WILLARD — Lane Meltabarger probably summed up best what Nixa coaches, players and fans were projecting from the Eagles’ post players in their season-opener Wednesday.
“I wasn't expecting much,” Meltabarger said.
Indeed, the prevailing presumption was all three of Nixa’s centers would be slow starters. Each of them are also football players and thus have only a little more than week of practices on the hardwood.
But the trio appears to be making a smooth transition, after they combined for 37 points in Nixa’s 73-43 triumph against Bolivar at the Willlard Tournament.
Meltabarger scored a team-high 15 points, while Jackson Cantwell contributed a dozen points and Adam McKnight added 10 in his varsity debut.
They were relieved to be able to check in and check out for each other while playing several minutes at a time.
“The football kids were getting a little tired,” coach Brock Blansit said. “But they weren't as out of shape because we rotated them in and out so much.”
“In basketball, you're constantly running. It gets you more tired than football,” said Meltabarger, a tight end on the gridiron. “In football, you go as hard as you can for seven seconds and then re-set every down.”
“There's so much running involved in basketball that I don't really do from left tackle,” added Cantwell. “We don't really pull our tackles much, so I'm not running a whole lot in football. It's more stationary pushing. Blansit has us running a lot. The conditioning is tough. But I think I'm getting adjusted. I've got to take whatever minutes I can get and get my conditioning up. I hope I can get better and be on the floor more.”
The Willard Tournament actually picked up where it left off, beings how Nixa and Bolivar played for the tourney championship last season. The teams’ rematch was a blowout, with the Liberators no longer having the presence in the paint they did in the past.
Cantwell and his cohorts were able to have their way around the basket. The 6-foot-7 sophomore had a dunk in the first half.
“I don't know exactly what my vertical is sitting at these days, but I think that one was pretty good,” Cantwell said of his dunk.
He nearly had a second dunk in the second half, but settled for a lay-in.
“I mishandled the ball a little bit and didn't want to chance it. So, I just went up and finished,” Cantwell said. “I figured I might as well take the points while they’re there.”
Cantwell is the only center who previously had significant playing time. He totaled 25 points and 37 rebounds in 19 games last season.
But he wasn’t sure what kind of role he would fill Wednesday.
“I was a little nervous tonight. I didn't know how much they were going to play us,” he said. “We had a lot of questions about rotation going in. I was happy to be out there and get a chance to post up and try to deliver.”
Meltabagrer had two varsity points last season.
“You always have nerves. But after the first shot goes in, you're feeling good,” he said. “This gives me a little more confidence.”
Keivon Flint also reached double-figure scoring by netting 11 points.
Nixa moves on to the semifinal round Friday and will meet the winner of tonight’s Glendale-Harrison matchup.