POPLAR BLUFF -- To no surprise, this year's all-region team is headlined by the league champs. Three Rivers' William Durden, Dereke Tipler and James Profit were each selected to the team after the Raiders won the Region XVI title for the 17th time last weekend with a thrilling tripe-overtime victory.
Joining the trio are Mineral Area's Joel Shelton and Norman Prather, Dwayne Brown and Delton Utsey from Moberly, State Fair's Marqus Mitchell and Mamadou Diakite and Zione White of SMSU-West Plains.
Shelton, who sat out one season after playing a year at Southeast Missouri State University as a freshmen, received four of five first-place votes to be named region Player of the Year. He played in four Final Fours at Vashon High School, one of only three players in the last 50 years from the St. Louis area to do so. Mitchell is the lone holdover from last year's team.
Although the Raiders were well represented, there were a couple disappointing omissions. Second-leading scorer Kevin Thomas and starting point guard Ceso Sprewell, who was sidelined the final three weeks of the regular season with a broken finger, were both nominated but did not receive enough votes from the panel of coaches.
Considering the competitiveness of the league -- Three Rivers, Mineral Area and West Plains each finished the regular season in a three-way tie for first -- and the Raiders' style of play, multiple selections were hard to come by.
"We play team basketball and it's hard to pick individuals," Three Rivers coach Gene Bess said prior to practice Thursday afternoon. "We never pick a MVP at our banquet because we've got too many people that contribute in their own way.
"I think it was a hard choice for the opposing coaches to chose three when we had about five and they would have all been very good representatives for our region and conference."
Durden, a 6-foot-6 sophomore from Portageville, received the other first-place vote to finish second in Player of the Year voting. Three Rivers' third leading scorer at 11.8 points per game and leading rebounder with 5.1, Durden has come to life offensively in the postseason. The only Raider to start all 33 games this season, Durden had 23 points and 13 rebounds in the region title game and Tuesday night scored 15 points on 6-of-13 shooting to help lead Three Rivers to its first national tournament appearance in seven seasons.
It's the defensive side of the ball, though, that makes Durden so valuable. Assigned to the opposing team's biggest offensive threat every night, Durden is considered to be the top wing defender in the league.
"I think they realize how important defense is," Bess said. "Will does a good job offensively, but he is just a super defensive player."
Durden was at his best against the region's top offensive players this season. In two meetings against Brown, the league's top scorer, Durden held the Moberly sophomore to 25 combined points -- almost 10 points below his season average.
Going head-to-head against Shelton in a must-win game on Feb. 15, Durden held him to nine points on 4-of-18 shooting through the first 35 minutes in a 85-61 win. With Durden on the bench, Shelton hit two 3-pointers and a jumper in the final four minutes to finish with 17.
"A lot of us thrive off of the way Will plays," Profit said. "Will is a threat whether he is scoring or not. When we played Mineral Area the second time, he didn't have any points, but he stopped their best player. We go to him for a lot of different things in a game."
Tipler came to Three Rivers with an impressive basketball resume, and he's already adding to it. A two-time basketball state champion and a multiple-time all-state selection in both football and basketball at New Madrid County Central, Tipler led the region in assists with 7.0 per game. The 5-foot-9 freshmen leads the Raiders in steals (2.8) and is fourth in scoring (11.6) in just over 23 minutes per game.
In the region championship game against Mineral Area Saturday night, Tipler, who finished fourth in the Player of the Year race, had 22 points, 11 assists and 12 rebounds for his first career triple-double.
"I knew that he was good in these games," Bess said after the game. "He played well for the last 10 or 15 minutes last night and then 55 minutes today."
After a slow start to the season that saw him score just five points in the first two games, Profit has picked up his pace in a hurry. The 6-foot-6 sophomore from San Diego, Calif., is averaging 19.4 points per contest in the last nine outings. He went for 28 points twice during that span. Profit's scoring binge made him the Raiders leading scorer at 13.9 points per game.
"It's an honor to be picked," Profit said. "I think I'm more relaxed on the offensive end and just letting the ball go instead of thinking about it. I'm just letting it go and shots are falling for me."
Profit, who leads Three Rivers in blocks (1.2) and highlight-reel dunks, is second in made 3-pointers (83) and 3-point field goal percentage (39.0). He also averages 3.6 rebounds and 1.3 steals.
Durden, Tipler, Profit and Shelton were also selected to the all-conference team. They are joined by Mineral Area's Erick Hubbard, Bryant Lyles of Flo Valley, Forest Park's Roderick Coleman, Aaron Edwards of Lewis & Clark and Meramec's John Viehland and Pat McEvilly.
Meramec coach Randy Albrecht, who picked up his 500th career win this season while leading the Magic to the Division II national tournament, was named Coach of the Year.