A sophomore-dominated team with a new coach and a brutal schedule, the Bell County Bobcats spent much of the 2020 season trying to put everything together as they worked through a 12-18 campaign that included a fourth-straight first-round exit in postseason play.
Back for his second season at the helm, Brad Sizemore likes the Bobcats’ chances of making major progress in 2021 as they hope to find a way to turn around several of the hard-fought losses from a year ago that included 14 defeats by six points or less.
“I’m really excited about the group we have. I think we have a chance to be really good,” Sizemore said. “We played six kids last year who were sophomores. We struggled at times, but we played a very competitive schedule and got better as the year went on. From that standpoint, I think you’ll see huge jumps in what we’re doing because we’re a year older. We’re in a really tough district, but I think we’ll be a hard out for somebody when the time comes. We have a lot of kids who can do a lot of different things.”
Even with four of their top six players back, the Bobcats will have a big hole to fill at point guard with the graduation of London Stephney (15.4 points per game, 3.5 rebounds per game last season), the region’s quickest player. Bell also lost center Jon Wilson to graduation and junior forward Brandon Baker to a season-ending knee injury suffered in football.
Cameron Burnett (18.3, 7.1), a 6-5 junior forward, is Bell’s top returning player and one of the region’s best big men.
“We need Cam to have a big year, and all his coaches and his teammates expect him to do that,” Sizemore said. “I’m really high on him. He’s gotten bigger and stronger and, hopefully, that will carry over to the basketball court. He’s one of the better players I’ve had the opportunity to work with. He’s versatile and can play multiple positions. We look for him to do a lot of things for our team as far as rebounding, scoring and guarding the other teams’ best players.”
Andrew Caldwell (7.0, 3.1), a 6-foot senior guard, will continue to provide strong defense and leadership.
“He’s had a great offseason because he’s one of the few who has been able to get in the gym a lot. I can see a huge jump in his game,” Sizemore said. “He’s gotten bigger and stronger, and his shot has gotten a lot better. We’ll look for him to provide a consistent outside shot, plus he’s one of our better defenders.”
Dawson Woolum (10.3, 2.1) and Dalton Stepp (4.9, 2.3), both junior guards, will also be counted on to fill key roles once again.
“Dawson will be one of our main guys again. He’s gotten bigger and stronger. He just needs some gym time coming in from football. He can score in a lot of different ways and can play several positions,” Sizemore said. “Stepp has been in the gym since June, and I can tell a big difference in his game. I think he will be improved.”
After sitting out last season because of a knee injury, 6-0 junior Hayden Callebs Is the early favorite to take over at point guard. Callebs averaged 6.5 points and 2.4 rebounds per game as a freshman with Pineville.
“I think Hayden will have a good opportunity to run that spot. We’ll have to use multiple guys to get the ball up and down the floor. Hayden had two years of varsity experience before he transferred. I think he definitely can help us in that spot,” Sizemore said.
Carter McCune (1.7, 1.1) and Chanse Belcher, both 5-11 junior guards, will also be in the mix for a starting job or will fill key reserve roles.
“Carter is a good outside shooter and one of our better defenders. I think he can help us in a lot of different areas,” Sizemore said. “Chanse was on our JV team last year and has been in the gym as much as he possibly could and I’ve seen a lot of improvements in him. He is one of the best outside shooters we have.”
Kage Baker, a 6-6 senior, provides another post option for the Bobcats if Sizemore needs a bigger lineup.
“He made a lot of improvements as last season went on. I think he can help us as far as rebounding and giving us an inside presence,” Sizemore said. “He hasn’t been able to do much since he was playing football. We’re like a lot of people. It will take a few weeks to see what we’re doing when we get back in the gym.”
Freshman guard Daniel Thomas will also see action, along with juniors Cole Hoskins, Dylan Honeycutt and Conner McGeorge.
Finding a way to close out games will be a focus for the Bobcats going into the season after the numerous heartbreaking losses from a year ago.
“If you look at our schedule last year, we were able to beat Clay County on the road, but we lost a lot of close games against good teams in the last two minutes of the game,” Sizemore said. “We were talented enough last year to play with anyone in the region, but we had a lot of kids who hadn’t been in that situation before. We went through some growing pains. We just have to show everyone we are a year older and more mature, and we have to find a way to win those games as upperclassmen.”