Levy hopes to see Lions take next step in his second season


Pineville Mountain Lions Team members include, from left, front row: Keean Fuson, Logunn Littles, Ty Clark, Ashton Burns, Ian Middleton and Sawyer Thompson; back row: freshmen coach Robert Daniels, video coordinator Jaden Boateng, Timmy Gambrel, Sean Phipps, Scotty Coffman, Brady Phipps, Eli Thompson, Evan Billiter, Dakota Walters, junior varsity coach Bill Keyes and coach Brad Levy; not pictured: Ashton Moser, Gionni Hudson and assistant coach Mark Moser.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

Going into his second season as coach, Brad Levy is confident his Pineville Mountain Lions have made the adjustments to his style and are in position for a move forward in 2021.
“I brought In a defensive style they weren’t used to. I want to pressure the ball and get in the passing lanes and force the issue a little bit. I think our kids have a firmer grasp of that now. It just took time,” Levy said. “We definitely have to continue improving on the defensive end and on the glass.”
The Lions lost four of their top six scorers from a year ago but can rebuild around what may be the region’s most underrated player in 6-foot-5 senior forward Sean Phipps (17.9 points per game, 8.5 rebounds per game last season). Phipps had an immediate impact on his new team following a transfer from Bell County.
“He was more a back to the basket kid when he came to us,” Levy said. “He was very versatile and we’ll be moving him around even more this year, asking him to do some things off the dribble. He has one of the best shooting strokes I’ve seen.”
Keean Fuson (11.0), a 6-foot senior, is the other returning starter at a wing.
“His strength last year was getting to the basket in transition,” Levy said. “We hope we can harness him a little more this year in the halfcourt. I think he’s improved in the offseason.”
Ian Middleton, a 6-1 sophomore, is expected to take over at point guard.
“He’s grown physically and worked hard in the weight room. He’s put on 10 to 15 pounds,” Levy said. “He’s a good ball handler who I hope can get us operating at a higher level.”
Eli Thompson, a 6-1 junior, is the early favorite to take over as the Lions’ starting center.
“Eli was one of our leading rebounders last year. He’s not that big, but he did a good job of defending the post last year,” Levy said. “Eli is really smart and has a high basketball IQ and knows how to use his body.”
Ty Clark, a 5-6 sophomore, and Sawyer Thompson, a 6-0 eighth-grader, will compete for the other starting wing spot.
“Both of those guys will be a big part of what we’re doing. Ty is a real tough kid who is good at using his body to make plays. He led us in taking charges last year and is a real good rebounder for his size. He’s an emotional leader for us,” Levy said. “Sawyer is naturally talented, but he’s worked his tail off through AAU and getting in the gym. He’s confident in his game, but he will outwork you also. He’s very tough and mature for an eighth-grader.”
Timothy Gambrel and Gionni Hudson, both seniors, could also play roles, along with Evan Biliter (2.1, 2.6), a 6-3 sophomore.
While two-time defending region champ Knox Central remains the favorite in the 51st District, Levy likes the Lions’ chances of competing for a berth in the regional tourney. Pineville will also be among the regional All “A” favorites even though a matchup with Harlan on Jan. 9 is probably the toughest first-round draw.
“It’s going to be a challenge for everyone this year to stay engaged and focused during the starts and stops,” Levy said. “We have to stay together and stay mentally focused. I don’t think we were as mentally tough as we needed to be last year, but we have some kids now, including guards, who will get in there and fight for loose balls. We have Sean and Keannn, but we need our guards to step up to become a third option for us.”