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story.lead_photo.caption Steven Samuels of Jefferson City gets set on defense during a Class 6 District 9 Tournament game against Capital City last season at Fleming Fieldhouse. Photo by Jason Strickland / News Tribune.

Jays basketball coach Josh Buffington will be back on the sidelines in Jefferson City. This time on the other side of the crosstown rivalry.

After three years off, he's back to lead the Jays after a decade with Helias.

"I've really missed it for a long time now," Buffington said after the team's preseason Jamboree at Helias. "I just love to compete. It's probably my favorite thing to do in life."

Buffington will compete with a team fresh off a district title, even though two key players graduated from that squad. With roster turnover and a new coaching staff, rotations are still being ironed out.

"I think we're capable of playing nine or 10 individuals, but probably not nine or 10 guys in a single game," Buffington said. "So it's going to be a battle every single day, more than likely in practice, which is good, because it makes practices extremely competitive, for the minutes in that eight spot."

Offensively, Buffington wants the team to play with pace and freedom. He also wants the defense to create a lot of transition opportunities.

"We want to get up down the floor and we just want to teach our guys how to play," Buffington said. "We're not a team that's going to really focus on running a ton of sets more than teaching our guys how to play through certain situations and reads on the court offensively."

One of the more important players on either end of the court will be Michael Onunkwor. He'll play some on the wing and will be one of the most important players in the team's defense that will be switch-heavy.

"He's a very athletic kid," Buffington said. "He wants it very bad and he plays with a lot of passion. Athletically, he can guard several positions so defensively he's very active and that's good because we need versatility on the defensive end as much as we're scrambling and rotating."

The Jays don't have a whole lot of players with elite size, meaning players like Onunkwor will have to match up with bigger players a lot of the time. Parker Gourley and Cole Heller both will play forward spots as well and could get similar matchups.

"Our players with size are versatile basketball players, meaning they can play away from the basket, offensively and defensively which can create some mismatches in our favorite we hope."

Kevion Pendelton will be the lead guard for the Jays. He returns after an all-district season and will be the player who tries to get into the paint and kick out to shooters in the team's spread-out offensive sets.

"He's a competitive player for us," Buffington said. "He has the potential to control the game at times. He's very good at getting in the paint, making things happen. He's a playmaker for us. He's an unselfish player to where he can get guys a lot of open looks."

Pendelton will also help lead the defense with Samuels by pressuring opposing guards.

"Defensively, he really understands the game well," Buffington said about Pendelton. "He picks up on things extremely quick and that's what you want out of your senior point guard."

Tripp Maassen will be an important off-ball player with Samuels and Pendelton as a floor spacer in the offense.

"(Maassen) is a wing player for us that when he gets hot, can knock down several shots," Buffington said.

Ball pressure will be the constant in the Jays defense even if the defensive sets aren't always the same.

"We're gonna mix things up throughout the season," Buffington said. "A lot of times it depends on who you're playing and what their strengths are."

One of the players who stood out defensively in the Jamboree was freshman swingman Jordan Martin. Martin, Exavier Thomas and Judah Harris are three freshmen on the roster Buffington is high on.

"Three different types of players, but they're all extremely competitive," Buffington said. "They're athletic. They're coachable kids and it's good to have those."

Samuels was the star of the Jamboree and brings a lot of experience and shooting ability. With his ability to knock down shots and attack closeouts he could pair nicely with Pendelton as an option both on and off the ball.

That roster will have to work with a new system under Buffington that will try to give the Jays their first winning season since the 2015-16 season.

"We have great kids here," Buffington said. "They're working extremely hard. They want to be successful. But with that being said, we have a lot of work to do as a new coaching staff. These changes that we're trying to implement aren't going to happen overnight."

Jefferson City starts that season at 7:30 p.m. today at Fleming Fieldhouse against Sedalia Smith-Cotton.

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