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Watkins, Niemczyk duked it out in the 3-point contest
POPLAR BLUFF — How valuable was Bell City senior Ethan Watkins as a passer Saturday afternoon?
After Watkins set up David Prater for some thunderous dunks during the small school boys basketball game at the B.A. Sports All-Star Extravaganza and then fed Bell City teammate Phillip Gross during the dunk contest for some impressive slams, East Prairie's Tony Jones sought out Watkins for some help on his encore dunk.
By then, Jones had wrapped up the contest championship with a second straight dunk where he lobbed it for himself, caught the ball near the rim and did a 360 slam.
Now he wanted Watkins to sit in a chair and toss up the ball while Jones jumped over him.
"He pointed at me and I was like, 'What?'" Watkins said. "That kind of scared me because I hadn't practiced anything with him before. I didn't know if he was going to take my head off or not."
Watkins did survive, with his head in tact, although two attempts at the dunk were not successful.
Otherwise it was a pretty good day for Watkins, who knocked down a pair of long 3-pointers to help Manac in a 92-81 victory against Mid Continent Nail during the small schools game at the Extravaganza.
That gave him something to hold over fellow Bell City senior Nick Niemczyk, who scored 15 points to lead the losing team.
"I couldn't really tell who was going to win the game because I hadn't seen a lot of these guys play," Watkins said. "I guess we were the lucky ones. We had good guard play."
Watkins did the passing. Scott County Central's D.D. Gillespie did some passing and scoring, knocking in 17 points, including 13 in the first half as Manac built a 45-39 lead.
Manac scored four baskets in the final minute, including a dunk by Prater and a sweet feed from Gillespie to Jordan Boone for a last-second layin.
All-state forward Prater, a South Iron senior who also had a handful of assists, finished the job with 14 of his game-high 20 points in the second half en route to game MVP honors.
"This was great, coming out here and getting to play with people from other teams," Watkins said.
Watkins was better than shooters from those other schools — large and small — in the 3-point contest, but ran into Niemczyk in the final round. Watkins, who made nine in a row to top the field with 12 in the first round, was outshot 14-8 by Niemczyk in the 30-second competition in the final round.
It was a rematch of a competition the Bell City seniors had during a practice to coincide with NBA All-Star weekend.
"Nick won that one, too," Watkins said. "He is a crazy shooter."
Niemczyk, who hit 24 in one minute to win the boys-girls shooting showdown with Fredericktown's Courtney Kemp (who made 11), said Watkins' first-round shooting put him on his game.
"Ethan is a real competitive person, and he always gets mad when I beat him," Niemczyk said. "He kind of scared me there for a little bit. I had to face him in the second round, and I was like, 'Whoa.' I knew I had to hit shots then.
"In that last round, I was trying not to get beat by a girl. I would've been embarrassed."
Bell City's Gross almost pulled off the win in the dunk contest, as Watkins' behind-the-back lob off the backboard helped make Gross one of three finalists along with Notre Dame's Ryan Willen. Gross also unsuccessfully tried slamming after jumping over a standing Watkins.
"Helping my buddy in the dunk contest was the highlight," Watkins said. "We goof around after practice and just go out there and have fun. We never get to use those in a game. I wish we could."
Watkins, who sat out until the middle of December to become eligible one year after his transfer from Scott City, hopes to be able to play more basketball in the future.
"I want to play bad," said Watkins, who named a few small regional schools that are possibilities. "It took me some time to get back this year. The Christmas tournament was really hard, but it's a lot easier to get back in the flow with great players."
Niemczyk, an all-stater and one of the leading players in Southeast Missouri, believes Watkins can play at the collegiate level.
"He's real smart with the ball, he takes care of it, and he can shoot the rock real well," Niemczyk said.
Niemczyk said that he picked his college — Three Rivers, which just made a second straight appearance in the NJCAA championship tournament.
"I came over and played with them the other day, and I decided I wanted to come here," Niemczyk. "I know Gene Bess will really work me and I don't know if there's a better place where I can get my game better."
@z_agate_no tab_no indnt_bld ld:Mid Continent Nail (81) —Nick Niemczyk 15, Caleb Johnson 10, William Cooper 5, Phillip Gross 11, Chase Rhodes 3, Kody Campbell 2, Josh Rollet 2, Max Wieser 5, Maurichio Clay 13, Colton Bailey 5, Andy Hendrix 10. FG 32, FT 12-21. (3-pointers: Niemczyk 2, Gross 1, Rhodes 1, Wieser 1).
Manac (92) — Jordan Boone 12, D.D. Gillespie 17, David Prater 20, Silas Dill 3, Marty Dames 2, Kyle Williamson 7, Jeremy Patty 4, David Crain 4, Ethan Watkins 6, Brandon Tucker 2, Kyle White 8, Jordan Baggett 7. FG 40, FT 2-4 (3-pointers: Boone 2, Gillespie 2, White 2, Watkins 2, Dill 1, Baggett 1).