Now into the third week of practices, and with the season opener quickly approaching, the Joplin High School boys basketball team is still missing several key performers.

No, Zach Westmoreland, Isaiah Davis, Blake Tash and Always Wright aren’t injured. They’re still playing football.

The Joplin football team is preparing for Saturday’s Class 6 state championship game against De Smet in Columbia. With that, Jeff Hafer’s basketball squad is still a bit short-handed as the arrival of the 2019-20 campaign nears closer.

“We have a lot of guys who have been significant parts of our team that aren’t here yet,” Hafer noted.

Once they’re done on the gridiron, Westmoreland, Davis, Tash and Wright will once again look to shine on the hardwood.

A pair of senior guards, Westmoreland and Davis both earned all-Central Ozark Conference honors last season, with Westmoreland a second-team pick and Davis an honorable mention selection. Both players will be looked upon to score the basketball and handle the ball again this winter.

A senior guard, Tash is another varsity veteran, while Wright, a sophomore sharpshooter, contributed nicely last year, as well.

Hafer expects returning seniors Andreis Gaines, Tommy Hafer, Will Rader and Isaac Meeks to also play key roles on this year’s squad.

The Eagles must overcome the loss of standout guard Evan Guillory, who transferred to a prep school in New Hampshire for his senior season. Guillory was a first-team all-COC performer last year as a junior.

Senior guard Dakarai Allen, a transfer from Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita, Kansas, should help fill the void left by Guillory’s departure.

“He has a high basketball IQ and he’s a good athlete,” Hafer said. “He can play point guard and he can make everybody better.”

Hafer noted that when his full squad is finally together, it will take some time for the Eagles to gel.

At the same time, Hafer noted the team’s expectations will be set high. Joplin begins the season ranked 10th in Class 5 by the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association.

“We have the potential to be a very tough team to deal with,” Hafer said. “It’s just going to take us a while. There’s always a transition when you’ve put in the time with the football team. We’ve got guys who have played together for a long time, but it will still take some time for them to get into basketball shape and to change gears.”

Also competing for varsity playing time are juniors Fielding Campbell, Dominick Simmons, Micah Bruggeman, Carson Wampler and Zayshon Hugley and sophomores Bruce Wilbert, Joe Jasper, Grayson Stovern, Kyler Stokes, Landen Atherton, Brantley Morris, Kaian Roberts-Day and Calvin Clark.

“We definitely have guys competing for the spots that are going to be available,” Hafer said of those players.

Less than a week after the football team plays for a state title, the Eagles will open the basketball season on Friday, Dec. 6 at Pittsburg, Kansas—ready or not.

“It’s exciting for me because this group really likes one another and I think we’ll have a smooth transition with the new guys coming in,” Hafer said.

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