They say to be the best, you have to play the best, and that's exactly what the Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzly Basketball team will do during the 2019-2020 season.
The Grizzlies will come out of the gate Nov. 1 and play the runners up at last year's NJCAA Division I Men's National Basketball Championship – Ranger College – in their first official game of the season.
The contest against the Ranger, Texas, team is part of the Preseason Elite 8 Classic taking place in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Nov. 1 and 2.
The following evening, they'll play South Plains College from Levelland, Texas. The Texans finished last season ranked ninth and reached the NJCAA tournament's final four.
"We pride ourselves on playing one of the toughest schedules in the country. We have done that each year I have been here, and I believe going through the wars early has yielded results with our success late (in the season) and in the region," Grizzly Basketball Head Coach Chris Popp said.
Missouri vs. Iowa Challenge
After opening their home season Nov. 5 against Southeastern Illinois College from Harrisburg, the Grizzlies will travel to Sedalia Nov. 8 and 9 for the first ever Missouri vs. Iowa Challenge. The event pits Missouri's junior college teams against Iowa's in what organizers hope will become an annual classic.
"I am excited to see this come to fruition," Popp said. "It has been in the works and will showcase two regions that are perennial powers in junior college basketball."
The Grizzlies will face Southeastern Community College from West Burlington, Iowa, at 2 p.m. Nov. 8 and Marshalltown Community College at 3 p.m. Nov. 9.
Other Schedule Highlights
Other highlights in the schedule include a home game against Coffeyville Community College Nov. 20, a trip to Ottumwa, Iowa, Dec. 12 and 13 for the Indian Hills Community College Classic, and two home classics featuring powerhouse teams, Popp said.
The first is set for Nov. 22 and 23 and will pit the Grizzlies against two Kansas teams, Cowley College on Nov. 22 and Neosho County Community College Nov. 23. Region 16 rival Three Rivers College also will compete at the event.
The second classic will take place Jan. 3 and 4 and include games against Southwest Tennessee Community College and Indian Hills, respectively. Arkansas Baptist College will round out the four-team event.
The remainder of the Grizzlies' non-region schedule includes trips to Neosho County and Independence Community College in Kansas, St. Louis Community College and an extra trip to Poplar Bluff for a game against Three Rivers.
They also will host Independence and Labette Community College from Parsons, Kansas, as well as several premiere prep teams.
The second half of the season will feature Region 16 games against Three Rivers, Mineral Area College, Moberly Area Community College and State Fair Community College.
"It is a schedule without breaks. There are no easy nights for us," Popp said. "Overall, we have 24 NJCAA Division I opponents, three NJCAA Division II opponents and three prep programs. Besides the high level of D1 teams, we will have to play well to win at St. Louis and with Labette at home."
"The three prep teams will be loaded with NCAA Division I talent. The last two years, Sunrise Christian Academy has come in here as the most talented team we faced," the coach said. "From top 25 NJCAA programs to elite prep teams, it's going to be a challenge," the coach said.
Popp will count on three returning starters and three returning redshirts to guide the Grizzlies through this gauntlet. They include:
- Sardaar Calhoun, a 6-foot, 6-inch sophomore guard/forward from Tappahannock, Virginia
- Alex Peterson, a 6-foot, 7-inch sophomore forward from Tappahannock, Virginia
- D'Andre Vilmar, a 6-foot, 4-inch sophomore guard from Abaco, Bahamas
- Quentin Jones, a 6-foot, 8-inch redshirt sophomore forward from Columbus, Ohio
- Sam Wallin, a 6-foot, 3-inch redshirt sophomore guard from Springfield
- Eric Stafford, a 6-foot redshirt sophomore guard from St. Louis
"These six have been through it and around it with us. We will rely on them to lead the way as our schedule hits us hard from the start," Popp said.
Joining them will be four newcomers, with a few more to come:
- Nico Hill, a 6-foot, 4-inch freshman guard from Opunake, New Zealand
- Franklyn Petion, a 6-foot, 3-inch freshman guard from Freeport, Bahamas
- Malik Tidwell, a 5-foot, 10-inch freshman guard from Chicago, Illinois
- Zavien Smith-Morales, a 6-foot, 3-inch freshman guard from Orlando, Florida
"We have talented pieces that fit together," Popp said. "With a number of newcomers playing crucial roles, our guys will have to buy in, come together and compete every night. That's what makes it fun, though – the challenge."
For more information about the Grizzly Basketball program, visit www.msuwpgrizzlies.com or call 417-255-7991.