Leander head coach Clint Bradley knew years ago he had something special in this group of seniors.
There are six seniors on the team, led by team captains Cody Bayer, Kristian Murphy and Kobe Thompson. The Lions missed out on the playoffs last season by two games, and despite their move up to class 6A this season, are hoping to get over the hump.
“They do things the right way,” Bradley said. “Not only are they good examples on the court, they represent the program in the right way. One thing that makes them good is they’re all unselfish. They share the basketball and don’t worry about the individual accomplishments.”
The Lions are off to an 8-6 start to the season and most recently finished in fourth place at the Leander Lion Classic last weekend. They went undefeated in pool play and lost to Del Valle and McNeil in the semifinals.
Leander lost to Byron Nelson in the silver division at the Jack Frost Tournament in Georgetown the week before and Bayer was named to the all-tournament team. He said it was an honor, especially since he’s used to Thompson getting many individual awards.
“I don’t really see it as a big deal, but for me, it’s kind of cool,” Bayer said. “We all have our roles and stuff. I can always give it to (Thompson and Murphy) when I’m in trouble or anything. We know who can do what in certain situations. I try to lead by example and communicate.”
The “experts” see the Lions on the outside looking in. The Texas Association of Basketball Coaches picked them to finish behind Westlake, Vandegrift, Vista Ridge and Lake Travis in District 24-6A.
Individually, the 6-foot-5 senior has aspirations of playing at the college level, focusing on becoming an overall better player and leader this season. He says the familiarity with each other helps with chemistry and, in turn, makes everybody look better.
“We’ve been playing together since the 7th grade,” Thompson said. “These guys make me go. When I know they’re excited to play, I get excited to play. I know what we’re capable of and what we can be. If we stick to that, we can go far.”
Bayer and senior JP Stevens are the best shooters from long range, Murphy is a deadly passer and Thompson is constantly a top scorer. He had 17 points and seven points in the Lions’ two wins in pool play and just one point in the semifinal loss to Del Valle last weekend.
“Everybody understands their roles and are comfortable and accept it,” Bradley said. “They never try to do too much and they let the game come to them. They do a good job to find a way to get people the ball in certain situations and putting the team first.”
Leander takes on Round Rock Westwood on the road Tuesday at 1 p.m. before heading to The Colony Classic Tournament in Lewisville on Dec. 28-29. It begins district play Jan. 3 at home against No. 25 Vista Ridge.
The Lions haven’t made the postseason since 2014 when they lost to Austin LBJ in the first round. Thompson was the only freshman on the varsity squad.
Winning is nice, but for this senior trio, they just want to go out and have fun. The rest will take care of itself.
“It feels like we’re just going out there and playing because we’re doing it with our best friends,” Murphy said. “You’re not just playing to play basketball, you’re playing with the people you grew up with. We’re not worried about basketball all the time, we want to have fun.
“The wins will come with it when we’re having fun and doing what we do.”