This winter will mark a new era of basketball for Joplin boys basketball entering alum Jeff Hafer’s seventh season at the helm.

Hafer’s talented class of 2020 has graduated after winning district championships two of the last three years. Last year, the Eagles had three All-COC honorees, as well as six individuals who continued their playing careers at the college level.

The Eagles will also have to replace 53.4 points per game as there will be a number of fresh faces in new roles this season.

But Joplin does return one of the better players in the COC in junior Always Wright. The 6-foot-3 combo guard averaged 8.2 points per game, three rebounds, four assists and one steal as a sophomore.

“Always is an elite shooter with a high basketball IQ,” Hafer said. “His ability to control a game from the point guard position will be instrumental to our success this year.”

Wright is the lone returning starter, but he will be joined by seven seniors looking to make an impact.

Senior guards Dominick Simmons, Fielding Cambell and Carson Wampler will look to shore up spots in the backcourt with Wright. The Eagles also have Zayshon Hugley (6-foot-5) and Malik Williams (6-foot-4) to help anchor the paint inside.

Micah Bruggeman, a 6-foot-2 wing, will look to take on some of that scoring load.

Juniors LT Atherton, Joe Jasper, Bruce Wilbert and Brantley Morris will also be competing for rotational minutes. Talented sophomores Dante Washington and Terrance Gibson as well as freshman All Wright round out the group pushing for varsity minutes.

“We will need them to step into important roles for us to be successful this year,” Hafer said. “We have limited varsity experience, but I feel confident that our guard group of Always, Dante, Bruce, Carson, Fielding and All can provide significant pressure on defenses through our ability to drive and shoot the ball.

“We expect major contributions on the glass from LT, Joe, Terrance and Malik as well as a few other athletic, inside kids.”

The Eagles will look to play an up-tempo, tough and physical brand of basketball Joplin fans have grown accustomed to over the years. But the challenge will be acclimating a new roster in a league that is arguably at a level no other conference in Missouri is at.

Hafer seems up for the challenge, though.

“We graduated an excellent senior class and we will have to find out where our scoring and rebounding is going to come from,” Hafer said. “I think we have a very skilled group offensively and the better we become at defending and rebounding as a team will determine at what level we will compete. We have the privilege of competing in the COC and look forward to the different challenges we will face from our opponents this season.

“I like our team and the potential we have. We are excited to get started and continually work to get better.”

Joplin opens the season at Kaminsky Gymnasium against McDonald County on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. The Mustangs went 5-19 last season.

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