a 6-4 wingman who was voted Florida's Class 6A Player of the Year last year. Witherspoon is the driving force behind Oviedo's 16-2 team, averaging 18.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3 steals per game.

According to a colleague at the Orlando Sentinel, "they're quick, they're athletic, and they don't turn the ball over -- they're just awesome."

Oviedo is currently ranked No. 3 among Florida large schools, and plays in the same league with the teams ranked No. 1 and 2. If NMCC gets past Witherspoon and the boys, they will face either Ozark or New York's legendary Christ the King on Saturday. Most Eagle fans will remember Ozark from last year's Final Four where they took third. The Tigers lost standout Christian Gideon, but everybody else is back.

They're 13-3 with two understandable losses to Kickapoo. Smooth-shooting forward Joe Kissee (6-5) leads the team and is assisted by center Kyle Verfurth (6-3) and point guard Joe Skyles.

Christ the King is down this year, but they've got a stud. Head coach Bob Oliva feels junior Jathet McNeil is possibly the best point guard he's ever had.

That might not mean much at a school like Cooter, but when you've had guards like Omar Cook and Erick Barkley, that's quite a statement.

The King is 7-5, and they're used to playing nationally-ranked teams like New York's Rice and Jersey City's St. Anthony.

Speaking of ranked teams, Vashon moved up to No. 8 in the USA Today Super 25 rankings.

With Mizzou-bound guard Jimmy McKinney, the Wolverines are favored to win this year's Bass Pro Tournament.

But before Floyd Irons starts engraving his name on another trophy, Vashon has to get by its first-round opponent -- Heritage Christian Academy out of Cleveland, Texas.

The Academy, which is located 35 miles north of Houston, has just 40 students, but they've won the Texas private school state championship for the last three years.

Senior shooting guard Cedric Hensley (6-5) is putting up 20 points per game, and has committed to the University of Houston. Center Elijah Miller (6-10) is also a coveted Division-I prospect.

The winner of that game will face either Glendale or Centralia, Ill.

Glendale is ranked No. 4 in Missouri 4A with a record of 13-2. Forward Jason Bueker (6-5) and shooting guard Ryan Luethy both average around 12 points a game.

Centralia is 15-1 and ranked No. 8 among Illinois' large schools. The Orphans' only loss came in overtime to Peoria Richwoods. Forward Matt Shaw (6-6) leads the team and is considered one of the top sophomores in the state.

So with all this talent around, will NMCC be overwhelmed in Springfield?

Fugedaboutit!

The Eagles were 0-3 in their only Bass Pro appearance six years ago, but they're a different team now.

You can count on this group of seniors to be up to the challenge. NMCC probably won't win the tournament, but they can give a respectable showing.

Lennies McFerren took second in the Bass Pro with his Charleston Bluejays in 1993, and there's no reason why the Eagles can't duplicate that type of performance.