All Conway’s Preston Purifoy and Kenyon McNeaill have wanted to do since joining the Wampus Cats was win a state championship.
They’ve been running mates since the fifth grade, and the seniors immediately helped make the Cats title contenders when they reached the varsity level. Both are more than likely on their way to a third straight all-state honor, a first for Conway basketball, and are hoping to leave the program with its first state championship since the mid 1970s.
Tonight will be the final time the two suit up at Wampus Cat Arena, as Conway hosts Little Rock Catholic for Senior Night. That will mark the end of what Cats coach James Bates called "maybe a once in a lifetime thing" in terms of having two NCAA Division I-caliber players on the same team.
"It’s a coach’s dream," Bates said. "You’ve got a point guard (McNeaill) and another guy (Purifoy) who can play anywhere on the floor.
"There’s a special bond between them. Sometimes they make eye contact without you even realizing it. But when they make eye contact, them something is going to happen."
The duo has been making things happen since the 2007-08 season. That year, hopes of bringing home that coveted trophy were dashed when Catholic held on for a 48-46 win in the finals.
Last season, Rogers got the best of Conway in the state semifinals in a year many people — including Cats players and coaches — thought would be a state championship season.
It didn’t happen, but from the looks of it, all signs are pointing to another chance this season.
"It’s been a little hard (having gotten close twice), especially since we made it our sophomore year," McNeaill said. "Now we’re just starving for one."
During that sophomore season, Conway enjoyed breaking in its new arena by hosting the Class 7A state tournament. As their career closes at the new facility, the two seniors are looking forward to playing their final game in front of the home crowd.
"It’s our last chance to show everyone what we can do," McNeaill said. "It’s been nice to play here, especially since they built this new arena. It’s like they built the arena for us."
"We’ve got great crowds and the best student section in the state," Purifoy said.
McNeaill has scored more than 1,100 points in his career. He is averaging 14 points per game. He has a career field goal percentage near 47 percent, including more than 40 percent from 3-point range.
Purifoy, who missed the first 12 games last season with a leg injury, is one point shy of 900 in his career. For his career, Purifoy — who has signed to play at Alabama-Birmingham next season — is averaging 13 points a game and has shot 50.4 percent.
They’ve stepped up the scoring this season, as McNeaill is averaging 16 and Purifoy 15. They are within 18 points of each other this season.
But none of that matters to this dynamic duo.
In maybe a twist of irony, the final home game will come against the team that the Cats have come to dislike the most in the past couple of years.
The Rockets have had their share of success against Conway, including winning three times in 2008. Last season, the Cats swept Catholic and picked up the first win on the Rockets’ home floor in quite some time.
Still, that title game is what is most memorable.
"Going to Catholic and seeing that banner that says ‘state champs’ is what we think about the most," Purifoy said. "That should be in our gym."
Tonight’s game has plenty of meaning, especially with the postseason looming.
"We’re going to treat (tonight’s matchup) like a state tournament game," Purifoy said.
Sure, there’s business at hand to tend. However, don’t think these two don’t want to end their home career without making a mark.
"We want to put on a show one more time," said McNeaill, who originally committed to Nebraska but will wait until after the season before deciding where to play college ball.
A win tonight would give the Cats an undefeated mark in 7A-Central Conference play. They’ve already clinched the top seed in the conference and will play in Van Buren at 5:30 p.m. Friday against the winner of Thursday’s matchup between the fourth seed from the West and fifth from the Central.
"I think everyone will bring a lot to the table in the tournament, especially the seniors who got to see what it was like (to reach the title game) as sophomores)," Purifoy said.
There’ll be more work needed to get over that final hump, too.
"We’ve got to be more focused in practice," McNeaill said. "We’ve got to take it seriously, and when it’s time to play, we’ve just got to relax and know we’ve worked hard."
Both agreed it would be a huge disappointment if there is no state championship to celebrate when it’s all said and done. That’s just part of the nature of these two standouts.
"They’re so driven and want to do what it takes to win," Bates said. "They’re winners and don’t accept any less."
That’s also led them to being some of the biggest leaders on the team.
"They set good examples," Bates said. "You want your players following leaders. It doesn’t matter what they’re doing, they’re always up in the front working hard."
The Conway coach, though, said while McNeaill and Purifoy are the leaders, they also realize it takes more than just a couple of players to make a team good. Depth is something the Cats have been able to enjoy. With that has come situations of having a variety of players step up and take charge on a given night.
"There’s always been someone there to help," McNeaill said. "We’ve had great role players. We’re really just role players, too."
Whatever you want to call them, you have to add winners. They’ve won a total of 66 games at Conway High and could win as many as 70 in all if they’re able to come away victorious tonight and run the table in the tournament.
While there have obviously been other players play an important part in that win total, there is still no debate Purifoy and McNeaill had been a large factor. That’s why a large chapter will come to an end as the season concludes but both feel they’re leaving the program in good hands.
"It may be a once in a lifetime deal from a coaching standpoint," Bates said. "We’ve had a lot of good players come through but not two Division I-caliber players at the same time."
Joining McNeaill and Purifoy as seniors who will be honored tonight will be Antwan Noble, Evan Alspaugh, Jake Hannon and Jordan Davis. Also tonight, outgoing athletic director Buzz Bolding will be honored for his time at Conway, including 26 years as AD.