The 19th Annual Nixa Shootouts this month have served as the unofficial tip-off to Kael Combs’ career with the Eagles. He recorded his first dunk as part of Nixa’s varsity in action this week.
The next four seasons are what Combs has dreamed of going back to when he was in kindergarten and watching his older brother, Jalen Norman, star at Nixa.
“I’ve been coming to Nixa games since his freshman year,” Combs said. “I’m trying to fill his legacy. He set a lot of records. It would be cool if I break them. If I don’t, I’ll enjoy playing for the team.
“I’m going to enjoy the experience and ride it out.”
Indeed, it promises to be an enjoyable ride. Combs, a 6-foot-2 swingman, is already establishing his place in coach Jay Osborne’s rotation, playing regularly with starters from last season’s team during the Shootouts.
“The first week, we had him with our freshman team,” Osborne said. “We moved him up after a week of watching him play. He’s had an impact on our games.”
Combs isn’t overwhelmed by playing with and against older players. He’s used to it by ‘playing up’ in AAU ball. He grew acquainted with the Eagles’ upperclassmen the past two years while tagging along with his other brother, Braeden Combs, another former Nixa player.
“I’ve known them since I started junior high,” Kael said. “They are already cool with me. We’ll build more chemistry as the season goes on.
“This season is going to be a cool experience, playing with the older guys,” he added. “They’re going to teach me a lot. ‘Playing up’ helps with my competitiveness. It’s going to get me stronger and faster.”
Norman, who graduated in 2012 as Nixa’s single-season and career record-holder in blocked shots and rebounds, lives locally and has helped in Combs’ progression.
"He teaches me a lot,” Combs said. “He’s taught me about not giving up opportunities and moving without the ball. Playing up on the varsity, I think, will definitely help me with moving without the ball.”
Kael knows what to expect from Osborne, who also coached Jalen and Braeden.
“He’s chill. But if you do something wrong, he’s definitely going to get on you about it,” Kael said.
Combs is part of a much-heralded and very successful incoming freshman class. They were COC champs and undefeated as seventh- and eighth-graders.
“We have a lot of good athletes,” Combs said. “We’re tall for our age and also fast. We were an uptempo team last year. We were in transition a lot.”
Another freshman, Noah Engelman, is also playing with Nixa’s varsity during the Shootouts. He’s the younger brother of Isaiah Engelman, who played for the Eagles the past four seasons.
“Noah has been playing with our second group. He has some skill and a motor,” Osborne said. “That’s two things we like. He’s going to have a nice career here.
“The freshmen are going to make some waves before it’s all said and done," he added. "We’re going to play our best players. I could care less how old they are.”
Expectations should be be high at Nixa, after two subpar seasons by the Eagles’ standards. Osborne figures to have a nice mix of veterans and youth. He’s liking how things are coming together.
“Our first week (at the Shootouts) was rough. But the past few weeks have been good,” Osborne said. “I like our unselfishness and our effort is good. We’ve got guys shooting the ball really well. More importantly, our unselfishness is what I’m pleased with. We’re making the extra pass to try to get teammates involved.
“We’re also trying to get our kids more active on defense and get more deflections by using their hands. We’re seeing improvement in that, as well.”