By MATT KING
The final chapter in an electrifying high school basketball career for Jobe Bryant looms on the horizon, and the Central boys are planning to make it memorable.
A celebrated 2024 class still has football to play before turning its attention to chasing another deep run in the Class 4 state tournament.
The Rebels capped a sensational 28-4 campaign with a state runner-up result through a core rotation of seven players. Only historic powerhouse Vashon blocked their title pursuit.
Bryant is likely to surpass 2,000 career points in December before trying to overtake Kansas City Royals pitcher Dylan Coleman and former North County standout Hayden Sprenkel on the all-time MAAA list.
Three more experienced seniors are back to share the ride, as Central hopes to hold off challengers Potosi, Ste. Genevieve and Farmington within conference play.
West County defends its Small-School crown as Kingston hopes to capture its first, and Bismarck eyes significant improvement with four returning starters.
Several prominent stars have moved on from their respective schools. Ste. Genevieve, Fredericktown and St. Paul graduated their career scoring leaders over the summer.
2022-23 Record: 28-4 (5-0)
Head Coach: Brad Gross (4th season)
Key Returners: Jobe Bryant, sr., G; Caden Casey, sr., G; Kannon Harlow, sr., G; Zack Boyd, sr., F
The Rebels may not feature comparable depth that propelled team to the final four, but they remain the standard bearer of the MAAA until someone bumps them off.
Jobe Bryant has built several years of chemistry on the court as a superb passer with fellow seniors Caden Casey, Kannon Harlow and Zack Boyd.
A new fifth starter will carry implied responsibility to drain open shots as his established teammates draw necessary double and triple teams.
Boyd will likely gain minutes after previously sharing time at forward with Triston Stewart and Kendall Horton, who currently plays at Fontbonne. All-state selection and Mineral Area guard Mason Williams also leaves a glaring vacancy.
2022-23 Record: 20-7 (2-3)
Head Coach: Jackson Conaway (5th season)
Key Returners: Carter Whitley, jr., G; Gabe Brawley, sr., G; J.T. Cross, sr., F; Conner Gibson, sr., G; Ezekiel Sisk, sr., C
While Central is justifiably lauded for its stellar guard play, the same adulation can certainly be given to Potosi, which battled the Rebels deep into the fourth quarter at home last January.
Carter Whitley has solidified himself among the elite players in the area with an ability to score from any spot on the court. The junior is poised to breeze past 1,000 career points this season.
Gabe Brawley has also provided a steady offensive presence for the Trojans with his quick release, and likewise enters his third season as a varsity starter.
J.T. Cross provides an athletic and strong forward, and cross country star Ezekiel Sisk presents a rim protector with his 6-foot-8 frame.
2022-23 Record: 10-17 (1-4)
Head Coach: Garrett Callahan (3rd season)
Key Returners: Cannon Roth, jr. F; Logan Schaupert, jr. G; Cooper Tripp, soph. F; Tatem Tinsley, soph., G; Sam Woodson, sr., F; Max LaMonds, sr., G
Garrett Callahan made a bold move as a young head coach in the face of some criticism last season, and hopes that his program will benefit going forward.
The Knights opened with a 2-7 record, and sank within the conference standings. But that process enabled a promising group of freshmen and sophomores to learn and improve.
Versatile forward Cannon Roth and junior guard Logan Schaupert have emerged as seasoned players and primary scoring options, either off the dribble or spotting up.
Cooper Tripp and Tatem Tinsley increased their playing time and confidence against older opponents. Seniors Sam Woodson and Max LeMonds offer solid corner shooters for Farmington.
STE. GENEVIEVE Dragons
2022-23 Record: 19-8 (4-1)
Head Coach: Rob Coleman (17th season)
Key Returners: Devin Flye, jr., F; Tucker Reed, sr., F; Alex Basler, soph., G; Carson Kreilich, sr., G; Paul Taylor, soph., F
Ste. Genevieve has been a model of stability under longtime coach Rob Coleman with tough man-to-man defense fueling its success.
The Dragons were only topped by Central in last year’s conference tournament, and produced their second consecutive 19-win season.
But the excitement will come from a few different sources this winter. All-time leading scorer Ricky Hunter has graduated along with four-year starter and double-double threat Aiden Boyer.
Alex Basler starred as a freshman guard, and will look to dish passes to forward Tucker Reed and speedy guard Devin Flye. Sophomore Paul Taylor looks to follow superb track and football seasons.
WEST COUNTY Bulldogs
2022-23 Record: 16-12 (5-0)
Head Coach: Chris LaBruyere (13th season)
Key Returners: Levi Hale, jr., F; Jaxon Campbell, jr., G; Lance Monroe, sr., G; Carter Reed, sr., G
Despite dealing with significant injuries and personnel changes, West County achieved a new pinnacle for the boys program last March by reaching its first Class 3 state quarterfinal.
The Bulldogs will try to repeat as MAAA Small-School division champions with two returning starters after point guard Ty Harlow transferred to South Iron.
Levi Hale fulfilled numerous roles last season, from providing height in the low post to handling the ball between the circles. Jaxon Campbell can drive and knock down jumpers from the wing.
Carter Reed and fellow senior Lance Monroe also return. Garrisson Turner and Nolan Rawson have decided to rejoin the program, adding instant depth and scoring options.
2022-23 Record: 15-11 (3-2)
Head Coach: Paul Hamilton (16th season)
Key Returners: Cody Yates, sr., G; Mason Nelson, sr., F; Brendan Yates, sr., G; Ayden Piel, sr., G
If Potosi does not ultimately lead the MAAA in dunks this season, that designation may belong to Washington County neighbor Kingston.
Cody Yates helped the Cougars capture an elusive district title as a sophomore, and last season, became their first all-state honoree and career scoring leader as a junior.
The MAAA Small-School division crown has so far eluded Kingston, but the explosive Yates and skilled forward Mason Nelson keep their squad as a legitimate contender.
The key to consistency may revolve around scoring balance from returning guards Brendan Yates and Ayden Piel. The bench will consist of varsity newcomers.
NORTH COUNTY Raiders
2022-23 Record: 11-15 (2-3)
Head Coach: Lance Sprenkel (1st season)
Key Returners: Zane Huff, sr., G; Lucas Richardson, sr., F; Landon Carroll, soph., G
The surest thing amid many unknowns about North County boys basketball this season could center more around the head coach than the roster.
Lance Sprenkel has taken over the reins following a one-year, second stint at Bismarck, and has led multiple local programs to district titles behind relentless defensive intensity
Graduation has taken away the entire starting lineup plus key reserves, and top bench player Drew Johnson has transferred to join father and former Raiders coach Dan Johnson in Festus.
Senior guard Zane Huff brings back the most varsity experience. Forward Lucas Richardson and guard Landon Carroll picked up valuable minutes last season.
VALLE CATHOLIC Warriors
2022-23 Record: 16-11 (4-1)
Head Coach: Tyler Search (7th season)
Key Returners: Tyler Gegg, jr., G; Josh Fallert, jr., G; Andrew Basler, jr., G; Kellen Tucker, jr., G
Having lost multiple shot blockers and athletic post players to graduation, the focus for Valle Catholic may turn to athletic pressure defense and long-range consistency.
The Warriors are still competing in the Class 2 state football playoffs, and may not have their full roster available until early December.
They already know that the starting five will change completely. Valle Catholic has gone from touting a superb group of seniors to having no 12th-grade athletes on the roster.
Tyler Gegg performed well last season as an energetic reserve, and will be a prominent part of the mix along with quick guard Josh Fallert.
2022-23 Record: 10-14 (0-4)
Head Coach: Brett Hale (1st season)
Key Returners: Sven Wilson, sr., F; Garrett Mork, sr., G; Daven Miller, sr., G; Jordan Ketcherside, sr., G; Levi Sheckles, sr., Jesse Mack, sr., F
Ten years after making a brief coaching stop at Bismarck, Brett Hale returns to lead the Indians with a solid collection of talent hoping to improve on a winless conference season.
Sven Wilson was a breakout player in the paint with a baseline jumper among his arsenal, and posted healthy double-doubles with regularity.
Garrett Mork, Daven Miller and Jordan Ketcherside have already seen multiple full seasons of varsity action, and give Bismarck an array of perimeter threats.
Depth could become a main concern for a team that will likely defend beyond midcourt when able in hopes of creating easier points off turnovers.
ARCADIA VALLEY Tigers
2022-23 Record: 7-15 (1-3)
Head Coach: David Prater (2nd season)
Key Returners: Gavan Douglas, sr., G; Gage Douglas, sr., G; Nolan Inman, sr., F; Dillon Mueller, sr., G; Atreyu McCallister, jr., F
Arcadia Valley was forced into a different offensive approach when key scorer, interior defender and rebounder Jackson Dement suffered a season-ending knee injury last January.
More perimeter oriented as a result, the transition was eased by 3-pointers from Gavan Douglas and Gage Douglas, who now enter their senior campaign.
Dillon Mueller provides another shooting option with experience as AV players and head coach David Prater look to start an upward surge after pocketing just seven wins.
Senior forwards Nolan Inman and Atreyu McCallister will be asked to scrap for rebounds and second chances with active hands in the post.
2022-23 Record: 12-16 (1-4)
Head Coach: Joaby Sikes (7th season)
Key Returners: Zander Stephens, sr., G: LeeAndrea Catchings, jr., F; Timothy DeSanto, sr., F; Blake Terry-Breakfield, soph., G;
Fredericktown fielded its most dynamic and competitive squad in a decade last winter, yet still finished four games below the .500 mark overall.
The Blackcats usually staked their offensive success on career scoring leader Andrew Starkey, who always had the green light and scored about half of team’s total points.
A majority of that workload may shift this season to Zander Stephens. The senior guard stretched opposing defenses with his ability to connect from the deep corners.
LeeAndrea Catchings cracked the starting lineup with an emphasis on rebounding and post defense, but most other help for the Blackcats will be inexperienced in comparison.
2022-23 Record: 12-14 (1-4)
Head Coach: Jacob Bollinger (2nd season)
Key Returners: Kaiden Dickey, jr. G; K.J. Tiefenauer, sr., F; Drew McClain, jr., F; Chayse DeClue, jr., F; Ayden Sims, jr., G; Westin Thompson, jr., F
Several key players for Valley broke into the varsity rotation last year, and filled complementary roles around perennial all-conference offensive threat Colby Maxwell.
Three returning starters now move to the forefront for a squad that should have solid balance. Junior guard Kaiden Dickey can be a disruptive defender while possessing a quick first step to the basket.
K.J. Tiefenauer is a physical presence inside, while fellow forwards Chayse DeClue, Drew McClain and Westin Thompson have solid shooting range. Ayden Sims will bolster the guard play.
After posting single-digit victories for six consecutive years between 2010-15, the Vikings are looking to surpass 10 for the fourth straight season.
ST. PAUL Giants
2022-23 Record: 8-20
Head Coach: Justin Ford (6th season)
Key Returners: William Folk, jr., F; Christian Folk, soph., G
The Giants were carried by senior leadership and creative guards last season. Their look this winter is described by head coach Justin Ford as “distinctly different.”
Post player and key rebounder Will Folk is the lone returning starter for St. Paul, while Christian Folk brings some experience from a reserve role.
Crucial ball-handling and shooting responsibilities are inherited by the capable hands of freshmen guards Jonah Montgomery and Jayme McGee.
With no seniors on the roster, Ford will lead the youngest group of his six-year tenure. St. Paul hopes to sufficiently replace most of the production left behind by top scorer DeVontae Minor.