The Neosho Wildcats graduated five key players from their first winning team in several years, but do return several players, including two vital contributors, for head coach Tony Branscum’s second season on the sideline.

“Our goals are related to being the best version of ourselves,” Branscum said. “To reach that goal we must value the basketball, clear boards at a high rate, and play great individual/team defense. If we do those things, we will have met our goals and provided the community with a quality brand of basketball to watch.

“As usual, the COC (Central Ozark Conference Large) is very strong. There are quality teams with good players in every matchup. We can compete with every team in the conference. Only really good teams compete to win the COC. If we want to be in that race at the end of the season, we will need to meet the previously mentioned goals of taking care of the ball, rebounding, and locking down on D. We can do that, but it is going to take consistent effort every single possession of the season. Our district is the same story. We hope to be playing our best ball down the stretch. If we are doing that, we can compete with anyone in our district.”

Neosho’s graduated players include point guard Coleman Scott, shooting guard Connor Johnson, and guards-forwards Bryan Banks, Bryce Murphy, and Ethan Siler. Scott and Johnson each averaged double figures in points, Murphy led the team in rebounding, and both Banks and Siler were versatile players who contributed inside and outside for the 14-13 Wildcats.

Starting guard Brady Wise returns for his senior season after emerging during his junior season — especially during Banks’ absence after his injury during the Neosho Holiday Classic — both offensively and defensively. Wise averaged 7.1 points and 1.3 steals, plus three rebounds and two assists, per game with a career-high 22 points scored against East Newton. Wise put together eight double-digit point nights.

“Brady played well last year on both ends of the floor,” Branscum said. “He hit his stride when he committed to being a defensive stopper for our team. I expect Brady to be a difference maker on both ends of the floor for us this season.”

Senior forward Luke Kibler averaged six points and 3.6 rebounds during his junior season, and he will be counted on for a strong presence inside when the Wildcats play some of the taller, longer, and stronger teams in the COC Large. Kibler does have the ability to step outside and knock down the 3-point shot, as he made 16 threes last season.

“Luke is capable of having a strong season,” Branscum said. “He played well for us last year in his 12-13 minutes per game. He is in line for more time this year. If he performs the same rate with increased minutes, he will have put together an impressive season. Luke does do the little things well, but he has an increased role this season. He has been pursuing this role for a long time. He is going to be a big part of what we do.”

Senior guard Yeej Lee played in 23 games last season and netted a season-high six points in a 58-47 loss to Van Buren (Arkansas) in the Holiday Classic.

New point guard Kaden King, Derek Ferguson, Cade Cradduck, and A.C. Marion all picked up valuable experience last season both on the court and then just being around a veteran team who experienced success. King, Ferguson, Cradduck, and Marion were all sophomores last season.

“A number of guys saw minutes last season,” Branscum said. “Like he was last season, Yeej Lee will be a solid contributor this season. He brings energy and quickness to the game. He was big in the Branson and Webb City games last season.

“Kaden King will be the starting point guard. He has been solid at every level for our program. He is steady and has a nice skill set. He is a true point and will have a huge impact on our team’s play.

“Cade Cradduck played some key minutes for us near the end of last season. He is going to find plenty of time to influence the game. He will play as a post and wing. When his energy level is high, he is a really good player. He has worked hard on his individual skills and will benefit from that work.

“A.C. Marion will be a key player this year as well. He has a nose for the ball and plays with intensity. A.C. is always good for a couple of buckets. I look forward to seeing A.C. on the floor this season.”

New addition Cole Seward played in 26 games for the Diamond Wildcats last season and averaged 7.7 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.6 steals as a sophomore.

“Seward moved in this summer,” Branscum said. “He will bring quickness and offensive creativity to the team. He has great vision and finds open guys. If he will commit to bring a tremendous defender, he will have a super season.”

Branscum also mentioned a couple other contributors for the season.

“Sam Cook and Sean Moran are both posts that will see varsity time,” Branscum said. “Cook, a sophomore, brings rim protection and rebounding to the team. Moran, a junior, brings defensive stability to the club.”

Neosho opens its season after Thanksgiving with the start of the Carthage Invitational and the Wildcats’ tournament schedule this season includes the Battle at the Ridge (December 7-9) and the Neosho Holiday Classic (December 27-30), as the Wildcats have traded Pea Ridge for Pittsburg.
The Battle at the Ridge hosted by Pea Ridge (Arkansas) is an addition to the schedule. Pea Ridge earned Arkansas Class 4A runner-up last season.

Nov. 27-Dec. 2 — Carthage Tournament
Dec. 4 — at Cassville
Dec. 5 — vs. Monett
Dec. 7-9 — Battle at the Ridge Tournament
Dec. 15 — at Seneca
Dec. 16 — at Lamar
Dec. 27-30 — Neosho Holiday Classic
Jan. 2 — vs. East Newton
Jan. 9 — vs. Webb City
Jan. 12 — at St. Mary’s Colgan
Jan. 15 — at Joplin
Jan. 26 — at McDonald County
Jan. 30 — at Republic
Feb. 2 — vs. Branson
Feb. 6 — vs. Carthage
Feb. 9 — vs. Willard
Feb. 16 — at Ozark
Feb. 20 — at Carl Junction
Feb. 22 — at Nixa