Visiting teams to this week’s Bobcat Classic might look at Bluffton’s 1-5 record and think the hosts could be easy pickings.
Coach Michael Tew wouldn’t necessarily mind.
“It wouldn’t hurt my feelings if people underestimate us,” said Tew, whose first season at the helm got off to an extremely late start with the football team’s deep playoff run.
“I’ve seen us in the gym and, especially these last few days of practice, I’ve seen what we can become. We have the capability of becoming a really solid team.”
The Classic might serve as something of a coming-out party for this year’s Bobcats, who cap Wednesday’s opening slate when they take on Georgia’s Bulloch Academy at 7:30 p.m.
The Bobcats boast Jermaine Patterson, last year’s IP/BG Player of the Year, along with All-Area second-teamer Tyrese Sandgren. But they and eight teammates also play football, a fact complicated by a season extended two weeks by Hurricane Matthew’s arrival in October.
Bluffton got as far as the Class 3A Lower State semifinals, going unbeaten for 12 games before falling to Brookland-Cayce on Dec. 2.
While football season was extended, though, basketball started on time. That left Tew with just three varsity players to begin workouts, supported by junior varsity pieces even into the opening weeks of the season.
To stay within rules limiting JV participation, the Bobcats dressed just seven or eight players for their early games.
“The first couple of losses were just maulings,” said Tew, who himself was doing double duty as one of Ken Cribb’s football assistants. “We were playing with ninth-grade JV kids against seniors, and that usually doesn’t go too well.”
Patterson, a junior, stepped into the lineup quickly after football ended. But the Bobcats had to wait an additional week for Sandgren, selected to play in the North/South All-Star game. It wasn’t until both were on the court that the Bobcats got their first win, an 84-68 victory over Hilton Head Island.
Patterson led the way with 31 points and seven assists, while Sandgren scored 19 points in his season debut.
“I’m kind of fortunate to step into a situation where I have that kind of talent in my backcourt,” Tew said. “Jermaine’s obviously a very good player. And Tyrese — just that one game back he had against Hilton Head, it kind of helped cement some things we were doing. I’m excited about it.”
Bluffton reached last year’s Classic final before falling to The Bolles School’s lineup of Division I prospects. This year’s favorite might be Cincinnati’s Summit Country Day (5-0), which returns five players from a team that won 24 games and an Ohio region title last season.
Ridgeland-Hardeeville also is in the Classic field, off to a 4-2 start after last season’s run to the Class 2A Lower State semifinals. One of those wins gave Jaguars coach Jeremiah Faber his 500th career victory.
The girls’ bracket is led by Class 5A power Irmo, off to an 8-3 start this year, along with Eagle’s Landing (8-1) from suburban Atlanta. Ridgeland-Hardeeville also is entered, giving fans two local interests.
Bobcat Classic admission is $20 for an all-tournament pass, $15 for a two-day pass and $8 for one-day ticket.
Belen Jesuit (Fla.) vs. Summit Country Day (Ohio), 10:30 a.m.
South Point (N.C.) vs. Archbishop McNicholas (Ohio), 1:30 p.m.
Ridgeland-Hardeeville vs. Ben Lippen, 4:30 p.m.
Bulloch Academy (Ga.) vs. Bluffton, 7:30 p.m.
Irmo vs. Farragut (Tenn.), noon
Colleton County vs. Eagle’s Landing (Ga.), 3 p.m.
Holy Cross (Md.) vs. Ridgeland-Hardeeville, 6 p.m.