By Pedro Velazco
Kokomo’s boys basketball team has big shoes to fill this season: its own.
The Wildkats have posted five straight winning seasons, including last year’s 20-5 campaign that ended in a regional semifinal loss to Carmel, which went on to win the Class 4A state title.
Kokomo has to replace Indiana All-Star D.J. Baletine and other key players. The Kats will look to keep the momentum going with three experienced regulars and some new players who are expected to show they’re ready for the big time.
“They’re excited,” Kokomo coach Brian McCauley said. “They’ve put in a lot of hard work throughout the summer and throughout the fall. They’re excited to go out there and add their mark to the Kokomo basketball program and all the tradition it has. They’re excited to be a part of that and kind of write their chapter to it.”
The lead authors are the experienced trio of 6-foot-2 senior shooting guard LaBradford Sebree, 6-2 junior point guard Tayler Persons, and 6-6 junior forward Erik Bowen.
“LaBradford is a three-year starter for us, he’s played in a state championship game [in the 2010-11 season], in back-to-back 20-win seasons,” McCauley said. “He has a lot of experience and a lot of toughness. He’s going to do a great job of leading us and being a calming influence for us.
“Tayler Persons and Erik Bowen have been an integral part of the last couple seasons as well. That’s a good nucleus to build around.”
Last season, Persons averaged 12.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Sebree averaged 11.3 points and 4.2 rebounds and shot 52.8 percent from the field overall. And Bowen added 7.2 points and 4.2 rebounds and shot 52.3 percent from the field overall. All three players shot better than 40 percent from 3-point range. Persons and Sebree earned spots on the KT All-Area team.
Persons and Sebree are the types of players that McCauley has built his Kokomo squads around: all-around guards with the desire to do dirty work inside, and who relish getting in a defensive stance and making life uncomfortable for opposing offensive players. Bowen has a good touch from the high post to loosen defenses for driving lanes, and also can go in the paint. It’s a good combination to work with as the Kats find a new leadership group.
“It’s exciting when you have players with that experience returning,” McCauley said of the Sebree-Persons-Bowen core. “It’s definitely a luxury as a coach. Those guys, not only do they have good experience, but they have high skill level, they’re tough-nosed competitors and have great attitudes. When you’re experienced, [have] very good attitudes, you’re coachable and you’re unselfish, those are very good characteristics to build around.”
McCauley said the Kats expect to get some key minutes from players people haven’t seen much of at the varsity level, but who look ready to leave a mark. He noted 6-2 senior shooting guard Hakim Burnett, 6-4 junior forward Brad Dockemeyer, 5-11 senior shooting guard Dylan Orbaugh, 6-4 senior center Christian Collins, and 6-4 junior forward Brandon Wilson in that group.
“I’m naming a slew of guys that have really improved the last couple years at the JV level ... have had some awfully good players that are a little older than them [previously] but now it’s their turn to shine,” McCauley said.
He also expects key contributions from Mykal Cox, a 6-1 junior point guard who is new to the program, 6-2 senior forward Montanez Fowler, and 6-7 senior center Kylee Beheler.
The Kats are particularly deep at guard, with 6-2 senior Jesse Broomfield, 5-8 junior Jazimar Woodard further options at shooting guard and 5-8 freshman Jeron Gray an option at point.
The mixture of veterans with a lot of new faces has been a positive combination so far.
“I’ve been really pleased with our attitude and our cohesiveness and our effort,” McCauley said. “Those three things have been excellent and I’m really happy with the way that they’ve approached practice and their understanding of playing together as a unit.
“This team understands the importance of being a great defensive team. We understand we’re going to have to be a great rebounding team. Offensively, this is a unit that understand the importance of great shot selection and really playing offense as a team. It’s a very unselfish group. It’s a group that is full of tough-nosed competitors and they’re not concerned about individual accolades.”
JV games start at 6 p.m. unless otherwise noted
Wednesday at Western
Saturday at Westfield
Dec. 1 Fishers
Dec. 7 Muncie C., 6:30
Dec. 14 at Marion, 6:30
Dec. 15 Lafayette Jeff
Coca-Cola Old School Sectional at Mem. Gym
• Dec. 18 vs. Macon.
• Dec. 21-22 vs. TBD
Jan. 4 at Peru
Jan. 5 McCutcheon
Jan. 11 at New Castle, 6:30
Jan. 12 at Carmel
Jan. 19 at Tipton
Jan. 25 at Anderson, 6:30
Jan. 26 Harrison
Feb. 1 Hunt. N. 6:15
Feb. 2 Lebanon
Feb. 7 at Logan, 6:30
Feb. 15 Richmond, 6:30
Feb. 22 F.W. Northrop, 6:30