By Amanda Perkins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Ava Bears return a core of players and welcome new talent as their third year coach Mike Mallow works with the crew to adjust their style.
The team lost five to graduation, including all-conference players Wyatt Gastineau and Blake King. But five upperclassmen with game experience return, or at least they will, once postseason football wraps.
“I’m as excited as I’ve been in a really long time,” said Coach Mallow of his team. “The guys are working hard and their attitudes are great.”
Senior Drake King (6’5”) put up 8.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game last season, and the stretch four can also drain a three. Classmate Tom Emerich (6’1”, guard) averaged 5.7 points and 3.1 rebounds. They will be expected to increase production but have already emerged as leaders on the young team.
“Some of our leadership is missing,” said Mallow, “but Drake and Tom have been doing a good job encouraging the younger guys and teaching them how we do things.”
Caleb Johnson, starting quarterback, applies his grit in basketball as a skilled defender for the Bears. The senior put up 5.3 points per game last year.
Blake King enters his junior season and, like his brother Drake, has the ability to connect from behind the arc. He averaged 6.8 points per game as a sophomore and made the all-conference team. Nate Swofford is another player still in postseason football, but he had a big summer in basketball and is a vastly improved combo guard.
Newcomers include Carter Campbell, a 6’1” junior who will add depth and is an aggressive slasher, junior Dylan King, a strong defender, and sophomore Mason Cole, a 6’2” athletic rebounder. Zach Mendel is a sophomore and a solid guard for the team.
“The freshman class is talented,” said Coach Mallow. Blayne Mendel, brother to Zach, is a strong guard, as is Kayden Bruce. Andrew Dalton is a swing player, and the 6’2” frosh can assist in several positions.
The Bears employed a pick and roll system last season, and while that will still be seen, the team will be installing a new style. “We’re going to press more, play faster…teach them how to play instead of teaching plays,” said Coach Mallow. “We have several good young players and we want to be playing the way we want to play for the next 4 to 5 years,” he added.
As they pick up the pace on the court, Mallow says the key will be mixing all the factors in play together. “You’ve got experienced seniors, and it will be about their willingness to adapt to new situations. You’ve got good, young players who don’t have any experience yet. Getting them to mix together and accept their roles and trust each other is the most important. It’s more psychological and teamwork and positive attitude than x’s and o’s.”
“I’m excited about this,” he added. “They are good kids and good things are going to happen for us.”
The Bears host Gainesville November 27.