Chris Popp, head coach of the Grizzly basketball team at Missouri State University-West Plains, has announced the signing of four players for the 2019-20 season.
• Nico Hill, a 6-foot, 4-inch freshman guard from Opunake, New Zealand
• Franklyn Petion, a 6-foot, 3-inch freshman guard from Freeport, Bahamas
• Malik Tidwell, a 5-foot, 10-inch freshman guard from Chicago, Illinois
• Zavien Smith-Morales, a 6-foot, 3-inch freshman guard from Orlando, Florida
“We have more pieces to add; however, these four addressed needs,” Popp said. “With the core that we have returning, I am excited about the direction we are going.”
Hill averaged 24.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.7 blocks per game in high school. He led his team to New Zealand’s high school national tournament with a 33-point performance in the regional final. He then had a 48-point outburst against the No. 1 ranked team, Hilmorton High School, at the national tournament. The effort resulted in him being named to the national tournament team. He also earned MVP honors for his province.
“Nico comes from a rich basketball background. His mother, Michelle, was a captain for the New Zealand National Team, and his father, Angelo, played basketball at Washington State University before enjoying a long and successful professional playing career and a successful coaching career at the NJCAA, NCAA and professional levels,” Popp said.
“Pedigree does not always result in players; however, Nico has absorbed the game from a young age, and it shows in his play,” the coach added. “He is a guard with great length, and he can really shoot it, but his best quality is his feel. He has IQ and savvy. Having players who see and understand the game is priceless. As his body develops, he has a chance to be a very good player here.”
Petion has accumulated various all-tournament and MVP accolades playing for St. Georges High School in the Bahamas, and he has earned the opportunity to play for the Bahamian U19 National Team.
“Franklyn is an explosive athlete,” Popp said. “He is strong and aggressive with the ability to get downhill and finish. He has been a winner and comes from a great program at St. Georges in Freeport. Coach Sears has produced a number of high level players and can’t say enough about the young man.
“Getting to know Franklyn through the recruiting process, it is clear that his is very driven and willing to work,” Popp added. “He adds to a group that has a lot of that, and I believe he will fit very well with us.”
Recognized as a scorer at Marion Catholic High School in Chicago, Tidwell transferred to Prolific Prep his senior year to play with and against a higher level of competition, Popp said.
“Malik is a powerful young man. He’s tough and determined. He gets where he wants to on the court and makes plays,” Popp said. “Watching him at Prolific, he transformed his game, committing to being a point guard. With his strength and speed at that position, he will be a handful to keep in front of defensively.
“He also has the ability to be a bulldog on the defensive end, which is always a concern with smaller guards,” the coach added. “The way he is put together, I’m not sure we can refer to him as smaller, though.”
Smith-Morales played an elite schedule at the high-level Oak Ridge High School in Orlando, Popp said, and he proved himself against some of the top ranked players in the country. Playing for Coach Steven Reece, he helped Oak Ridge reach a ranking as high as No. 17 in the country during the 2018-19 season.
“He’s a long and deceptive athlete. He is one of those guys who doesn’t seem to be low or explosive, yet he consistently gets by defenders. I’d call him smooth, maybe slippery,” Popp said.
“He’s another guard with great feel. He can score, but he’s also a gifted passer who gets everyone involved. He needs to develop physically, but his size and length, along with the intangibles he brings, give him a high ceiling,” the coach continued. “Zavien has a lot of showtime in his game. He will be fun to play with and exciting to watch.”
For more information about the Grizzly basketball program, visitmsuwpgrizzlies.com or call 255-7991.