Fulton boys basketball will have a new-look, defensive-oriented team

Fulton's Rowdy Gohring shoots a 3 in front of Hannibal's Mason Hull (right) and Chase Timbrook (left) on Feb. 17 at C. Allen Korf Memorial Gymnasium. Gohring, who made second-team All-NCMC last season, is the Hornets' only returning starter. (Robby Campbell/Fulton Sun)

After graduating last season's big three, Walker Gohring, Colby Lancaster and Donovan Weigel, the Fulton Hornets will have a new-look lineup and a new gym this year.

This season, the younger Gohring, Rowdy, will lead Fulton. Rowdy Gohring is the only returning Hornet who earned a postseason accolade last year, second-team All-NCMC, and he recorded a team-high 41.3 3-point percentage and made 67 3s while tallying 10.3 points per game, 2.7 rebounds per game and 2.8 assists per game in 2022-23.

"We will lean on him to look to lead us in scoring and be our scoring threat," Fulton boys basketball coach Justin Gilmore said.

Gabe DeFily and Ethan Milius also played significant minutes last season and will be leaders for Fulton.

"(DeFily and Milius) were great at slashing and getting to the basket for easy buckets," Gilmore said. "They're great cutters. They're very smart players. They can defend pretty much any position on the court. And we'll really look to (Rowdy Gohring, DeFily and Milius) to bring their experience and leadership to some of our guys that haven't had the chance to play at the varsity level."

While the three mentioned above played most last season, Gilmore expects all his players to have a "big role" in the team this year.

"It's not going to be like years past where three or four guys play a majority of the minutes," Gilmore said. "We'll be getting guys in and out, keeping bodies fresh -- just keep running fresh guys at teams. Try to win games defensively as best we can. But I love our group of 10. I think we have a really solid group of 10 guys. I think they can all play a significant role for us at some point this year."

Miles Bethell and Justin Case will earn more playing time this season after playing sparingly a season ago.

"Miles is a great on-ball defender, and his effort is fantastic," Gilmore said. "He got on the floor a couple of times (in the Jamboree) and forced some steals for us. And then Justin can really shoot the ball. He is a very gifted scorer, and he's put on a lot of muscle in the offseason, and it showed. He can guard the post for us. He can push around people, he can be our strong force inside if we need him to be and he's not afraid to guard the post player. We will look to him to guard and knock down shots."

Transferring to Fulton from Hickman, Qailen Chambers is another name who will receive a good amount of playing time.

"He can guard the post for us. He's a bigger body for us that we desperately needed," Gilmore said of Chambers. "He can also stretch the floor. He's a very gifted shooter. And he's very smart, and he's not afraid to pass the ball."

Another new name for the Hornets varsity team, Xaivier Hayes, will play his first minutes. Gilmore was impressed with his effort through the first three weeks of practice and felt "He can guard when he really wants to."

Not only will Fulton have Walker Gohring's younger brother on the team, but it'll also have Weigel's -- Paul Bruner. Bruner is a left-handed guard like Rowdy Gohring.

"He's very gifted with the ball in his hands, but more than anything, he can really shoot the ball," Gilmore said of Bruner. "Behind Rowdy, he's probably our next best shooter. And I mean, he's going to be one of the guys we lean on to really stretch defenses and knock down open shots.

Gage Tiffany, a 6-foot, 4-inch guard-forward combo, joins Bruner as another standout sophomore on the Hornets. Tiffany was teammates with DeFily, Milius, Case and Bethell on Fulton's baseball team that made it to state last spring.

"I think that's really helped them just kind of grow," Gilmore said of Tiffany playing baseball for Fulton. "But he can really shoot it as well, and so we'll look to him to stretch the floor for us."

Thomas Pittman Jr. is a freshman who will get varsity minutes, as Gilmore felt he "played his butt off" the first three weeks of practice.

"He's willing to put his body on the line at all times," Gilmore said of Pittman. "He'll guard anybody on the court. The word that keeps coming up when I talk about Thomas is 'fearless.' For a freshman, he doesn't have any fear. He will go out there, and he's not scared. He'll guard the best player. He'll do whatever it takes, and he's very coachable. He listens, and he's been a very pleasant surprise for us to start the year."

Focusing on the team overall, Gilmore mentioned defense as Fulton's strength. In the Jamboree Tuesday, the Hornets let their defense lead to many of their buckets.

"I really like how we get after it on the defensive end," Gilmore said. "The guys have really bought into sitting down and guarding and helping and communicating and rotating. And I think that's what we hang our hat on this year is just a great defensive team that gets needed stops, and they have the ability to do that. I love that they're all so close together. I'm sure we've had some closer teams maybe in the past, but this team seems very close-knit. They get along. They enjoy being around each other. It's a fun group to coach. They come in every day; they're focused. They want to learn. It's just a really fun group to be around every day."

As the reigning North Central Missouri Conference champion, Fulton must defend its bragging rights this season.

"It's fierce competition every night in the NCMC, and I love it," Gilmore said. "It's great for us. It's great competition for our guys, win or lose, towards the end of the year, as we know we've been battle-tested playing in this conference. Every year, I know whoever we play, matchup in the conference, it's gonna be a dogfight every night. Everybody's got good teams in this conference. So it's always a test."

Even though Fatima -- ended Fulton's season last year -- dropped a class, the Hornets will still be tested in district play.

Assigned to Class 4 District 9, Fulton has three teams in its district from last year -- Tolton, Southern Boone and Boonville -- and two new opponents -- California and Marshall.

Taking fourth place in Class 4 last season, the Trailblazers will be the team to beat in District 9. With the return of Aaron Rowe, the 20th-ranked Class of 2025 recruit by 247Sports, the Trailblazers will be even better this season on paper.

"Tough district!" Gilmore said. "Tolton is always a really good team. I believe they went to the Final Four last year, and they bring back a few guys from that team. Southern Boone, Boonville and California are all teams we may see at some point this year. They've all improved from last year and didn't lose much, so they'll all be tough opponents. Marshall is a conference school, and I know they are going to be better as well. All in all, we've got a very tough, competitive district yet again. Nothing new for our guys, though. Our guys have played in tough districts before!"

Before worrying about conference or district games, Fulton will begin the campaign in its new gym, hosting Warrenton at 7 p.m. tonight at Fulton High School. Last season, the Hornets beat the Warriors 71-52 in Warrenton.