Coming off their most successful season in over five years, the Georgia Northwestern Bobcats will be counting on an influx of new faces as they get set to tip off a new basketball season this week.
The Navy-and-Silver will open the 2017-2018 season in the friendly confines of the Rossville Athletic Center against the Hiwassee College junior varsity squad on Wednesday at 6 p.m.
While the new faces bring with them a lot of potential, head coach David Stephenson will have just one returning player in 6-foot-7 sophomore center, Micah Wheeler.
“As far as experience goes, Micah is it,” Stephenson said. “But I will say this, it’s a great group of character kids, one of the best I’ve coached. We’ll have more size than we’ve had in a quite a while and one thing that we’ve noticed is that that kids we have with size can at least shoot from the elbow, if not a little bit further out. We won’t be content to leave the big guys on the block. We can flash to the high post and things like that.
“We’ll also have a little more depth than we’ve had before too. Some of the guys have played together before they even came to us. We have some guys from Ringgold that played together and three more guys that all played travel ball on the same team during the summer. That will all help, but lack of experience is still an issue.”
Justin Smith and Bryan College transfer Davian Wheeler will be two of the Bobcats’ primary point guards, while both could also play at the 2 spot if needed. Another freshman, Kolbi Suttle, gives the Bobcats another versatile player in the backcourt, while at shooting guard, Stephenson is counting on production and defense from Davantae Kimble and Cole McKeehan.
“We’ve got a lot of quick, ball-handling, athletic guards,” the coach said. “Almost all of those guys are interchangeable.”
Jay Wideman and Deontae Jackson will provide added depth at guard, while Jackson has the bulk to play some at small forward.
“They have both been at every practice and working hard,” Stephenson said of Wideman and Jackson. “If we need them, I know they will be able to jump right in.”
At the 3 spot, 6-foot-5 Tyler Phillips was the Player of the Year in a very good Georgia Region 6-AAA last year, while Phillips’ summer league teammate and high school region foe, the 6-foot-4 J.T. Langford, will give the Bobcats another solid player at the position.
The third member of that AAU/Region 6-AAA ball trio, the 6-foot-6 Bryce Waters, shows nice touch with his shot, can run the floor and pass, but also has the size to bang inside for rebounds from the 4 spot.
In the middle, Micah Wheeler has shown tremendous improvement and will see a significant increase in minutes and floor responsibilities this season. He’ll have backup in 6-foot-6 Tristen Bennett, who loves to rebound and block shots while scoring points in the paint.
Mark Wiedenbenner will return to assist Stephenson on the bench, while former Bobcat Bud Todd will work exclusively with the men’s team this season after serving as an assistant with the women’s team in the past.
“I’m excited because I think we can do a lot of different things with this team,” Stephenson continued. “We’re athletic enough to run and we can press because our big guys can move. At same time, we can pound the ball inside and run some isolation. I’m really excited about this team.”
Stephenson added that his team’s depth and familiarity with each other are two of his team’s strengths.
“The key (to the season) is how fast they grow up on the floor with having just one returning player,” he explained. “That and keeping everyone happy with their role and the minutes they are getting. But we feel comfortable with any of these guys on the floor at any time.”
Georgia Northwestern will head to Florida this weekend to participate in the Trinity Baptist College Classic in Jacksonville. They will face the host squad on Friday night (7:30 p.m.) before taking on Georgia Gwinnett College on Saturday at 12 noon.
Game times and a full schedule can be found online at BobcatsCountry.com.