By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Thayer has been a model of consistency with six straight district championships and at least 25 wins in four of the last five seasons.
The Bobcats have been unable to advance past the sectional round since reaching the Final Four in 2014, but the seniors on this year’s team remember seeing that run from a distance.
“They want to get back there. They’re used to winning,” head coach Matt Pitts said. “We’ve been blessed to have the kids, attitude, and culture that we’ve had.”
Pitts, now in his 13th season as head coach, has been instrumental in creating that culture. He has four seniors and one starter back to keep that trend going this winter.
That starter is All-State selection Ayden Stone, who averaged a team-high 11.7 points and 9.9 rebounds per game as a junior. With the talent to play at the college level, he will be the biggest threat the Bobcats will put on the floor every night.
“Obviously he’s got to be good for us and he will be. We worked with him this summer on making some plays off the dribble and shooting threes. He really improved and he’s a double double for us every time he steps out there.”
Stone broke his finger during football early in June, so the Bobcats were without him for the middle portion of summer workouts. Pitts pointed out that the silver lining was the opportunities it provided other players.
“It was kind of good for our others guys to have to play without him. Some of them got their roles expanded and they stepped up and played well.”
Dylan Spencer, Braden Huffstedler, and Dillon Poulett will also be making their last run as seniors. Spencer will be instrumental to post defense and rebounding with a 6’5”, 215-pound frame. Huffstedler will provide some length at 6’2” as well as some backup on the boards.
Pitts expects a solid crop of sophomores to compete for minutes as well. That group includes Jayce Haven, Logan Doss, Zerek Langley, and Chris Cray.
Jordan Andrews and Gaige Pitts, both freshmen, could also take some minutes right away. Andrews, in particular, showed a knack for filling up the score sheet with multiple 40-point games as an eighth grader.
Pitts was not shy about how those underclassmen will need to mature quickly.
“As a coach, sometimes we’re so bad about handling young kids with such care that we can hinder their growth a little,” he said. “This year, we’ll have to say: you’re not a sophomore or freshman, you’re a player.”
The Bobcats will also make defense a calling card once again. They were decidedly the best in the South Central Association at disrupting the offense last year, allowing nearly 17 fewer points per night than any other team.
What excites Pitts the most are the positives he can find in every grade level.
“We’ve had some great success here but I’m not sure we’ve ever been as deep from top to bottom.”