By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Nathan Morris has been on the sidelines at Carthage for a full decade and his first three as head coach have been fruitful, with the Tigers coming off an 18-win season; the program’s highest total since 2012.
“We’ve been getting better each year, despite going from 13 wins to 7 in my 2nd year,” said Morris. “We were closing the gap in games that used to spiral to 20 point losses and slowly became 1-2 possession games. Last year, we won those games and had an amazing start to the season winning 9 of our first 10 games. Our leaders were guys that live in the gym and it pushed others to get on board.”
Morris and the Tigers return boast arguably the best backcourt in the COC in senior Max Templeman and junior Justin Ray.
Templeman was an All-COC pick, averaging 15.8 points and 3.5 assists, also earning All-District and All-Area honors. He enters his senior year less than 200 points away from 1,000 for his career.
“Max will be one of the best point guards in SWMO this year,” said Morris. “He has really made an effort to improve upon his outside shooting to round out his game. He now is a great scorer at all three levels and his ability to finish at the rim continues to be extremely impressive at his size. Max was already a pretty strong kid in the weight room but he has continued to make that a priority. I feel like Max turned down opportunities to shoot from outside last year when he was more than capable. I think that will be an added facet to his game for his senior year.”
Ray started as a freshman and sophomore, quickly earning a reputation as one of the Ozarks best shooters. He’s scored nearly 500 points and knocked down 88 3’s through his first two seasons.
“Justin will take on more roles outside of being a solid scorer and ball handler,” said Morris. “He really made it an emphasis this summer to take on a bigger rounding role and being a versatile defender. His athleticism and strength has finally caught up to his skill level and I think he is poised to have a big year.”
Also back in the mix are seniors Clay Kinder and Britt Coy.
Kinder – also a football and baseball standout – brings physicality and athleticism while Coy – a golf standout – is another high-level shooter. Kinder averaged 8.7 points and 3.2 rebounds as a starter.
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“Clay has grown more and really hit the weight room,” said Morris. “He is a huge piece for us this year having to help out in the post. His skill set as a shooter/driver will really put teams in a tough spot with their choice of defenders.
“Britt played a ton of big minutes for us last year and will help replace Joel Pugh’s productivity. He is a smooth shooter, a tenacious rebounder, and plays with an edge.”
The Tigers will also count on newcomers including sophomore guard Trenton Yates and classmate Kruz Castor who will play in the post.
Without question they’ll be one of the smallest teams in the COC, but one of the best shooting teams as well. If Carthage is to win its first district championship since 2015, it’ll come on the strength of being one of the most difficult to contain teams in the area.
“I don’t think we are going to hit major growth spurts before November 29th so we will have to continue to get stronger, play extremely hard, and be willing to improve upon our skill level,” said Morris. “We won 18 games last year but still landed in the middle of the COC. The kids have bought into the idea of “closing the gap” and forcing our way to the top portion of the league. We are in arguably the toughest district in the state, and our football team is looking to make a deep playoff run; so our goal is to stay in the fight and be playing our best basketball in late February.”
Carthage will jamboree at Mount Vernon with Seneca and Carl Junction before opening the 2022-23 regular season at home against Monett on Nov. 29.