DUBLIN — West Bladen will look a lot different on the court this season after the loss of lanky seniors John Bowen and Sayaun Dent, each of whom graduated and are now playing collegiately. They also lost Kalvin Page and Fred Walters to graduation all of which represents about 85 percent of the Knights scoring.
“We have huge losses from a team that was top-heavy in scoring last year,” said West Bladen coach Travis Pait. “No individual will be able to make up for any one person we lost. Just too big of a task. This is a totally different team with a totally different style of play.”
But there is a solid core of returning players who can begin rebuilding a team that finished 18-10 overall last season and 9-5 in the Four County Conference. The Knights fell in the second round of the Class 2-A playoffs to conference nemesis Clinton, 50-45 — the third loss of the season to the Dark Horses.
Those returning seniors — post players Scott Bowen and Jonathan Robinson, and guards Jimmy Williams and Gerardo Reyes — will be looked to for leadership on and off the court, as well filling some of the scoring void.
“That will come naturally and not through us directly telling any one player to take more shots,” Pait said. “We want all of our players to take any shot in which we believe they can make one out of two or better.”
At the top of Pait’s list of strengths for West Bladen is the fact that the Knights “have a great desire to please the coaching staff and play hard.” He added that the Knights will “be very patient on both ends of the court and refuse to play at a pace that we are not comfortable with.”
At the other side of the ledger, Pait says his team will need to build on varsity experience as the season wears on.
“… we have less varsity playing time experience than we’ve had in several years,” he added.
Another big change for the Knights will be the exit from the four years in the Four County Conference and a return to familiar opponents within the new split Class 1-A/2-A Three Rivers Conference — which puts West Bladen among a 10-team conference featuring teams from Bladen, Columbus and Robeson counties.
And there’s plenty of competition there.
“Fairmont and West Columbus have the most talent on paper,” Pait said, “while St. Pauls, Whiteville, East Columbus and Red Springs will be able to compete for the top of the conference as well.”
He added that East Bladen will be improved going into the second year with Coach Kenzil McCall.
Where will the Knights fit in?
“We will play hard and compete every night,” Pait said. “I really believe that fans will enjoy this group. We open up with Hoggard, who is a traditional 4-A power that is coached by one of the best coaches in the area. We then play Fairmont, so our early schedule will show our weaknesses to us really quickly. We don’t know where we will be in the league but feel that we probably won’t hit our stride until January.”
That first game is Tuesday at home with Hoggard. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or email@example.com.