Before the opening tip of the season has even gone up, Taylor’s boys basketball team is already feeling the effects of COVID-19 on what is sure to be a season different than any other.
“I have a bad feeling it’s going to be a crazy up and down season,” Titan coach Dennis Bentzler said the day before Taylor’s opener at Frankton on Wednesday and home opener with Maconaquah next Saturday were postponed on Thursday.
“We’re just trying to get everybody healthy, and we’re probably not in any different shape than anybody else,” Bentzler said. “I tell the kids all the time, it’s going to be a crazy season. It’s just going to be how we play together and stay together mentally as a team. We’ve just got to focus, because we’re not going to know from night to night whether we’re going to be practicing, whether we’re going to be in school, whether we’re going to have games.”
Bentzler is slated for his second season helming the boys, and when the Titans do take the court – as of now, the Titans are set to open Dec. 5 at home against Oak Hill – he is optimistic of what he’ll see from his squad in action.
“Just going into my second year, we’re just trying to get this thing turned around, and I’m really pleasantly surprised. We’ve got a really good blend of veterans, we’ve got five seniors and some really good senior leadership, probably the best senior leadership we’ve had in years, and then we’ve got some good young guys. Our sophomore class is loaded and we’ve got some juniors that are going to fit in there. We’ve just got a good mix of veterans and young guys. The leadership has been outstanding.”
Taylor returns three regular starters in seniors Ryley Gilbert, Jaylen Harris and Nathan Keene, and the Titans will rely heavily on that trio to lead the squad.
The 5-foot-9 Gilbert and 5-11 Harris will anchor the Titans’ backcourt. Gilbert is the leading returning scorer after averaging 12.0 points per game last season while Harris averaged 4.5.
Bentzler said Gilbert and Harris are “two really good, quick guards, can shoot the ball from the perimeter but they’re penetrators, they can get to the basket, make good decisions” and that Keene, a 6-1 forward, is “a smart player, knows how to play the game. He can step out and hit the three, he can post up.”
The Titans’ other two seniors are Ty’mon Davis (3.4 ppg), a 6-3 forward Bentzler says can shoot the basketball and is a strong athlete who can rebound the ball, and Josh Bowman, a 6-2 senior who offers athleticism and experience.
“Those five kids, they’ve just been outstanding from a leadership standpoint,” Bentzler said. “I think for the first time in a long time we’ve got guys who genuinely care about the program and the team. So I’m really proud of those five guys.”
Those five could likely be starters, though Bentzler noted that 6-2 junior center Quinten Tucker is in the mix as well as 6-3 sophomore center Kaden Blane.
Blane, who started some games as a freshman last season, highlights a strong sophomore class that also features Mekhi McGee, a 6-1 guard that Bentzler says has great athleticism and is a slasher-type player who can rebound and plays good defense.
Other members of the sophomore class include Misaiah Bebley, a 6-3 forward who can play inside/out, and Jav’Aire Patterson, a 6-1 guard/forward who is recovering from a broken leg suffered during football season but Bentzler hopes to have back for the final month or so of the season.
A pair of juniors, 6-foot Ashton McKay and 5-7 Da’Mon Davis, will split time between varsity and JV.
Taylor went 3-19 last season, and while the Titans averaged a respectable 56.1 points per game, they surrendered 69.8 points per game, a number Bentzler said absolutely must improve.
“We’ve got to get back to that blue-collar mentality on the defensive side of the ball,” Bentzler said. “We had that for so many years with Coach [Jeff] Fisher. So that’s one of our main goals, we’ve got to be better defensively obviously. We’ve got to play more physical, we’ve got to rebound the basketball, get the 50/50 balls.
“I told the kids I don’t care if we’re 20-0 or 0-20, we’re going to continue to do the right things on and off the floor, we’re going to get better defensively, we’re going to play together. Normally, if you do the right things, good things will happen. I’m hoping we can have a little more success this year and just keep this thing going in the right direction. It’s going to take some time to totally rebuild this thing to where we’re consistently competitive year in and year out so that’s what we’re working for right now.”