Ozark’s looming pre-season point guard question may be answered in the same fashion that played out with spectacular results at Nixa last season.
The Tigers’ point guard could be shooting guard Hudson Roberts.
“It's kind of like the Kael Combs treatment that (Nixa coach Brock Blansit) did last year — put the ball in the hands of your best player,” Ozark coach Mark Schweitzer said. “Hudson is more than capable of handling it. We've toyed around with it.”
Roberts, who like Combs is a lefty, looked in mid-season form at the Tigers’ jamboree Tuesday against Sparta, Mansfield and Hillcrest. He scored while creating his own shot off a dribble or taking a pass and firing away.
He would welcome the chance to play the point, either on a full-time or part-time basis.
“I definitely feel I can take some point guard minutes, help run the offense and get my teammates good looks,” Roberts said. “I'm not short of confidence. I'm ready for it.
“Whoever needs to step up in that role will,” he added. “We’re all ready for it. I have full confidence in all my abilities and my teammates' abilities. I just want to do whatever it takes to win.”
Other possibilities at point guard are Phin Scott, Jack Berryman, Manny Stover and 6-foot-4 swingman Jake Garner.
“We've got confidence in Phin running some point guard for us," Schweitzer said. “Phin does a good job of pushing it. We need to get Hudson to understand he's got to push it by throwing (the ball) ahead and then getting it back. We've got to get him passing it ahead to start our break. I don't like walking it up. I never have."
Roberts averaged a team-high 16.1 points a game as a sophomore last season. If the jamboree is any indication, he’s on pace to match that figure and then some.
“I feel good to go and ready for a big season," Roberts said. "I've added some more strength. The ball won't get poked away from me easily any more. My mid-range game has improved, as has my finishing around the rim. All off-season and summer, I got shots up, trying to stay as ready as possible for the season. I feel like anything I put up is going to go in.”
“He's very determined,” Schweitzer said. “I’m very excited to see what he can do. We're looking for him to continue moving forward. He's getting more athletic and above the rim. He needs to understand he doesn't have to do it alone and we need to understand we need to get him shots, that's a good shot for our team.”
Roberts spent time over the summer training under former Missouri State guard Will Fontleroy.
“Anything new you see is because of him,” Roberts said.
Whatley in comeback mode
Center Jace Whatley, who averaged 13.5 points and 6.9 rebounds a game last season, was back in action at the jamboree for the first time since injuring his right knee during Week One of Ozark’s football season.
Whatley, who suffered a partially torn medial collateral ligament (MCL), is in his third go-around patrolling the paint for the Tigers. But admittedly he doesn’t feel like his old self, yet.
“I loved it,” he said of competing again. “I only went half speed. Cutting back and forth on (the knee) has me kind of nervous. But I'm getting used to it.”
Whatley is sporting a brace to protect the knee and wore a sleeve over the brace. He relates it’s a bit cumbersome.
“It rubbed a lot, that kind of hurt,” Whatley said. “It weighed me down a little bit.”
Whatley’s idle time encompassing all of September and October left him vulnerable to the pre-season conditioning he’s endured the past two weeks.
“The first week was rough and even the second week,” he said. “Oh my gosh, it was awful. I'm getting back into it. We have five-minute and 10-minute drills that get me dead tired. I'll be over a trash can sometimes.”
Whatley’s conditioning, particularly for a center, has always been a strength. The 6-5, 195-pounder been able to play extended minutes. But that won’t be the case in the early going this season.
“He's probably not going to like it, in fact I know he's going to hate it, but we'll probably limit his minutes at the start of the season, just to ease him back into it,” Schweitzer said. “We’ve got to get him to where he's trusting his knee. I ask him constantly if it's hurting him or bothering him and he keeps telling me no.
“The trust is growing in it each time out,” he added. “He’s looking more spry. We need Jace manning the paint like he's done the last two years. He's a huge part of what we want to do.”
In light of the injury, Schweitzer feels Whatley will be more motivated than ever.
“He's playing on bonus time,” Schweitzer said. “It kind of flashed in front of his eyes whether or not he could play. His senior basketball season was nearly over before it could get started. He understands that and is ready to go to work."
Schweitzer seeking more defensive pressure
Schweitzer took note of Ozark’s offensive struggles against Hillcrest.
“Hillcrest's physicality was a little bit of a shocker to us," he said. "We haven't guarded each other in practice that hard. We’ve got to do a better job of bringing it against each other in practice."
Playing time up for grabs
Schweitzer is stressing to his players he’s far from set on any sort of rotation. The Tigers include four seniors, eight juniors and two freshmen.
“We have 14 kids and I could play any of the 14," he said. “Our depth is real. Our intra-squad scrimmages are going to decide a lot. They're going to play hard because they’re going to have to.”
Ozark debuts in two weeks
Ozark’s schedule has a Kansas City flavor to it.
The Tigers will open opposite Park Hill South in the first round of the Republic Tournament Dec. 1-3. The Panthers were 16-11 last season. Two years ago, Ozark beat Park Hill South 49-45.
The Tigers will also take part in the Blue Springs Tournament and Shawnee Mission West (Kansas) Tournament, along with the Blue & Gold Tournament.
Ozark has one home game in the 2023 portion of its schedule.
The Ozark-Nixa contest has traditionally occurred in mid-January, but has been pushed back to their regular-season finale Feb. 23, making for a possible COC title tilt showdown. Assuming the Tigers and Eagles are paired in the same District, that matchup conceivably could also decide a No. 1 seed, if the seeds aren’t already voted on by then.