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story.lead_photo.caption Bentonville's Michael Shanks, a junior, is a key returning piece for the Tigers and new coach Dick Rippee, who was hired away from Springfield (Mo.) Kickapoo in April. NWA Democrat-Gazette/BEN GOFF @NWABENGOFF

SPRINGDALE -- Springdale Har-Ber coach Scott Bowlin took a long, concentrated look at his program following the Wildcats' state semifinal loss in March.

There were a handful of things to be proud of. First, Har-Ber won its first conference championship -- shared with Bentonville High -- since 2007 when former Arkansas forward Michael Sanchez wore the uniform. The group also won 22 games and 17 of its final 20.

7A Boys High 5

Isaiah Joe^Fort Smith Northside^6-4^Sr.

Averaged 18.8 points per game while shooting 58 percent from the field and 44 percent from 3-point range, guiding the Grizzlies to a 7A state title in 2017 as a junior.

Tylor Perry^Springdale Har-Ber^5-10^Jr.

Averaged 15.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4 assists to lead the Wildcats to a 22-8 season and a semifinal appearance as a sophomore.

Michael Shanks^Bentonville^6-6^Jr.

Averaged 9.6 points and 3 rebounds per game in conference play during sophomore season. The 6-foot-6 junior, who holds an Arkansas State offer, is a key returning piece for new coach Dick Rippee.

Carl Fitch^Springdale High^6-5^Sr.

Averaged 14 points and 7 rebounds per game in 7A-West play as a junior, earning 2017 All-NWADG Newcomer of the Year honors.

Collin Cooper^Fayetteville^6-1^Jr.

The Purple’Dogs’ leading returning scorer from 2016-17 who has a chance to become one of the conference’s best scoring options.

But Har-Ber's second-half performance against Fort Smith Northside left a lot to be desired. The Grizzlies, led by 2017 All-NWADG Division I Player of the Year Tevin Brewer, outscored Bowlin's club 46-23 over the final two quarters and saw a 10-point halftime deficit evaporate in a Brewer-like flash. With the sting of the loss fresh on his mind, Bowlin re-evaluated some things and enters this year with a redesigned focus.

"I feel like this fall, right now, we're better defensively than we were last year at any time. We've put more of an emphasis on it," said Bowlin, who adds a pair of forwards this fall in 6-foot-6 Zach Peck and 6-10 Josh Ezell. "Last year, you're starting a freshman, two sophomores and a junior, and maybe the maturity level wasn't where it needed to be to beat a senior-laden Northside team.

"We got frustrated, our body language went bad, and when those things happen you have to have a substance that's there every night," he added. "We didn't have that. Shooting the basketball was something we hung our hat on last year, and to win the 7A-West this year -- because everybody's better and has returning people -- you're going to have to do something different, and defend it and rebound it to win it."

Har-Ber returns arguably the top high school guard duo in the state in junior Tylor Perry and senior Tyler Garrett. The two led the Wildcats in scoring in 2016-17. They were also looked to for leadership, a dynamic that certainly carries into this season.

"They're highly competitive, and sometimes that gets strewed," Bowlin said. "It definitely gives you an opportunity, especially early, to be pretty good. What I see between them is they know where each other is at, they think alike. You can't replace that. ... People think we have a chance to be really good, and we do, too, but we're not there right now. But we have the pieces, and you have to have the pieces to have a chance."

Bentonville and Van Buren will be close on Har-Ber's tail as well. In April, Bentonville hired coach Dick Rippee away from Missouri power Springfield Kickapoo after eight seasons to replace Jason McMahan. Leaving Springfield, a place he called home for 49 years, was difficult but allowed Rippee to step out of his comfort zone and grow as a result.

"We've loved this community for a long time," said Rippee, one of two new coaches in the conference alongside Lamont Frazier at Rogers High. "This has been a huge blessing for our family, and this school is so supportive of all of our programs. It's an opportunity, and this was a great opportunity that was really hard to pass up, especially for our family."

Cadarius Baggett, a point guard transfer from Pine Bluff, will bring toughness to the lineup and is a player to keep an eye on. A pair of left-handed shooters, Josh Smith and Connor Deffebaugh, will help spread the floor in Rippee's five-man motion offense as well.

The Tigers also return one of the class's most intriguing players in Michael Shanks, a 6-foot-6 junior forward that has added 10-15 pounds in the offseason and garnered looks from other Division I programs. Shanks averaged better than nine points per game in 7A-West play last season while shooting at a 47 percent clip -- 41 percent from 3-point range.

"Coaches love to coach kids that are great listeners and work their tail off, and that's Michael," Rippee said. "He can beat you inside, and he can beat you outside. He's deservedly getting some attention. We told him he's got to get his 3-point shot more consistent, and he's done that. He's going to make a good college player for a program."

Van Buren, who fell to Bryant on its home floor in the first round of the state tournament, has reloaded and feels it can contend as well. Second-year coach Austin Trembley sees a lot of potential in his team. Minus 2017 All-NWADG second team selection Beau Beckner's departure, Van Buren has its core back and then some with a pair of transfers in Mekhi Burnett of Clarksville and Van Buren native Zane West.

"This year I think a lot of people are going to see us and think 'Oh man, they look different,'" said Trembley, who also features 6-foot-8 K.J. Stewart in the middle. "I expect us to have a team this year, I mean we took third last year, but I expect us to be really competitive and to compete for a championship. But we've got to stay healthy and all that good stuff. The main thing is putting it together."

The talent in the class, however, is spread throughout, not solely lying in who many believe to be the front-runners. Fort Smith Northside's Isaiah Joe, an Arkansas commit, is back and has developed a well-rounded game. Fayetteville's Collin Cooper, Bentonville West's Gabe Hornsby, Springdale High's Carl Fitch and Rogers Heritage's Seth Stanley could all push their respective teams into conference contention, too.

Sports on 11/05/2017

Print Headline: 7A BOYS PREVIEW Har-Ber looks to finish strong

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