When Mexico High School grad Darren Pappas applied to become the Bulldogs next varsity boys basketball coach, because he was also the assistant coach and the last guy had already high-tailed it out of town and on to his next job, it would have been awkward had he not gotten the position.
Really, after serving as the interim head coach, to find out he'd just been keeping the seat warm might not have had a happy ending. But, instead this tale took a much more traditional turn and because of that everyone ended up much happier in the end.
"Probably the best part of the 2017-2018 campaign was watching guys within the program grow not only as basketball players, but as young men off the court. The players put a lot of time and effort into becoming role models and mentors for the youth of Mexico," said Pappas. "I feel like it is important for our guys to give back to the community and develop relationships with our youth that will hopefully pay dividends in our schools and community in the future."
The greatest issue this season for a multitude of reasons is the fact the Bulldogs are about to lose eight seniors to graduation. This inlcudes Tyler Spargo, Matthew Huffman, J'Marquay McGruder, Vern Williams, Cameron Holman, Avion Williams, Quinton Baumgartner and Jonathon Grubb.
"The worst part is losing our seniors. They have done a lot to turn this program back around and I can't thank them enough for their efforts this past season," Pappas said. "It's never easy to let go of your first group of seniors, especially guys that I have personally watch grow into young men over the course of their education and athletic careers.I am extremely thankful that we got to share my first year as head coach together and they have laid the foundation for the program in years to come."
Prior to this season the Bulldogs were picked to finish seventh in the North Central Missouri Conference (not by the Ledger). Where the team actually finished was fourth with a record of 6-6. Mexico also went 14-12 overall after winning just seven games the season before.
"I thought the team exceeded many expectations from the preseason. That is a credit to the guys working hard in the offseason," said Pappas. "I feel like our schedule strength was good and this helped us become very competitive throughout the season. Unfortunately, our postseason ended quicker than we expected with a loss to St. Dominic 47-46, but I'm extremely proud of how much effort these guys gave throughout the season. I know each one of them will do great things in the future."
Another factor not working for Mexico is that its varsity roster doesn't feature a single sophomore or freshman. Because of this its returning talent in 2018-19 will consist of guards Jai Lawson, Taylor Bledsoe and Jasean White and forward Cole Whalen.
"We return four seniors next season who will bring leadership and a strong work ethic, then we will add in some juniors who got some varsity experience as sophomores. Plus our current freshmen will bring a lot of talent and athleticism as sophomores," Pappas said. "We are looking forward to a loaded eighth grade class that will be joining us as freshman next season. We will be a fairly young group overall, but a group that will get after it and compete at a high level in all aspects of the game."
Even though Pappas is rather proud of the fact his team plays in a league as competitive as the NCMC, it can be a rather unforgiving format for young talent to ply their trade in. That may end up creating a learning curve under which those who learn the fastest play the soonest while the others will just have to try and get in when and where they can.
"I feel like the NCMC is one of the most competitive leagues in the state and any given team can be beat every single night, so I feel like our guys battled with some of the best. We had a few conference games in particular that came right down to the wire," said Pappas. "We are extremely excited about the young talent that we have coming up through the program, all have an extreme upside to their individual games, and when we get them to gel it'll be exciting to watch."