The Missouri State men’s basketball team hopes to put the 2019-20 season behind it as it enters Dana Ford’s third year as head coach.
Ford has a roster full of newcomers while having key returners in Gaige Prim, Isiaih Mosley and Ja’Monta Black for this upcoming season.
The Bears were picked to finish sixth in the Missouri Valley Conference this season. From the sounds of it, they seem to think they’re going to have a lot more fun than that.
Here’s what we learned from MSU’s virtual media day on Thursday:
The Bears feel like they’re going to have more fun this year
It wasn’t a secret that the Bears had their struggles during the 2019-20 season. A team that was picked to win the conference fell well short of its championship expectations while finishing in the middle of the Missouri Valley Conference.
The team never found a rhythm. The ball wasn’t being shared much and a collection of highly touted newcomers never looked like a team.
Going into this year, the Bears are now picked to finish near the middle. But the Bears say the ball is moving and that they’re enjoying themselves a lot more going into this upcoming season.
“Our ball movement is way better,” Black said. “It’s just fun playing with this group of guys. That’s what’s different from this year and last year — it’s just way more fun on the offensive and defensive end. We’re just way more enthusiastic and it’s just better playing with these guys, honestly.”
Missouri State still adds a new batch of newcomers featuring a few juco transfers and a few freshmen. The players made available during media day all described the team as more of a “family” than it has been in the past. Since the newcomers came in, they all clicked on and off the court.
“That bond happened when we first met,” Black said. “I never felt like they were the new kids over there. We all just kind of went over there and started talking and gelled right when we first met. That’s why I feel like this team will be really special.”
The non-conference ‘plan’ is on its way
While we’re used to having a non-conference schedule sometime in August, Missouri State has still yet to release who it will play before Dec. 30.
That will change on Friday, according to Ford. The non-conference schedule will be released — and Ford describes it more as a “plan” than a “schedule.”
“I foresee changes, not only in any non-conference thing we put together but in any schedule,” Ford said. “Hopefully, we can execute it.”
Missouri State’s schedule is expected to be home-heavy and not very strong. A Central Arkansas home game was confirmed for Dec. 1 by UCA while a Dec. 5 home date with Oral Roberts and Dec. 12 date with Little Rock appears likely, according to previously obtained contracts.
Other dates to keep an eye on include Nov. 28, Dec. 7, Dec. 15, Dec. 19 and Dec. 21.
Ford described it as a “plan” due to the uncertainty around COVID-19. He anticipates games being canceled — as has happened with a team like Southern Illinois having to back out of a multi-team event already due to the virus hitting its program.
It’s certainly a season of uncertainty.
Jared Ridder is shooting better than ever
Kickapoo graduate Jared Ridder is finally feeling healthy as he enters his junior year. He sat out all but six minutes of the 2019-20 season after receiving surgery to repair a torn labrum.
The six minutes came after a redshirt-freshman season in which he never appeared to be comfortable on the court after having to sit out the first semester to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.
Despite only playing one semester of college basketball and six minutes, Ridder is still considered a veteran player in a room full of newcomers.
“I definitely feel like an older guy,” Ridder said. “I feel like I’ve learned a lot. You don’t realize how much you learned just by watching. I definitely feel like a veteran out there and I feel more comfortable talking and getting to know the younger guys as well.”
Ridder is averaging 18.3 minutes per game in 24 career appearances. His freshman year saw him start twice while averaging 5.1 points and 1.8 boards per game. He’s a known 3-point specialist and is 30.6 percent beyond the arc over his career.
But his teammates feel like that’s about to improve.
“He’s shooting the ball probably the best out of anybody,” Black — who played against Ridder in high school — said. “He’s been shooting really good. We’ve been finding him and he’s been knocking down shots at a high clip. You should be looking for him to be shooting the ball the best he’s ever done.”
The last few years have been difficult for Ridder — whether it was sitting out a freshman season, not finding his groove in a redshirt-season or having to sit out his sophomore year.
He should be a good weapon for the Bears this upcoming season.
“You find your love for the game when you’re away from it,” Ridder said. “Mentally, I feel a lot better and I’m excited to be out there again. Being away from basketball, it was hard at times but I feel mentally stronger than I ever have been.”
DeMarcus Sharp is ‘special’
Missouri State’s new starting point guard this season is coming off an NJCAA first-team All-American season.
Demarcus Sharp joins the Bears from Colby (Kansas) Community College — where he averaged 16.5 points, 4.7 boards and 5.6 assists per game.
He led his league in steals and also earned offensive and defensive player of the year honors.
“He came in and he’s been a leader for us from the start,” Ridder said. “He’s always finding the open guy and he knows all the plays from any position. He’s a great teammate on and off the court.”
“Man, he’s special,” Black added. “He can see things on the court before you can even see them. He’s a pass-first point guard and he’s not worried about scoring, but he can score. He doesn’t turn the ball over and he’s always going to play hard and leave it on the line.”
Gaige Prim dropped 25 pounds
Prim couldn’t help but laugh when he was asked about his new physique.
The Bears’ big-man had obviously cut some weight. It’s something he said the coaches asked him to do so he could be healthier going into this season.
“I feel like I got too skinny,” Prim smiled.
Prim said he cut 30 pounds over the summer and has since gained five back. A whole 25 pounds that he and the coaching staff believe will allow him to practice and play at full-strength a season after he had to be “load managed” due to injuries to his legs.
“I’m moving faster and my defense has gotten a lot better,” Prim said. “I think it’s helped me in some cases for sure.”
Prim said he still has his strength — as he will have to match up with some of the best players in the league in the post, whether that be Loyola’s Cameron Krutwig or Northern Iowa’s Austin Phyfe.
The Bears are going to need their best player to be healthy this season after he averaged 13.7 points and 4.9 rebounds per game during his debut season in Springfield.
Lu’Cye Patterson’s name came up a lot
A surprising name that came up quite a bit during Thursday afternoon’s virtual media day was Lu’Cye Patterson.
Patterson is a freshman point guard from Minneapolis. He was the final player to be added to the Bears’ roster for this upcoming season as he took the final scholarship.
“He has a good spirit about him,” Ford said. “He loves to pass and things of that nature. The thing I think I like the most about him, and all our guys, is that I like being around him. I like him as a person.”
Patterson played at Minnesota Prep Academy last season as a part of the Grind Circuit prep basketball league. He was the league’s offensive player of the year as a senior while averaging 21.2 points, 7.2 assists and 6.7 boards per game.
He impressed at the Bears’ lone public exhibition game in September and he appears to be a player who will get some playing time.
“He’s been doing what he’s supposed to do in practice,” Black said. “He’s one player you really have to look at.”
Nic Tata is a ‘freak of nature’
Missouri State is going to be able to use different lineups with a lengthy roster — but the possibilities down low with Prim can be pretty fun.
Nic Tata is a 6-foot-10 junior forward from Blinn College in Benham, Texas. He averaged 8.6 points and 6.2 boards per game while making 73.9 percent of his field goals as a sophomore.
His athleticism for his size and his ability to play the four could turn into Tata and Prim being on the floor at the same time.
“I’m very excited,” Prim said. “He’s a freak of nature, for sure. He’s 280-pounds and he can jump out of the gym. I think he’s going to be really good defensively protecting the rim.”
Ford expands on adding Isaac Haney
Ford expanded on the addition of former Dora standout Isaac Haney for the 2021-22 season. Haney now plays at Kickapoo — alongside Ford’s step-son Cameron Liggins.
Haney led Dora to a Class 1 state championship and he’s coming off back-to-back Class 1 Player of the year honors. He averaged 31 points while knocking down 114 3-pointers during his junior season.
“He is a hard-worker, blue-collar type of guy who wants to be at Missouri State,” Ford said. “We’re excited about him.”
Even though Haney is now moving up and playing bigger opponents on a more consistent basis, Ford found Haney when he was a Class 1 player playing at a tiny gym in the middle of the Ozarks.
Ford was in attendance at Haney’s 32-point performance at the 2019 Ozark Mountain Shootout. Haney was up against Trey Alexander — who was ranked as the No. 27 player in the country at the time. Haney led the Falcons to a win over what was one of the best teams in Oklahoma.
On Haney’s bus ride home to Dora, he received a call from Ford — who made him an offer he didn’t refuse.
“He held his own and showed his worth,” Ford said Thursday. “It’s not always an evaluation of him but it’s an evaluation of the moment — like how college players improve their stock in the NCAA Tournament. It’s the moment and not necessarily who they’re playing against. Every time I’ve seen him, he’s been great.”
MSU men’s hoops 2020-21 roster
- Gaige Prim, Sr., F
- Demarcus Sharp, Jr. PG
- Nic Tata, Jr. C
- Jared Ridder, Jr., SF
- Darian Scott, Jr., C
- Dawson Carper, Jr., C***
- Keaton Hervey, Jr., SF
- Ja’Monta Black, So., SG
- Isiaih Mosley, So., SG
- Skylar Wicks, Fr. PG
- Raphe Ayres, Fr., SG
- Melvyn Ebonkoli, Fr. PF
- Lu’Cye Patterson, Fr. PG
- Spencer Brown, Sr. G
- Jake Branham, So., G
- Elijah Bridgers, Fr., G
Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist with the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact him at 417-371-6987, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter at @WyattWheeler_NL. You can subscribe to his free “Bears Beat” newsletter on News-Leader.com. He’s also the co-host of Sports Talk on Jock Radio weekdays from 4-6 p.m.