By Anvil Welch
Globe Sports Writer
Youth will battle youth as Neosho faces defending champion Webster Groves in the first round of the annual Kaminsky Classic on Thursday night at Missouri Southern State University.
Neosho, in its first season under Jason Horn, and Jay Blossom’s Statesmen are scheduled to tip off at 7 in Robert Ellis Young Gymnasium.
Other games are Wichita Word of Life vs. Francis Howell at 4 p.m., Joplin vs. William Chrisman at 5:30 and Jefferson City vs. St. Louis Vashon at 8:30.
Webster Groves, although it graduated numerically nearly two teams from a 23-5 edition that lost to St. Louis CBC 66-60 in the championship game of the Class 5 District 2 Tournament at St. Louis University High, has begun 5-4.
Neosho, which has even less experience, is 0-11 under Horn, who joined the Class 5 Wildcats after a successful stint at Class 3 Washburn Southwest.
Blossom’s Statesmen will put an amazing streak on the line this season in the Suburban South Conference. Their string is 11 championships and an 80-game winning streak.
Said Neosho coach Horn on Tuesday: “Coach Blossom’s teams always guard well in the half-court. We know they will be physical, aggressive and good athletes.”
Preseason stories about Webster Groves emphasized its return of just two seniors in Michael Gulve and Kielan Jones (both 5-foot-8). Horn said that Andy Lett, a 5-9 senior, is among the probable Neosho starters.
Blossom could send out an inside trio of 6-3 sophomore Sam Craig, 6-6 sophomore Alex Floresca and 6-4 junior Jamal Hinton.
Craig recently tallied 16 as the Statesmen posted a 50-46 victory at Jackson.
Blossom also has utilized 6-2 freshman Leland Bradford, 5-10 sophomore Nick Delgado, 6-1 sophomore Steven Harris and 6-0 sophomore Cameron Hilton.
Two results that illustrate improvement by the Statesmen include a 22-point loss in their early tournament to Marquette. Webster Groves later beat Marquette by four points in the Meramec Holiday Tournament.
Neosho consistently has been using 11 players counting Lett, Horn said.
Other starters include 6-1 sophomore Caden Hendricks and a trio of freshmen: Darrian Guillory (6-2), Lukas Werneke (6-3) and Brett Williams (5-6).
The roster also contains 6-0 junior Preston Johnson, 6-1 junior Justin McKee, 6-1 junior Trey Turner, 5-9 sophomore Chris Paullus, 5-9 sophomore Logan Stuart and 6-2 freshman Kaden Roy.
“We’ve had chances late to come away with a victory in four games,” Horn said. “We’ve struggled to put together four quarters.
“We see improvement each game,” Horn said. “We guard well at times. We try to win the small battles.
“The games move a little too fast for us at times,” Horn said. “We’ve been struggling on offense to finish plays around the basket.”