Jake Lafferty is looking every bit the part of the premier player in SWMO, thanks to an assist from a former player who could lay claim to the same title more than 20 years ago.
Name it and Lafferty did it in Sparta’s jamboree matchups with host Ozark, Mansfield and Hillcrest on Tuesday. The 6-foot-5 senior frontline star extended his game to the perimeter.
Lafferty credits tutelage from 1998 Seymour grad and former Missouri State and College of the Ozarks player Josh Hume for elevating his play around and away from the basket.
“This whole summer, I worked out with him,” Lafferty said. “When we started working out, we started slow. But toward the end of the summer, we hit it hard. He’s been getting me right. We work a lot on off-balance shooting and deeper shots. Shooting a 3 for me now is like a mid-range shot. I'm going to let ‘em fly. I’ve got a mini(-game) now, a 3-point shot now and I can go to the rim still. He's added a whole lot more things for my bag to help us go the Final Four.”
Hume had 2,786 career points as a prep. He previously coached at Bradleyville and is now doing personal training and is founder of the Missouri Tribe, a ministry-based basketball group of players and coaches.
“Josh is a phenomenal guy. He was a great player and is even a better person,” Sparta coach Deric Link said. “He has been tremendous for small-school kids around southwest Missouri.”
Lafferty ended the night Tuesday with a thunderous one-handed dunk against Hillcrest in which he didn’t even go toward the basket with his usual gusto.
He reports strength shoes that Hume introduced him to have him jumping even higher.
“He's helped me with my bounce with strength shoes,” Lafferty said, “They take away your upper (leg muscles) and works on your lower (leg muscles). That’s helped me go up stronger. I’m able to throw it down so much easier.”
Lafferty's teammates can offer endorsements how his game has upgraded.
“Dude is ridiculous,” guard Walker Loveland said. “I’ve been telling everybody if you thought Jake was good last year, wait until you see him this year. In practices, we split up black and white and tally our wins and losses. If you're on Jake's team, you're almost guaranteed to win. There's not much the rest of us can do. Even if we big-body him, he'll step out to the 3-point line and rain down 3s."
Hume’s influence on Lafferty also could be notable at the free-throw line. Lafferty attempted 194 free throws last season.
Hume is second in state history with 923 career free-throw attempts. The record-holder is Popular Bluff grad and former North Carolina All-American Tyler Hansbrough, who shot 958 freebies.
The single-season state record for free throws is 372 and has stood for 51 years.
“As long as Jake doesn't settle, he could shoot a record-setting amount of free throws,” Link said.
Loveland playing with pain again
An injury to Loveland’s right hand that happened in the middle of Sparta’s playoff run last season is still proving to be a nuisance to him.
Loveland hurt his hand during a practice on the eve of Sparta’s District semifinal win against Greenwood. Fearing he might not be cleared to play, he didn’t get the hand looked at by a doctor and was still able to handle the Trojans’ playmaking duties.
“We got it checked out once baseball season ended (in May),” Loveland said. “(Doctors) said I stretched the flexor tendon, which is why the pain was going up to my forearm. They said that more than likely it broke, that when you stretch that tendon, nine out of 10 times you break the bone next to the knuckle or the knuckle.
“It's still bothering me now,” he added. “But I'm used to it at this point. They said it would take 6-8 months (to heal), so I've still got a month or so before it will be 100 percent. I don't take care of myself terribly well. I've been lifting like nothing is wrong.”
Link is confident the injury won’t hinder Loveland.
“Walker's hand is getting a lot better,” he said. “From time to time, it gets hit the right way and it bothers him a little bit. But he shakes it off and is fine.”
Link likes what he sees fropm Trojans
Link was pleased how Class 3 Sparta fared in the jamboree against Class 6 Ozark, Class 5 Hillcrest and fellow Summit Conference member Mansfield.
“I loved the way our kids competed,” he said. “All the foul calls we got, I loved. Our kids weren't shying away from physicality. I was also proud of our bench and the energy they provided.”
Trojans open in two weeks
Sparta will open its season Nov. 27-Dec. 2 as defending champs at the Strafford Tournament and will debut at home Dec. 5. versus Purdy.
The Trojans will again take part in the Blue & Gold Tournament and host their own Sparta Invitational. New to their schedule is a trip to the Twelve Courts of Christmas at Hy-Vee Arena in Kansas City Dec. 20-21.