Leonard Barnes needs only 11 words to sum up his Aberdeen boys basketball team.
“We’re young, but I think we’re tough,” the Bobcat head coach said. “We’ll soon find out.”
The Bobcats will begin finding out Friday, when they open their season at home against arch-rival Hoquiam.
At first glance, the outlook wouldn’t seem particularly promising, since Aberdeen returns only three full-time varsity performers from a club that had a 5-15 record last season.
But the Bobcats were more competitive than their record indicated last season. They played many contenders tough in a rugged Evergreen 2A Conference, often to be victimized by one disastrous quarter.
In addition, an influx of young talent — some promoted from a strong junior varsity squad — gives the Cats unaccustomed depth and stylistic flexibility.
The Bobcats have a bit more size than usual, with four players standing at least 6-foot-2. They also have enough speed to implement the running game that Barnes favors.
“They have the potential to be a very good ballclub,” the AHS coach noted. “It just depends on how quickly we come together as a team.”
Aberdeen will be counting heavily on 6-foot-1 seniors Deon Schlesser and Veek Cheema, the two returning starters.
Cheema is expected to provide outside shooting and leadership. Schlesser, more of a defensive specialist last season, has a multitude of skills.
“He can defend the best scorer in the gym and has the ability to be the best offensive and defensive rebounder (around),” Barnes said. “He’s not real tall, but he has real good timing.”
Six-two senior Aaron Taylor, the third varsity returnee, can operate either from the post or a wing.
Other candidates at post include Jacob Black, a 6-3 junior who possesses both quickness and leaping ability, husky 6-3 senior Lorenzo Ontiveros and 6-6 sophomore Chandler Craig. The latter may swing between the varsity and JV teams early in the campaign.
Junior Cole Edwards, who made some late-season contributions in limited varsity action, will likely man the point guard slot more often than not. Barnes, however, said most of his backcourt performers will alternate between the point and an off-guard position.
Austin Floch, another junior guard, is projected as a solid contributor on both ends of the court. Junior Addam Follett and sophomore Payton Campbell are also available for backcourt duty.
Barnes is optimistic that the Cats have shored up their two primary shortcomings from last season.
“Our shooting and our ball-handling should be much improved,” he said.
Barnes foresees the Evergreen 2A Conference as competitive as always, with Tumwater and Centralia the teams to beat.
“I think we’ll be in the mix (for a district berth),” he said.
Brandon Barnes returns to assist his father as the junior varsity coach, with Aaron Cleverly taking over the C squad. Brian Shay and Mark Buckman round out the AHS staff.