Despite the school year being cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Joplin High School wanted to give a pair of basketball athletes the chance to celebrate a monumental achievement.
On Thursday inside Kaminsky Gymnasium, Dakarai Allen and Tommy Hafer each signed letters of intent to play basketball at the collegiate level.
“Given the situation, we’ve known for a little where these guys were going to go, but we wanted to give them, their family and their friends an opportunity to come to the gym and get their due,” Joplin basketball coach Jeff Hafer said. “Both of these guys have put in a lot of work over a long period of time to earn the opportunity to continue their playing career and their education. This is great, and I am so thankful for our administration to allow us to do this. It makes for a nice memory for these kids, and they both deserve it.”
Allen, who spent his senior season with the Eagles, signed on to play at Lewis and Clark Community College. Allen averaged 12.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.5 assist, two steals a block per game as a senior. He was a second-team all-area and all-Central Ozark Conference selection, while earning first-team all-district honors.
“This is really exciting,” Allen said. “This was my last year in high school, and I had a great time playing for Joplin High School. I am thankful Lewis and Clark picked me up so I can continue playing. … I couldn’t visit the campus because of the pandemic, but I did a virtual tour and the campus is beautiful. It looks like a DI campus. Their style of play fits me, so that is another reason I decided to go there.
“I have goals to play at the Division I level, so I am going to try to improve my shot, and my range. I need to improve that the most, and I want to get a little bit stronger because there are some bigger guys in college. Working on my body will be important.”
Tommy Hafer, who spent four years at Joplin High School, signed his letter of intent to play for Columbia College. Hafer averaged 6.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists and one steal per game in his senior season, shooting 39 percent from the 3-point line.
“It has been a dream of mine since the start to get the chance to play college basketball,” Hafer said. “I have been working toward this my entire life. I feel like in my senior year, it just hit me hard in my head how important it was to me. I have a great opportunity at (Columbia College) and I couldn’t be more excited.”
Tommy Hafer, of course, is the son of Jeff Hafer. And while being a coach’s son isn’t always easy, he is incredibly thankful for everything his dad taught him about the game and what it takes to compete at the highest level.
“Playing for my dad, there were going to be ups and downs,” Tommy Hafer said with a smile. “I am thankful because I feel like we had way more ups than downs. … If you ask me, I wouldn’t trade it for anything and I am so thankful he was my coach for the last four years.”
Of course, this senior season is unlike any other, considering many athletes lost their spring season, depriving them a chance to ever play the sports they love again. For Hafer and Allen, after dealing with the pandemic, there is an even greater sense of appreciation knowing they get the chance to continue playing the game they love at the next level.
“I have a lot of friends who lost their spring sport season, and even friends (in the area) who were still playing (basketball) after we lost in the playoffs, and I felt bad for them because their season ended unexpectedly,” Hafer said. “I was just thankful we were able to finish our season because I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like to have that stripped away from us. I am so appreciative and grateful to get the chance to continue playing.”