Chemistry was an issue early on for the State Fair mens basketball team, but through early season practices and jamborees, the Roadrunners are working those issues out and starting to come together as a team.
In their final tuneup before the start of the regular season, the Roadrunners traveled to John Wood last weekend for a jamboree and came away 3-0, despite missing the entire starting back court which was held out due to minor injuries.
The Roadrunners come into the season with 10 freshmen on the roster.
“When they first came in, it was a lot of individual basketball,” said guard Joshua Bailey. “But then you start your first year of college, you realize that it’s not high school any more. You’ve got to become a team if you want to win games. I see them maturing a little bit. It takes a while to get where you want to be. I believe that by the end of their freshman year, they’ll get to where they want to be.”
Asem Johnson is one of those freshmen, a 6-4 guard from Paterson, New Jersey, who said his own style of play works well with the up-tempo style the Roadrunners use.
“You find me, I’m moving,” he said.
Johnson said it has been a challenge to get used to new teammates and the State Fair way of doing things.
“We get used to it,” he said.
“We’ve got some guards that can shoot it, can make plays off the bounce,” said Roadrunners coach Kevin Thomas. “We’ve got two really good bigs in Clint Robinson and Keari Brown. We’re expecting a great year this year. We’re looking forward to having a good year and hopefully being able to bring another region championship back to State Fair.”
Robinson, a 6-8 sophomore originally from Montego Bay, Jamaica, averaged 13.9 points and 8.6 rebounds per game for the Roadrunners last season including a strong finish to the season, scoring 25 against Mineral Area and 28 against MSU-West Plains.
Brown, a native of West Memphis, Arkansas, initially went to Southeast Missouri State to play football before deciding he wanted to play basketball.
“He’s got an infectious personality,” Thomas said. “He’s one of those guys that’s always talking and usually in a good mood. I think some of the guys feed off that. He’s come a long way in the two months he’s been here as far as being able to finish around the basket and give us an inside presence. Between him and Clint, I think both of those guys should have a real good year for us inside.”
Beyond Robinson and Brown, there is not much size with most of the players in the 6-1 to 6-4 range.
“We’ve got two big men, Clint Robinson and KB, so mostly running, small guards,” Bailey said. “I love running, getting up and down, getting a lot of shots up.”
Consistently in double digits in scoring during the Roadrunners’ jamborees was Ronnie Rousseau III, a 5-10 point guard from Cincinnati.
“He’s got a really high skill set and I think the guys follow his lead,” Thomas said. “He’s one of the guys that’s first in the gym in the morning. Some of the intangibles he has are very similar to Kenny Chery and Joe Thomasson and some of the other guys that have come before him as far as their work on the floor.”
Bailey is back for his sophomore year after a freshman season that saw him average 14.8 points per game and hit 38 percent from 3-point range. Thomas hopes his perimeter shooting ability will help the Roadrunners stretch defenses.
“We got guards that can find him and he’s going to get some scoring from the outside,” Thomas said.
On the wings, Thomas also likes what he’s seen from freshmen Duante Stephens and Willie Jimerson Jr. Sophomore Ryan Surface could also contribute.
State Fair is coming off a 4-24 season which saw the Roadrunners’ roster so depleted by the end of the first semester the team had to hold tryouts. Now, the team has a clean slate as Thomas is looking to move on.
“We’ve got a few guys who are back from last year’s team and we owe it to them to have a good year so they can be recruited the way they want to be recruited and just to go out with a good season,” Thomas said. “We’re looking forward to hopefully getting back to the top of the region and getting back to the national tournament.”
The Roadrunners open the season this weekend, hosting Link Prep at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Butler Community College at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Eric Ingles can be reached at 660-826-1000, ext. 1483 or on Twitter @Eric_Ingles