A new era of Grizzly basketball is underway at Missouri State University-West Plains, and it will be guided by new head coach Chris Popp, right, and assistant coach Reggie Freeman.

A new era in Grizzly basketball is beginning at Missouri State University-West Plains.

And first-year head coach Chris Popp thinks fans will be excited about the program’s new direction.

“I understand and appreciate the tradition of the Grizzly basketball program. With that in mind, we’re starting off new in a lot of ways this year, and we’re trying to build things in a positive direction,” he said. “This year, in particular, it’s all about the process, establishing how we’re going to do things. I want my team to compete in every day, every game. The goal is to establish a culture that will carry on year in and year out and, I believe, will equate to a lot of wins.”

Helping him in that endeavor is former University of Texas basketball standout Reggie Freeman, who was hired as Popp’s assistant coach in early June.

Since joining the program, both coaches have been working hard recruiting new players to fill the team’s ranks. Popp said they’ve been searching for players who have the traits of winners – toughness, leadership, a feel for the game, and those other intangibles that go beyond athleticism, scoring ability and common skills which are used to evaluate players.

“It’s a good group, a talented group. Several of them have the toughness and the ability to get things done,” he said. “I look for guys who over achieve, and I feel like I have quite a few of those. We do have some talented players who will need to work on that, but it’s a good mix.”

THE PLAYERS

Among them is returning 6-foot-3 redshirt freshman guard Lane Duncan of Licking.

“Lane has impressed me with his work ethic this summer. He is a tough young man with a high motor. Those intangibles make him invaluable to our program,” Popp said.

Joining him are a number of freshmen, including recent signee Christian Robbins, a 6-1 guard from West Plains. Other freshmen newcomers include Radshad Davis, a 6-5 guard from Nassau, Bahamas; Greyson Smallwood, a 6-11 forward from Portland, Ore.; Quinton Gray, a 6-3 point guard from Canada; Darnell Butler, a 6-5 guard from Lafeyette, Ind.; Stephan Lakic, a 6-7 forward from Serbia; Marcus Blackwell, a 6-5 guard from Bridgeport, Conn.; and Isaiah Brown, a 6-7 guard from Bronx, N.Y.

Popp also has signed sophomore transfer Dwayne Orija from Gillette Community College in Gillette, Wyo.

Despite being late to the recruiting game due to the timing of his hiring, Popp feels he’s built the type of team he wants.

“I expect my teams to compete. My teams play fast and play hard. We’re going to get out and run, and this is a team that’s built for speed. It’s an exciting brand of basketball. It’s what people want to see and what kids want to play,” he said.

THE SCHEDULE

It’s also what will be needed to face perennial powers such as Indian Hills Community College, Iowa Western Community College, Neosho County Community College and Southwestern Illinois College, all of whom are on the Grizzlies’ schedule this season.

“The schedule is not finalized, but it’s nearly complete,” Popp said. “We open at home with individual games against Southeastern Illinois Community College and Neosho County Community College, which is coming off a very successful season. They went two deep in the national tournament last year. Add to that our region teams, and we have a really tough schedule on tap. I’m especially looking forward to being part of the rivalry with Three Rivers College.”

As for the future, Popp expects the Grizzlies to compete for championships. “That’s the end goal. My approach has always been about the process. It’s who you become and the relationships you build through the game, but at the end of the day, we work with a goal in mind to compete for championships,” he said.

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