The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 29, 2013

Labette County, No. 8 in Kansas, ready for clash with Chanute

By Anvil Welch
Globe Sports Writer

— Chanute visits tonight as the Labette County High School boys basketball team resumes its Southeast Kansas League schedule.

Brad Smith, who’s in his 19th season as coach of the Altamont-based Grizzlies, was in a cheery mood Monday.

Why not? The Grizzlies, after all, are 10-2 overall, 4-2 in the SEK and No. 8 in Kansas Class 4A, according to rankings compiled by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association.

No. 1? Who else but Ottawa and 6-foot-6, 220-pound Duke signee Semi Ojeleye.

Anyway, tonight is an opportunity for Labette County to avenge its 55-53 loss on Jan. 11 at Chanute. Brock Gilmore’s basket lifted Max Ruark’s Blue Comets, Smith recalled.

“Yes, tomorrow is a big game,” Smith said. “But they’re all important with us having a chance to win the league.”

Visiting Coffeyville nudged the Grizzlies 72-69 on Dec. 11 for their other SEK setback. The Grizzlies couldn’t connect for a trey in trying to send the game into overtime.

Labette County hasn’t played since beating Iola on Jan. 19 to reign at Burlington. But Smith insisted that many off days were welcomed.

“That gave us chances to work on some defensive things,” Smith said. “I believe we’re focused and more hungry.

“I’m happy,” Smith said. “They (the Grizzlies) feel good about what they’re doing. We — the coaches — have been around the players for a long time. They listen. We have a good relationship with these guys.”

Smith greeted four players with starting experience — 6-foot senior Dontae Johnson and the junior trio of Chase Dodsworth and Tucker Thompson, both 6-3, and 6-0 Lee Reliford.

Zack Stewart, a 6-6 sophomore letterman, rounds out the usual starters.

Leaders off the bench, Smith said, have been juniors Will Dowty (6-0) and Braden Page (5-10).

Johnson reveals versatility with averages of 18.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.6 steals and 2.4 assists.

Stewart is averaging 13.3 points with a team-leading 9.4 rebounds.

Scoring averages also include 9.8 apiece for Reliford and Thompson, 4.8 for Dodsworth, 4.2 for Dowty and 1.4 for Page.

Thompson and Johnson averaged 11.5 and 10.9 points, respectively, as the 2011-12 Grizzlies finished 10-12 overall and 4-4 in the SEK.

Dodsworth, Smith emphasized, is adding 3.5 assists to give the Grizzlies some 15 per outing.

Smith also appreciates the Grizzlies’ overall accuracy from the field (52 percent) and foul line (68).

Johnson, Thompson and Reliford combined for 45 points in the 57-37 win against former league foe Iola at Burlington.

Smith, who’s assisted by Clint Witty and Brian Tucker, has hiked his Labette County record to 225-187. Witty won 150 games in the previous 15 years as the head coach. Tucker, a 1999 graduate, was a solid performer for the Grizzlies.

Smith said that partial proceeds from tonight will benefit Jason Beach and family. The girls varsity game will tip off at 6 p.m.