BLUEFIELD — In 2007, The Bland County Bears football team made a run to the playoffs for the first time in years. It was good for the football program, but not so good for the basketball program.

But that has not deterred the Bears or their head coach, Rich Hankins.

“We haven’t played but one game thus far and that was against Graham on Friday,” Hankins said. “And I thought we played a very good first half but we didn’t have the legs to compete in the second half.

“I think my team’s going to be pretty doggone good. It’s just that we’ve got to get out of our football stage a little bit and kind of get in a little bit better basketball shape.”

Hankins expects that his team will be in basketball shape by January. They will have to be. Hankins will utilize a high-octane style that he believes best uses his talent.

“We’re going to play up tempo,” Hankins said. “We’re going to try to press a little bit more than what we did last year. I think we’ve got enough quickness to get out and pressure some people into some turnovers and hopefully create some easy baskets.”

The Bears have nine of 11 players returning from last season, including four of five starters, with Tyler Eastep being a strong inside presence.

“We’ve got a good mixture of height and speed,” Hankins said. “All we’ve got to do now is put everything together.

“I think it’s going to take a little bit of time. We’re suffering now from slight injuries due to football. But the kids are working extremely hard. They’re a great group to work with.”

Junior Josh Shrader is expected to make an impact at the point. Hankins believes he will provide solid play down low and leadership to the rest of the Bears.

“He started for me last year as a sophomore,” Hankins said. “Good steady play overall, he’s got a tremendous shot on him. (He’s) very quick with the basketball.

“I think about every one of my kids look to Josh. You just can’t measure that. He’s such a great kid. He’s got some learning to do, but he’s willing to step up and stick his nose in there and make things happen.”

The Kennedy triplets are also expected to do great things this winter. They will be looked at to make a name for themselves on the court like they did on the gridiron. Each brings his own unique talent to the floor.

“Kyle plays the two guard. He’s a tenacious defender,” Hankins said. “Kris is an exceptional outside shooter. And Korey is maybe the best all-around of the three.

“(Korey’s) a little bit better of a rebounder. He’s really starting to attack the basketball off the dribble a little bit, really penetrate and find open people.”

But the most important contribution the triplets could make would be to team chemistry.

“I don’t see any jealousy at all,” Hankins said. “I see them constantly pushing not only on each other but the other team members as well. We’re all in this thing together and we’re to the point that we’re pushing each other to be the best we can possibly be.”

Hankins thinks that best could be much better than the 6-15 record they put up last season. The Bears have the talent. It is just a question of whether they can get that talent to come together.

“I feel like they can be awfully good,” Hankins said. “They can compete for a district championship if they get on a roll towards the end of the season

“I think. I see them as pretty good.”

— Contact Jed Lockett


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