DUBLIN — West Bladen doesn’t just have big shoes to fill after graduation losses last season, they have oversized clown shoes to fill.
The Knights, who finished 22-4 overall after a heartbreaking 58-54 loss to Fairmont in the third round of the state’s Class 2-A playoffs, will open a basketball season without guards Rahu Purdie and Malcolm Vaught, as well as inside big man Brandon Council in the lineup.
Purdie was the Four County Conference’s Player of the Year last season and Vaught was three-point specialist who was tabbed an all-conference player.
In addition, coach Travis Pait lost seniors Brian Floyd, Justin Ruffin and Joseph Miller.
“Huge shoes to fill,” Pait said. “Each of them were key parts to our success.”
But West Bladen does have some experience and talent to build on — starting with senior Stefan McDonald, who will make the transition into the point guard roll.
“Stefan is a natural point guard in a lot of ways,” Pait said. “He has very good court vision, and he’s a tenacious defender and very good leader. But he’s got to get used to playing the position.”
Also nailing down a starting position is Sayaun Dent at a forward position, and Pait said that, right now, the other three starters more than likely would be Jonathan Robinson, Keyshawn Lewis and Shaquille Johnson, a transfer from North Myrtle Beach.
“Those three positions could change along the way, it’s hard to say until we get started,” Pait added. He also has De’quan Lennon and Jonathan Russ at his disposal.
The Knights aren’t expected to be as much of a running offense this season, though Pait did say there will be times when he’ll push the offense up the court.
“We’ll also be looking to post up at times, depending on the personnel that we have on the floor,” he said. “I don’t really know how good we’ll be yet — we’re pretty young, but we do have size and depth.
“It’s probably the most size I’ve ever had,” he added.
In taking a look at the conference this season, Pait thinks everyone has improved except his own team and pointed to Clinton, Pender County, Midway and East Bladen as being the teams to beat.
“I just think the entire conference got better except us,” Pait said. “That’s not a knock against our guys now, but we did lose some very good players.
“And as always, I think this will be one of the most competitive conferences there is,” he added.
West Bladen opens its season on Tuesday at Purnell Swett.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.