Conference: 7A/6A Central
Coach: James Bates, 14th year as head coach, 240-102 at school
Assistant coach: Brian Longing
2012-13 record: 16-11 overall and 7-7 conference; lost in first round of the Class 7A State Tournament to Van Buren, 52-49.
Returning starters: James Grubbs, 6-3 senior post; and Sean Criswell, 6-1 senior forward. Grubbs and Criswell split time at a forward/post position as juniors last season.
Best inside players: Grubbs and Criswell averaged 3 points per game last year. They’ll get help this season from Javonte Ellis, a 6-4 junior who led the junior varsity team in scoring last year; John Nekonchuk, a 6-5 transfer from Conway Christian; 6-2 juniors Kennedy King and Tyler Smith; and Blaine Booher, a 6-6 sophomore.
Best outside players: Leading candidates are 6-foot senior Trenton Walder and 5-9 senior guard Jalen Jones; and several football players: 5-10 senior A.J. Burton, 6-0 sophomore Demarian Johnson, 6-1 sophomore Breylin Smith, 5-10 sophomore Prentice Mullins and 5-8 senior Deion Ball. “All were role players last season, and it will be interesting to see who steps up and leads this season,” Bates said.
How will you match/exceed/fall short of your success from last year? With just two starters returning, the Wampus Cats will, for the most part, be a different team in 2013-14. “New faces, new team, eager players competing for playing time,” Bates said, describing his squad.
Team strengths: “We will have much more length on this team,” the coach said. “Rebounding should be one of our strengths.”
Team weaknesses: The other side of more length could turn out to be a weakness. “We may not have the ability to apply as much pressure as the last couple of [CHS] teams,” Bates said.
Games to watch: Bates said all 7A/6A-Central games, as well as the home opener against Fayetteville, the defending state runner-up, Nov. 19 at Buzz Bolding Arena.
Toughest opponent: The coach said all conference games, which include traditional powers Little Rock Hall (two-time defending state 6A champion) and Little Rock Parkview, as well as Fort Smith Southside and Fort Smith Northside. “By the time you get to that point in the season, everyone knows your strengths and weaknesses, and they try to exploit them,” he said.
College prospects: None at this time.
In a nutshell: “This will be our least-experienced team to begin a season since 2001,” Bates said. “How well we grow together as a team while gaining varsity experience will dictate our success. The nonconference schedule will be huge for us. Thus far, I really like the chemistry that the players are showing in our preseason practices.”