2022-23 Winter Preview: West Plains Boys Basketball

By Jordan Burton (for OzarksSportsZone.com)

West Plains has quietly been one of the most consistent teams in the Ozark Conference despite being one of the smallest programs.

The Zizzers have been over .500 in eight of the last 11 seasons but have not won a district championship. And with three players with starting experience and a total of seven returning lettermen, this group is talented enough to compete for a district title.

West Plains won nine of its last 15 on downs last year, with five of those losses coming by 10 points or less. They will be looking to build on that finish going into this season.

“We have a lot of our guys playing football and they’ve made long playoff runs for a couple of years,” West Plains head coach Shane Benson said. “Usually it takes us a while to get into basketball shape. Last year was no different. Our football boys only had four practices before we started the season so we finally had some practice time over Christmas. We also moved Briggs Hughston up from JV in January which definitely gave us a boost. I felt our team improved throughout the season.”

While a late football final battle will once again be an obstacle, there’s no denying the physical tools are there.

Junior Briggs Houston returns after averaging 9.4 points and 3.8 rebounds as a junior. At 6-foot-5, he has one of the most imposing figures ever, weighing over 200 lbs.

“We’re counting on Briggs to be a force both defensively and offensively,” Benson said. “We lost most of our scoring and rebounding from last year. Briggs has been very close to averaging double figures and we need him to step up and consistently be our leading scorer.”

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What will make this team special is its abundance of size, especially in the senior class.

Seniors Watson Hafer and Garrett Mahan are both 6-foot-5 and have big, athletic frames. Hafer averaged 3.7 points and 3.5 rebounds. Mahan gained valuable experience playing in 12 games.

Classmates Aidan Simpson and Jesse Hudson played in 27 games each, averaging about three points. Fellow senior Blake Harris also saw varsity action last year.

“We want to be the most aggressive and physical team every night we play,” Benson said.

Benson is also excited about a pair of sophomores who should see major roles this winter.

Alex Judd and Ethan Tuma are a pair of guards who are very skilled and have had great summers. Both will see varsity reps this season.

“Alex is a really strong and smart player,” Benson said. “He has been working hard this summer and we expect big things from him. Ethan has a good skill set and gives us someone who can break his man off the dribble.”

West Plains has proven over the years that it is capable of contending with the best teams in the OC and locally in Class 5 (projected). WP beat Webb City, Sikeston, Camdenton and Glendale while giving Helias, Rolla and Bolivar a fight.

This team has championship ambitions. To get there, they will have to navigate one of the best conferences in Missouri and the challenges of having an elite football program.

All the coaching turnover in OK will be another obstacle.

“We play in one of the toughest conferences around,” Benson said. “It’s a little harder to plan when there’s a new coach, so we’re just trying to plan the personnel. I’m sure all the new coaches in this conference will do a great job. That’s one of the things that makes this conference so tough is the quality of coaches that we face every night.

“With so many of our guys playing soccer, we’re never going to catch up to the skill level of some of the teams we play. We try to compete by being tougher, tougher and playing harder than the people we play. Health is also key. We hope all our players come out of football at 100%. Probably the biggest thing is we’re going to have to have some guys step up on offense. We feel Briggs will average double figures, but we need 2 or 3 more to go up.”

West Plains will compete with Fair Grove in Norwood before the 2022-23 season opens Dec. 1 in the Republican Tournament.

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