By Anvil Welch
Globe Sports Writer
Joplin High School boys basketball coach Jeff Williams on Wednesday night pronounced the Eagles ready to play.
“We’re ready. I believe we’ve improved in several areas during our practices (during the holiday break),” Williams said after the Eagles’ workout in Robert Ellis Young Gymnasium.
The Eagles return to Young Gymnasium at Missouri Southern State University to tackle Independence William Chrisman at 5:30 p.m. today in Game 2 in the first round of the Kaminsky Classic.
Webster Groves returns to defend its championship in the event, which honors the late Joplin coach Russ Kaminsky, and is sponsored by Freeman Sports Medicine and the Joplin Sports Authority.
Kaminsky’s accomplishments include guiding the Eagles to state large-school basketball titles in 1950, 1955 and 1967.
“We’re very honored to have this tournament,” Williams told JSA sports information director Jordan Larimore. “It’s named after a great Joplin coach. It’s always a lot of fun for us ... to play at home and compete. We’re really looking forward to it. It’s been a great tournament ... traditionally strong.”
Williams, turning to William Chrisman, said that John Vickers’ Bears “like to play fast and apply pressure defense. They play hard. They hit the boards hard. They like shooting the 3. But they also like taking the ball to the basket.”
Williams said that Dillon McVay, because of a knee strain, will be replaced in the starting lineup by fellow junior Malachai Poling.
“Malachai already has starting experience (this season),” Williams said. “We’ll use several players and several will play valuable minutes.”
Junior guard Charlie Brown, already twice all-Kaminsky, is averaging 18 points for the Eagles. Alex Ball, a 6-2 junior, is averaging 12 points for the Bears and 6-3 senior Eli Alvis is adding about six rebounds.
Word of Life vs. Francis Howell
Mike Storm is in his ninth year as both the Francis Howell head coach and a participant in the Kaminsky Classic.
“It’s a trip for us each year where we really get an opportunity to define our team a bit,” Storm said.
The Vikings’ Nic Perkins, a 6-3 junior, is their leading scorer with about a 15-point average and, according to Storm, one of Missouri’s leading baseball prospects as a catcher.
Several of the basketball players had a hand in the football team finishing runner-up in Class 6, Storm said, and that slowed their progress in basketball.
“Defensively, we just don’t get it yet,” Storm said.
Seniors Kimron Burris and Torrey Henderson are sparking Word of Life by averaging a combined 30 points.
Several members of the 2011-12 Word of Life team are playing at the college level. Coach Ryan Hujing said Word of Life graduate Minda Kacinas (6-8) is playing several minutes a game at South Carolina. Anthony Perez (6-8) is playing less at Mississippi. Point guard Jamal Jones is at Colby (Kan.) Community College.
Neosho vs. Webster Groves
A Larimore nugget compliments of Statesmen coach Jay Blossom: This season is Blossom’s first in 12 that the team has had two losses by Christmas.
“We’re super young (just two seniors on the roster),” Blossom said.
There’s no sympathy, of course, from Neosho coach Jason Horn who’s loaded with youth in returning to the Kaminsky.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to play some people we normally don’t get to see,” Horn said. “It’s going to be a good challenge for our kids.”
Alex Floresca, a 6-6 sophomore, and 6-2 classmate Sam Craig were early scoring leaders for Webster Groves.
Jefferson City vs. Vashon
The Jays, 2011 Kaminsky champions, apparently will face a formidable Vashon senior trio.
Coach DeAndre Davis, halfway through the schedule, had 6-1 Derrick Mitchell Jr. averaging 26.7 points, eight rebounds and five assists; 6-2 Deion Davis averaging 15.7 points and five steals and 6-8, 265-pound DeMarco Stallings adding averages of eight points, nine rebounds and five blocked shots.
Mitchell has committed to the University of Iowa in football as a receiver.
Scott Stegman, a senior, is averaging 13 points and 11 rebounds for Jefferson City.