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Stoppel playing role for Tigers

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Two years ago, Jake Stoppel was the lone senior for a Class 1A Wilson High School team that finished 18-4. Stoppel averaged 27.9 points and 15.3 rebounds per contest.

Stoppel finished third in Kansas in scoring; the 1-2-4 scorers were Conner Frankamp, Semi Ojeleye and Perry Ellis. Frankamp and Ellis play for the University of Kansas, and Ojeleye is at Duke. Stoppel led the state in rebounding, according to maxpreps.com.

Fort Hays State University recruited Stoppel out of high school, but Stoppel received more interest from NAIA and junior college schools.

"We weren't doubting that he wasn't good enough," coach Mark Johnson said. "We just needed to see it against competition that we could get a true evaluation that he could be effective."

Stoppel, now 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, went to Neosho Community College, started all 31 games and earned all-league second team east division honors after he averaged 14.1 points and 7.2 rebounds.

"Had a great freshman year, and at the end of the day, I think it was great to have him go there anyway," Johnson said. "I don't know how many minutes he would have gotten last year as a true freshman. You get to grow, and you get to play and you get a college experience as far as making that transition already before you get here."

Stoppel, now a proven collegiate player, immediately stepped into the No. 4 position, or power forward spot, for the Tigers -- ranked No. 24 in NCAA Division II. Stoppel overcame early-season knee and ankle injuries and averages 6.3 points and 4.4 rebounds.

"I am glad to kind of be getting going again and getting things done," Stoppel said.

Two games ago, Stoppel had foul trouble, but still finished with five points and six rebounds in 15 minutes. Last Saturday, he had his first double-double as a Tiger with 10 points and a career-high 11 rebounds. Stoppel's dad, Dave, was a Tiger basketball letterwinner from 1976-78. His sister, Kylie, played for the Tiger volleyball team in 2010. Often, Stoppel has a big crowd for home games.

"I love seeing people come back and watch me play," Stoppel said. "It's nice. It makes you feel good. It makes you feel like you are doing something good."

Tonight, the Tigers (16-3, 7-3 MIAA) play host to Emporia State University (14-6, 7-3 MIAA) at Gross Memorial Coliseum. Game time is 7:30.

"He has to be the guy that he has been the last two games," Johnson said. "Jake has to be a high-energy guy, and an effort guy and a tough guy. He is capable of doing that."

Stoppel had a similar recruiting process to current Tiger senior guard Carson Konrade, from Spearville. FHSU nearly signed Konrade out of high school, but Konrade went to Colby Community College and averaged double figures both years. If Konrade had come to Fort Hays as a freshman, he likely would have been a little-used reserve.

Stoppel was often much bigger than high school post players. Johnson said it's sometimes hard to "get a real evaluation" of a forward at the high school level. A guard is sometimes easier.

"We don't have 6-7 guards here, so they are going to matched up at times with other 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 players," Johnson said. "It's the big kids a lot of times that are really the hard adjustment ... You are doing a lot of damage inside at the 1A level, it's a challenge to know how that is going to translate to Division II."

Stoppel, the youngest of three siblings, talked with Neosho coach Jeremy Coombs after a Wilson home game. Coombs impressed Stoppel, who coached Jake's older brother, Ryan, for a year at Pratt Community College.

Neosho finished with a sub-.500 record, but Stoppel improved throughout the year and gained confidence.

He averaged 11.9 points per game before Christmas and 12.8, 18.5 and 14 points per game in the three months after Christmas.

He was at 6.4 rebounds pre-Christmas and 6.7, 8.8 and nine rebounds per month post-Christmas.

"Instead of just trying to play without mistakes, I just played," he said.

Late in the season, Fort Hays contacted Stoppel. Stoppel considered staying another year, but liked being closer to home. Plus, Johnson told Stoppel the 4 spot was open for the '13-14 season. Stoppel wanted to win the spot.

"For quite awhile there, I struggled with picking which one I wanted," Stoppel said.

Stoppel suffered an ankle injury against Newman University on Nov. 19 and missed three games. In his first practice back, Stoppel had knee tendonitis. Since Jan. 4, Stoppel has three double figure contests and two other games with nine points.

"I feel like I am getting more in the defense and my help and recognizing things more quickly coming from juco to Fort Hays now," he said. "I am moving better out there and making coach a little bit happier."