WEST PLAINS, Mo. – Chris Popp has a lot to be excited about this season. The second-year head coach of the Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzly Basketball team returns four players from last year’s squad, including three starters.
“When three-fifths of your starters are back, that’s big for a program,” he said. “There are ways players can lead a team that coaches never can. With returners, there is a certain level of respect. They come back knowing what you want and what’s important. It’s not necessarily the vocal leadership, it’s telling guys when and where they need to be, what they need to do, how we approach things, what I as a head coach expect. There are things I don’t have to say that get done. It’s priceless.”
The three returning starters include Ricky Torres, a 6-foot, 3-inch point guard from Pinellas Park, Florida; Radshad Davis, a 6-foot, 4-inch guard from Nassau, Bahamas; and Yannis Mendy, a 6-foot, 7-inch forward from Metting, France. These three have been chosen by their teammates as team captains this season, Popp said, adding, “that shows a certain level of respect.” Also returning is 6-foot, 1-inch guard Terrell Whitaker, also of Pinellas Park, Florida.
“We have a good core coming back,” Popp said. “The most important position on the court is the point guard position, so it’s huge to have Ricky back. He had a number of offers last year, but he chose to come back. He takes pride in being a Grizzly and embodies what we want from our players. He represents us the right way throughout the school and community, and he’s a great player for us on the court, as well.”
Having a healthy Davis back in the line-up also is a big plus, the coach said of the returning redshirt freshman. “Last year, injuries sidelined him after just five games, so the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) approved his redshirt status for this year,” Popp explained. “Losing Radshad last year was a huge blow. He scored 21 points and had five rebounds at Iowa Western Community College with six minutes to play in that game and with us in the lead. It was a turning point in that game and, as we look back, in some ways for our season, as well. He’s a crucial part of what we’re trying to do.”
Popp also expects a lot from fellow returners Mendy and Whitaker. “Yannis had his opportunity (as a starter) right before Christmas last season. He took advantage and continued to get better as the year progressed. He takes a professional approach, is very coachable and works to get better every day. I am excited about what he looks like going into the season,” Popp added. “Terrell had a great summer and will push for significant time on the court this year. He brings a lot to the table every day with his toughness.”
Newcomers include sophomore transfer Leo Kontonpoulos, a 6-foot, 9-inch forward from Frankfurt, Germany, who played for nationally-ranked Southern Methodist University last season; and freshmen Johde Campbell, a 5-foot, 11-inch point guard from Leicester, England; Kenyon Stone, a 6-foot, 5-inch guard from Bowie, Maryland; Niekie Thomas, a 6-foot, 2-inch guard from Springfield; Eric Lovett, a 6-foot, 5-inch guard from Union City, Georgia; Evan White, a 6-foot, 1-inch guard from Florissant; Mykyta Druganochok, a 6-foot, 6-inch guard from Odessa, Ukraine; Montell Stewart, a 6-foot, 2-inch guard from Palm Bay, Florida; Burone Edwards, a 6-foot, 6-inch guard/forward from San Antonio, Texas; Dontell Brown, a 6-foot, 7-inch forward from Lexington, Kentucky; Greyson Smallwood, a 6-foot, 11-inch forward from Portland, Oregon; Erik Nvagbara, a 6-foot, 1-inch guard from Kharkiv, Ukraine; and Derrick Roberson, a 6-foot, 1-inch redshirt freshman guard from Springfield.
“We’ll be big again this year on the perimeter, and we’ve gotten quite a bit bigger and deeper inside,” Popp said. “Other than Johde, we’re 6-3 at the point and 6-4, 6-5, 6-6 at the wings, which I like. I think we’re more athletic, overall, and faster, which, with the way we want to play, is a great thing. No matter what our personnel is, we’re going to play fast and we’re going to play aggressive.”
As in years past, the Grizzlies will have their hands full with their slate of opponents. “Not only do we have our region opponents, three of whom were in the top 25 and two who reached the top 10 last season, we also will face perennial power Indian Hills Community College, Iowa Western Community College, Southwest Tennessee Community College, Neosho County Community College, Southeastern Illinois College and Motlow State College, and we’ve added Pratt Community College and two games with Arkansas Baptist College,” Popp said.
“We definitely have our work cut out for us. It’s an extremely challenging schedule, for sure. We kick it off right away with Southeastern Illinois and Pratt in our Grizzly Tipoff Classic Nov. 3-4,” the coach added. “It’s risky, this type of schedule. It gives you an opportunity to play the best, grow and be your best. It can also beat you down if things don’t go well. The goal is to face every challenge head on and continue to grow throughout the season. That’s what great teams do. We’ll be tested early. That’s one reason it is so important to have returners like Ricky, Yannis and Radshad back.”
For more information about the Grizzly Basketball program, visit the team’s website or call 417-255-7991.
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