There will continue to be a Combs on Nixa’s roster for a fifth straight season this winter, with Jaise Combs making the jump to varsity ball.
The Eagles featured a Combs seven of the past eight seasons, with Jaise’s older brothers, Kael and Braeden, both making their varsity debuts as freshmen. Kael enjoyed a stellar career from 2019-2023 and Braeden played from 2015-2018, before opting not to suit up as a senior.
Also, the Combs’ half-brother, Jalen Norman, starred for Nixa from 2009-2013.
With Jaise part of Nixa’s first family of basketball, there is intrigue surrounding his junior season and especially after the gains he’s made over the past year.
“I'm excited about Jaise's future,” coach Brock Blansit said. “I expect him to be one of our best players. Shooting-wise, I think he’s going to be up there with Josh (Peters) and Garrett (Hines). I expect him to shoot well above 40 percent.
“Jaise had a very good summer,” he added. “He’s gotten a lot stronger. He's filled out a little bit. He's one of those kids who is never going to look big and strong. But in the weight room he's lifting significantly more than he was at this time last year. He's also grown by a couple inches. He's getting to the basket and scoring.”
Combs figures to be a part of a nightly rotation that could number as many as 11 players.
“It's a good problem that we've got a lot of kids who are good. But it's difficult because we’re going to be playing 11 guys,” Blansit said. “Legitimately, all 11 of them could come into my office and say they should be playing more. We're going to have to see how the season plays out. Sometimes, the kids you think at the beginning of the season are going to play a lot end up not playing and vice-versa. Our practices should be very competitive. Early on, the kids are going to earn their playing time by how well they practice.
“Playing a lot of kids and trying to get enough minutes for everybody to stay engaged has been a discussion with our coaching staff,” he added. “That's going to be one of the most difficult things our staff will have to navigate.”
Blansit is carrying three seniors, six juniors, two sophomores and one freshman on his roster.
The seniors include sharpshooters Josh Peters and Garrett Hines. Last season, Peters averaged 12.6 points a game on 48-percent 3-point shooting, while Hines averaged 9.2 points also on 48-percent 3-point shooting.
“Shooting almost 50 percent on 3s is absurd,” Blansit said. “We’ll have post players who won't shoot that from three feet. When they're open, you feel like every time they shoot it's going in.”
In addition to Combs, Peters and Hines, Nixa’s 3-point bombers will be Devon Kemp and Wyatt Vincent.
Kemp shot 35 percent on his 3s while averaging 3.9 points and providing a few clutch buckets as a sophomore last season. The combo guard’s numbers across the board are likely to increase for his junior season.
“Devon is going to have a chance to run the point and he's a really good shooter,” Blansit said. “With that combination, maybe it's best to get him on a wing sometimes and let one of the other kids run the point. I'd like to have him shoot as much as possible.”
In addition to Kemp, the point guard duties will be handled by Randy Flint, Keivon Flint and Bryce Foster.
Centers include Layne Meltabarger, Jackson Cantwell and Adam McKnight.
With six football players, Blansit has had everyone at practice only a week. With that in mind, Nixa’s offense, in particular its post game, may take a while to get established.
“Early in the season, you really don't know what your team is going to be like,” Blansit said. “Our expectations are still to win. But it may take a few weeks to get in the groove of things.”
The Eagles, of course, have a tough act to follow, with last year’s bunch going 28-1. But Blansit isn’t backing away from comparing his current outfit to last season’s team.
“Expectations are high,” he said. “We’ve got good ball-handlers, several kids who can shoot and we've got some size. I think we have a chance to be really good. I think we have a chance to be every bit as good, if not better, than last year.”
Nixa’s COC win streak at 33 games and counting
More streaks the Eagles hope to continue are their strings of three consecutive outright COC championships and 33 straight COC victories. Nixa shared the COC title with Joplin during the 2019-20 season.
Blansit suspects Republic and Ozark will be the Eagles’ top challengers in conference play.
“Republic has got an excellent squad and Ozark has got everyone back,” he said. “It will be like normal, we're going to get everyone's best shot.”
Eagles also to defend four tournament titles
Nixa captured championships at every tournament it took part in last season prior to Districts. The Eagles will return as defending tourney champs at Willard, Liberty North, the Blue & Gold and their own NIT.
Looking around SWMO, Blansit predicts Nixa’s Blue & Gold trail will be more challenging than it was last season. The Eagles won all four of their Gold Division games last year by an average of 25.5 points.
“I think there are as many good teams (in the area) as we've had in a while,” Blansit said. “It should lead to a really good Blue & Gold. There are seven, eight or nine teams that can win it. In the past, you maybe had three or four.”
Nixa will tip things off Wednesday against Bolivar at the Willard Tournament. Possible semifinal foes for the Eagles are Harrison, Arkansas, or Glendale. On the other side of the bracket are Willard, Sedalia Smith-Cotton, Belton and Bentonville, Arkansas, which is off to a 1-4 start.
“It will be a good tournament,” Blansit said. “Glendale is in the (Tournament Of Champions) this year and Bentonville, with (former Kickapoo coach Dick Rippee), has always got a good club.”
The NIT field will look much last year, with the exception of Park Hill taking the place of Springfield Central. New Madrid County Central returns after winning the Class 3 state championship last season.
For the second straight year the Blue & Gold will not include Kickapoo, last season’s Class 6 state runner-up. Also, the Chiefs haven’t been back at the NIT since 2021. Thus, the lone Nixa-Kickapoo regular-season meeting will occur Dec. 13 in Springfield.
In the past, the teams have met in mid-January. Last year, they played on Feb. 1.
“We’re playing each other earlier than usual. I’m not sure that's something either one of us wanted,” Blansit said. “But the way our schedules worked out, we couldn't come up with another date.”