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Ethan Jones drives toward the lane during a game against Ozark in January.

The Branson boys are heading north this weekend for the Willard Basketball Classic.

Though every other Tri-Lakes team is competing in local tournaments this week, Branson’s bracket includes Kickapoo, which has three Division I signees, and Greenwood, who has five-star recruit Aminu Mohammed.

Facing Greenwood would require several upsets on Branson’s end, though. With the Blue Jays at the bottom half of the bracket and the Pirates on the top, they would have to defeat Bolivar and then the winner of the Kickapoo-Ft. Scott game, which will likely be Kickapoo.

The Pirates start off with a game at 7 p.m. tonight, Wednesday, against Bolivar. The Liberators had a successful year last season, ending with a 21-6 record. They were undefeated on the road and 10-3 at neutral sites.

The previous season, 2019, was their first losing season since 2011. Bolivar only has one state title from 1960 but placed fourth in 2015 and second in 2017. Branson, on the other hand, hasn’t placed at state since 1962.

Last season Bolivar beat Branson twice, once by 20 in the Branson Battle at the Border tournament and again by six in the Blue and Gold Tournament. After a year of experience, Kyle Pock is a player the Pirates will have to limit. As a freshman, he averaged 17.2 points a game.

Potential opponents

If the Pirates defeat Bolivar, they would most likely play Kickapoo on Friday. The Kickapoo Chiefs have a loaded team this year, with Anton Brookshire, Trevon Brazile and Isaac Haney. Brookshire and Brazile are committed to play basketball at Mizzou; Haney is committed to Missouri State.

If they lose, they will play the Fort Scott Tigers from Kansas. The Tigers visited Willard last year as well, dropping all three games they played in.

The tournament runs through Saturday, with the final championship and consolation games that day.

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