By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The emphasis on defense remains, but look for the Thayer Bobcats to potentially change things up a bit on offense this winter.
With four-year starter and 6’5” forward Ayden Stone now at College of the Ozarks, the Bobcats – who have won six straight district championships – will adjust their scheme.
“We will stress defense and rebounding as always,” said Thayer coach Matt Pitts. “On offense, we will look to be a little more up-tempo. Depth could be a plus for us if our young guys adapt quickly to the varsity level.”
Junior Jayce Haven leads Thayer’s returning varsity players. Haven, who quarterbacks the football team in the fall, is a returning All-South Central Association player (honorable mention).
The 6’1” junior averaged 7.6 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.6 steals per game last season.
“He’s a great leader who has a great motor,” Pitts said. “He’s versatile and can score in a lot of way. He’s an athlete who competes hard.”
Also back is sophomore Jordan Andrews, who started all 30 games as a freshman. Andrews, a 6-foot guard, is Thayer’s top returning scorer (10.3 ppg).
“He’s a great scorer from all levels,” Pitts said. “He has a high basketball IQ and we feel like this will be his breakout season.”
Gaige Pitts and Landry Pitts join Andrews in the sophomore class. Gaige, the coach’s son and a point guard, played in 26 of 30 varsity games last season.
“He has great vision, rebounds well and loves to compete and play the game,” Matt Pitts said. “He can score in a variety of ways.”
Landry is the nephew of the head coach and fits Thayer’s defense-first philosophy.
“He has a high basketball IQ and is a great perimeter shooter,” Matt Pitts said. “He’s a good defender and has a blue-collar work ethic.”
Junior Logan Doss saw action in 14 varsity games last season.
“He’s ultra-athletic and a great rebound with good touch around the rim,” Matt Pitts said. “He has a great motor.”
Thayer finished 24-6 overall last season, marking its ninth straight season of 18 or more wins.
The Bobcats defeated Neelyville, 37-29, to capture their sixth straight district championship. But for the fifth year in a row, Thayer’s season ended in the next round with a 43-41 loss to Portageville in sectionals.
Thayer’s suffered a string of close, heartbreaking losses in sectionals dating back to 2015; the five sectional losses have come by an average margin of just five points. Thayer last won a state playoff game in 2014, when it reached the final four.
Thayer graduated four seniors in Stone, Braden Hufstedler, Dylan Spencer and Dillon Poulette.
Stone, Hufstedler and Spencer each earned all-conference honors. Stone was named the 2018-19 South Central Association Player of the Year and Class 2 all-state.
“All four seniors will be missed,” Matt Pitts said. “They each had things they brought to the table that enabled us to have the success that we achieved. They represented our program on and off the floor the way they should have.”
Varsity newcomers include senior Tyler Orf and juniors Chris Cray, Levi Poulette, Ryan Parker and Jordan Madden.
Sophomores include Lane Grimes, Keaton Nicholson and Kyrin Magnuson.
Nicholson (6’4”) and Parker (6’3”) will give Thayer much-needed height.
The Bobcats open the regular season Nov. 30 at the Current River Challenge. They won’t play a home game until Jan. 9 against Winona.
Thayer hosts Houston on Jan. 17 for its SCA opener.
“The conference will be good top to bottom and there will be a handful of teams battling for the title,” Matt Pitts said. “It should make for an exciting season.”