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Bright future for COC, with McKnight and Pickren established stars as freshmen


There’s reason to believe COC boys basketball can return to prominence statewide sooner than later.

With the COC not being represented in the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association’s Class 6 rankings and seven of its teams having 10 losses or more, it might be an understatement to say the conference is having a subpar season. 

That bit of disparaging documentation aside, the COC features two blossoming stars in Nixa forward Adam McKnight and Ozark forward Kylan Pickren. They are enjoying success as freshmen that could be unprecedented.

McKnight appears well on his way to being the COC Player Of the Year and may be a unanimous selection at that.  He's made a habit of posting a double-double.

Pickren is averaging more than 12 points a game and threatening to shoot 40 percent from 3-point land.

Both will net more points as freshmen than any of their predecessors at Nxa and Ozark going back at least 25  years. That includes greats such as Kael Combs, Quinn Nelson, Jalen Norman, Austin Ruder, Nathan Bilyeu and Tyler Oakley.

McKnight and Pickren have surpassed all exceptions, even their own.

“Neither of us thought it would be quite like this,” Pickren said. “We knew we would get some opportunities. But I don't think we thought we would be so good as freshmen.”

McKnight and Pickren are former teammates The past three years they played AAU ball for Missouri Crush. In fact, Rogersville freshman phenom Chase Branham was also on the Crush.

“It's a good look for our AAU coach,” Pickren said. “We’re all having a really good freshman seasons. I'm proud of that.”

“I've been keeping tabs on (Pickren),” McKnight said. “It's cool to see somebody I know succeeding, putting up good numbers as a freshman in Class 6. Pride comes along with it. He's just as excited about our freshman seasons as I am.”

McKnight and Pickren figure to be friendly rivals over their high schools careers. They’ll face off the first time tonight, as Nixa tries to complete a fourth straight undefeated run through the COC while hosting Ozark.

The Eagles and Tigers will meet again in the opening round of Districts next week.

McKnight and Pickren have been friends since they were in the fourth grade, which of course was only five years ago.

“We became friends with when I played against him and we became even better friends when we became teammates,” Pickren said.

"We had a connection, a spark ever since we first met,” McKnight said. “Over tournaments, we became good friends. We talk quite a bit. He's fun to be around.”

McKnight added he thinks they play off of each other’s success.

“I feel like we build each other's energy up,” he said.

Even as 15-year-olds, McKnight and Pickren are far from naive. They’re quick to thank their teammates for helping them with their success. 

"They've helped me a lot with my confidence,” Pickren said. “I’ve tried to do the same with them, if they were ever struggling.”

“At the end of the day, you wouldn't be where you are without the people who have helped you get there,” McKnight said.

“You want to try to stay humble and keep our eyes forward," he added. "Ultimately, we both want to perform for our teams in the playoffs.”