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Kokomo’s R.J. Oglesby glides in for a shot during a game against Anderson last season. Oglesby is one of the Kats’ top returning players.

Kokomo’s boys basketball team finished 8-16 last season and had the same hurdles as every other team faced in the 2020 offseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite all that, Kokomo coach Bob Wonnell is excited about what the team accomplished in the months since last season, and what the new campaign may bring.

“Last year was just disappointing in a number of ways, but I think one silver lining was it provided us a lot of opportunity to play our young, talented kids significant minutes against good varsity competition and cut their teeth,” Bob Wonnell said. “Coming through adversity you learn a lot about kids and get an opportunity to bounce back.

“We’ve had the most unconventional offseason we’ve ever had, but within the framework of that, we’ve had an awesome offseason. We’ve had a lot of guys get better, so I’m excited to see that come about.”

The Wildkats didn’t play any games as a team in the summer the way they normally would, but had time together in July and the coach saw a lot of individual skill growth over the summer and fall.

“I thought we maximized the time we were together and our kids did a great job of finding places they could get in and get shots, work on their skill work,” Bob Wonnell said.

“Once we got back to school I thought our fall conditioning and workout program was fantastic. Our attendance was great, our enthusiasm and attitudes and focus and concentration were all off the charts.”

The Kat coach pointed to a trio of upperclassmen as critical this season: 6-3 point guard/wing Jackson Richards, 6-2 junior combo guard Bobby Wonnell, and 6-6 senior forward R.J. Ogelsby. Each of the three led the Widlkats in an important area last season.

Richards, a Tribune All-Area second-team selection, scored 11.3 points, grabbed 5.2 rebounds and dished a team-high 3.7 assists per game. Bobby Wonnell, another All-Area second-team pick, scored a team-high 13 points and added 3.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists. And Ogelsby averaged 9 points and a team-high 5.3 rebounds.

“Those three guys have to be our anchors,” Bob Wonnell said.

Bob Wonnell said that Richards played summer ball and did well all offseason, Ogelsby was already making strides the back half of last season that should carry over to his senior year, and Bobby Wonnell had shoulder surgery in the summer and has gotten better in several areas since recovering. Bobby Wonnell led the team with 48 3-pointers last season and Oglesby shot 56% from the field.

Another five players who are candidates to fill out the starting lineup and form the primary rotation are 6-2 sophomore guard/forward Shayne Spear (5.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg), 5-10 junior guard Ta’Shy Stewart (1.7 ppg), 6-2 guard/forward Patrick Hardimon (1.1 ppg), 6-1 senior guard Torian Smith (3.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg) and 6-1 senior guard Drew Swain.

Rounding out the roster are 6-1 senior guard Dashaun Coleman, who returns after a year away from Kokomo High School, 6-0 senior guard P.J. Flowers, a move-in from South Bend Adams who played in the Eagles’ program as a freshman and sophomore, and 5-10 senior guard Jon Callane, a tennis standout who last played hoops as a freshman.

To improve, Bob Wonnell said it’s important that the players are committed to the collective goals and style of play.

“I think we just have to have a defensive mentality. Defense has got to be super important to us,” he said. Last season “we worried a little bit more about offense and what was going our way and what wasn’t going our way and if things weren’t going our way we’d get distracted and allow those things to impact our effort and concentration.

“[If they] allow the game to take place and come to them I think they’ll be surprised at how offense will happen naturally.”

With an athletic team including several gritty football players, Bob Wonnell thinks the current Kats are well-suited to play with intensity. He wants Kokomo to concentrate on ball pressure and man-to-man defense “that gets up in your face and makes things hard for you to do.” Offensively he wants Kokomo to be fast-paced, get transition points when possible, and be effective in the motion offense when not, getting a lot of ball and player movement, cuts, penetration opportunities and passes off that penetration.

The coach said that after last season, people outside the program don’t have high expectations for the Kats and he understands that, but that his goal is to compete for a sectional title by the time the postseason arrives.

“We’ve got to learn how to win,” Bob Wonnell said. “Winning consistently is hard to do. We’ve got to figure it out. I think we’ve got a group that can do that this year. It’s no guarantee. We’ve got a very hard schedule.

“If we come with high energy, good concentration and we talk, that’s a great start. If we do all those things and we let our God-given talent and God-given intelligence take over … I like our chances. I’m excited to see how we play.”

Kokomo opens Tuesday at Western.

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