By JIM MISUNAS
ST. JOHN — St. John basketball coach Clint Kinnamon carries the smile of a poker player when thinking about life after all-stater Dean Wade. Wade has graduated to start at Kansas State University after leading the Tigers to three consecutive state basketball championships.
The absence of 6-9 Dean Wade will force the Tigers to be fundamentally solid since Wade could erase some defensive mistakes.
“Not having a 6-9 player at the rim, we will have to be very solid defensively, because Dean could cover up a lot of mistakes on defense.” Kinnamon said.
Kinnamon has a few cards up his sleeve for anyone believing the Tigers’ reign in Class 2A is over. The Tigers have captured four state championships under Kinnamon and made seven state appearances in 15 seasons.
Kinnamon’s first ace is playing the Class 2A basketball substate at home.
Point guard Cole Kinnamon (14 ppg) and Jorge Calleros (6 ppg) are two-year starters and Jacob Milton (6 ppg) returns from a 26-0 team that defeated Central Plains 49-44 for the Class 2A state title.
Others who gained varsity experience last year are senior Nate Ward, who has recovered from a shoulder injury; juniors Alexis Valenzuela, Triston Long and Ryan Woodward and sophomore sparkplug guard Quincy Smith, 6-4 Chase Fisher and Keven Neri-Leon.
Kinnamon said the returning players gained as much experience as they could despite a running clock is most of their games last season. The Tigers return 10 letter-winners and Nathan Ward, who missed 2014-15 with an injury. Cole Kinnamon was All-Class 2A last year and is receiving low D-1 and D-2 interest. Jorge Calleros was All-CPL with junior colleges and NAIA schools showing recruiting interest.
The Tigers will be perimeter oriented offensively with plenty of depth. They will play a fast style with various pressure defensive schemes keyed by good depth and athleticism.
“We’ve got good depth and should be able to play at least eight in our rotation,” Kinnamon said. “We’ve got a good perimeter shooting team. We shot a pretty good team 3-point percentage last year that should be just as good or potentially even better this season. Despite graduating Dean Wade, we should be able to still have decent height.”
What Kinnamon especially enjoys is the Tigers have bought-in to a team-oriented style of passing first to set up scoring opportunities. That formula worked like magic for Dean Wade last year.
“We are unselfish because we have a team full of guys that really like each other and will share the ball,” he said. “Our core group worked really hard in the off-season. They’ve spent countless hours in individual workouts, pick-up games, summer league games, MAYB tournaments and AAU tournaments since the end of last year.”
Kinnamon believes Central Plains and Ness City are the top contenders in the Central Prairie League.
ST. JOHN TIGERS
Head coach—Clint Kinnamon
2014-15 record—26-0 (8-0)
Jacob Milton, 6-3, C, sr., 6 ppg; Nathan Ward, 6-0, F, sr.; Cole Kinnamon, 6-0, PG, jr., 13 ppg, 4.6 apg, 3.5 rpg; Alexis Valenzuela, 6-3, G, jr., 3 ppg, 2 apg; Jorge Calleros, 6-0, G, jr., 5.3 ppg, 2.8 apg; Triston Long, 6-4, F, jr., 1.2 ppg; Derek Hacker, 6-1, F, jr.; Nick Schwein, 5-11, G, jr.; Ryan Woodward, 5-9, G, jr.; Quincy Smith, 5-10, G, so., 3 ppg, 1 apg; Braden Witt, 5-10, G, so., 1 ppg; Eddy Ibarra, 5-7, G, so.; Chase Fisher, 6-4, F, so., 6 ppg. 4 rpg; Keven Neri-Leon, 5-8, G, so.; Joel Ibarra, 6-1, F. so.; Eddy Calleros, 5-11, G, fr.; Mason Osborne, 5-8, G, fr.; Cashe McVey, 5-9, F, fr.