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Ozark's next boys basketball coach may already be a Christian County coach


Welcome again to the wide world of speculation from this corner concerning candidates for one of Christian County’s premier coaching jobs.

We went 0-for-1 in this space a little more than a year ago with our rampant conjecture on who might be Ozark’s next football coach, although mention was given to an unknown coach from out of the area. Of course, the Tigers’ choice was Jeremy Cordell all the way from the greater Chicago area.

This time around, the strong hunch is Ozark won’t have to go nearly as far to find its next boys basketball coach.

Once again, let’s have some good-natured fun by doing guess work on who could be a good choice for Ozark (anyone making this list, please take it as a compliment):

— Deric Link, Sparta coach

This makes obvious sense, what with Link enjoying great success practically in Ozark’s back yard, not to mention the roots to Ozark already established in his family.

Link has five years head coaching experience, the last four at Sparta. Thus far, he’s 70-41 with the Trojans, taking them from 6-18 his first season to 24- and 22-win seasons the past two campaigns. 

Link led Sparta to a Class 3 District 11 championship in the 2022-2023 season. Earlier that season, the Trojans beat Ozark at the Blue & Gold Tournament.

A common response questioning Link’s candidacy is the fact he had the benefit of having Jacob Lafferty in his lineup. Just as importantly, Lafferty had the benefit of having Link as his coach. Lafferty’s development from potential star to a two-time All-State selection was on Link’s watch.

Link drew the best out of Lafferty. There have been plenty of examples on SWMO hardwoods of potential stars simply settling for pedestrian careers. It’s worth noting Link helped Lafferty mature into a savvy sort whose offensive game expanded to the perimeter.

Link has been widely recognized as one of SWMO’s rising young coaches. A 2013 Fair Grove grad who went on to play basketball at Evangel, he relates well to his players as a personable, yet strong leader.

"On a personal level, he knows how to be a friend. But when it's time to coach, he knows how to coach," Lafferty said of Link. 

Link is very much a basketball traditionalist, or “a basketball nut,” as he calls himself. Yet, he’s well-versed and well-spoken enough that he appeals to people from all walks of life.

Link’s predecessor, er former Ozark coach Mark Schweitzer, also can be characterized as “a player’s coach.” Tigers past and present were very loyal to him.

Schweitzer took note and appreciated the job Link has done at Sparta.

“I’m a big fan of what coach Link has got going on. He's a good young coach,” Schweitzer said.

Link’s wife, Jackie (Fugate), is a 2013 Ozark grad who played volleyball and basketball for the Lady Tigers. Her hoops coach was current Ozark AD Yancey Little.

Little thought so highly of Jackie while she was in high school that he was quoted as saying, “You’d want her babysitting your kid.”

Prior to Sparta, Link was at Fair Play for one season and compiled a 19-9 record. His coaching career started as an assistant at Marshfield.

He could be the second Link to be deemed an Ozark job choice in as many months. In February, Ozark named Junior High Principal Phillip Link (no relation to Deric) its Executive Director of Human Resources effective next school year.

— Brett Reed, Hartville coach

Reed has been SWMO’s best small-school coach for quite a while, having upped the number of Class 2 state championships he’s won at Hartville to four last week.

During his 13 seasons at Hartville, Reed is 326-66. In two seasons at Summersville, he was 38-15. 

Do the math and he's averaged 24 wins a season.

Over the years, Reed has led Hartville to wins against SWMO’s best big-school programs the likes of Kickapoo and Nixa and the Eagles got the best of Greenwood with Aminu Mohammed.

Reed is a Doniphan grad, but word is he is very comfortable and content at Hartville. His wife, Maggie, is a Hartville girl.

— Steve Hunter, former Ozark coach 

Upon resigning from his post as NorthArk’s head coach last July, Hunter stated, “As I close this chapter of my life, I will keep my eyes open for opportunities to accept other challenges.”

That obviously didn’t read anything like a retirement speech.

Hunter is an Ozark legend, having won 280 games and six District championships while leading the Tigers to three Final Four berths from 2000-2013.

To this day, Ozark players are well aware who Steve Hunter is.

— Jordan Hunter, NorthArk coach

The son of Steve Hunter, Jordan Hunter played at Ozark in the early 2000s and took over for his father at NorthArk. He guided the Pioneers to a 16-16 record this winter.

Under Hunter, Nixa grad Jordyn Turner flourished. Turner was primarily a stationary shooter at Nixa, but averaged 13.9 points and most impressively, 5.9 rebounds a game as a sophomore ar NorthArk this season. It will be interesting to see where Turner goes next.

— Jack Simpson, Parkview coach

A Kickapoo grad coaching at Ozark, why not?

As somewhat of a precedent, Schweitzer’s glory days at Reeds Spring saw the Wolves regularly knock off Ozark in COC play and the post-season.

Simpson has enjoyed success in his four-year coaching career. He was 24-8 in his only go-around at Springfield Catholic during the 2021-2022 season. With the allure of public-school benefits, he made the move to Parkview and has been 17-12 and 20-10 the past two seasons with the Vikings. 

Prior to Catholic, Simpson was 9-11 at Carrolton.

Simpson set a school record at Kickapoo by playing in 113 games and made quite an impression.

“The thing about Jack is he’s got as good a heart as anybody I’ve ever been around. He’s a good-hearted person, he cares about others, he’s selfless and it’s evident by how he plays and some of the things he sacrifices for his teammates,” former Kickapoo coach Dick Rippee said of Simpson to the Springfield News-Leader after his final game as a Chief.

— Ken Elfrink, Ozark girls basketball assistant

Elfrink was considered the best kept secret on SWMO’s hoops scene during his 29-year tenure at Blue Eye. He coached the Lady Bulldogs to 457 wins and three Final Four appearances.

This season saw Elfrink arrive at Ozark as an assistant to Lady Tigers coach Brandon Clift.

— Heath Carmichael, Purdy coach

Carmichael is very early into his coaching career, but as an Ozark grad might be a good candidate to coach the Tigers in the future.

Carmichael is 26-28 as the head coach at Purdy the past two seasons.

— Heath Sitton, owner HS Pure Performance

Sitton has gained a credible reputation in basketball circles for his personal training and instruction. At one time or another over the past 15 years, he’s worked with many of the elite players in Christian County during their formative years.

Sitton was an All-American at College of the Ozarks and is married to Callie (Widel), a former Lady Tigers volleyball, basketball and track standout.

— Kris Flood, outgoing Republic girls basketball coach

Flood arguably has been SWMO’s premier girls basketball coach in recent seasons, seemingly doing his best work in his 25th and final season at Republic.

Flood and Republic beat a more talented Nixa team, at least on paper, in each of their three matchups en route to a COC championship this season.

As has already been documented, Flood and Little are best friends dating back to their glory days as preps at Clever.

Flood doesn’t give the indication he’s done coaching. He may end up at a private school or do a cross-over to Arkansas.