Five games into the season, one thing is apparent about Smith-Cotton boys basketball.
The Tigers have added some bounce.
During 69-67 home-opening loss to Battle — a contest decided via last-second tip-in — the gym shrunk as S-C pounced on a long, third-quarter rebound and all eyes turned to senior Kardell Sims.
He detonated on a slam, and on consecutive possessions senior Christian Finley landed a 3-pointer and Sims bested two defenders to help close what was once an 11-point deficit.
“Right now, it’s kind of a blur,” Sims said of the sequence. “Just a lot of energy.”
Sims is averaging 19 points and seven rebounds per game, representing the highest leap among the Tigers. He played last season at Lafayette High School in St. Joseph.
“I decided to just bring it home for senior year,” Sims said.
Finley said he has played with Sims as early as fifth grade, which eased his transition into the starting lineup.
“We have a pretty solid squad this year,” Finley said. “I can get the ball off of (Sims) when I’m getting pressured, he can knock down shots, he can get to the rim easily."
Finley added that Sims has opened up scoring lanes for the rest of the team.
"If I’m not wide open, he usually doesn’t have anybody down there on him," Finley said. "If they collapse on him, though, he can kick it out to me.
“He’s helped out a lot.”
Tigers head coach Kevin Thomas said Sims has added length and athleticism unseen at S-C since he was introduced as head coach in 2017. But improvements among returners like Finley, seniors Keith Hawkins and juniors Matt Thompson, Dane Foster and Matt Thompson have been just as crucial.
“It’s the same team from last year, you just threw Kardell in the mix,” Thomas said. “He’s made our team with his presence and rebounding. He’s able to knock down shots and score, but I feel like the other guys have stepped up. They’re playing great basketball. They’re all playing better.”
Early returns have been favorable, highlighted by the team’s first win at Jefferson City High School since 1995.
After short Monday, the Tigers (3-2) have two chances to translate their added bounce into signature victories. S-C hosts Hickman 6 p.m. Wednesday and travels to Warrensburg on Friday.
Alex Agueros can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @abagueros2.