The Jaguars are undefeated in league play and sit atop the AV-CTL II
The Andover Central Jaguars are the top team in Division II of the Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League, from top-to-bottom one of the best conferences in the state. The AV-CTL features teams like Maize, Campus, Newton and Salina Central at the top of Division I, Ark City, Eisenhower and Maize South trailing the Jags at the top of Division II, perennial power McPherson at the top of Division III and Andale and Wichita Collegiate continuing their success in Division IV.
The Jaguars are undefeated in league play and have lost just once on the year, an 82-72 overtime loss to City League power Wichita Southeast in their first action after the Christmas break.
Andover Central is led by a trio of scorers in junior Xavier Bell (20.5 ppg), senior Braden Belt (18.8 ppg) and senior Easton Leedom (16.3 ppg). Veteran coach Jesse Herrmann said the triple-threat makes the Jags difficult to guard.
"They compliment each other so well," Herrmann said. "It’s tough to guard Xavier and Easton getting to the basket because of how well Braden shoots it. Easton and Xavier are shooting it around 40 percent from three as well and Braden is shooting 45 percent. Easton is on pace to break our single season record for assists."
But Herrmann emphasizes that there's more to Andover Central than just the "big three."
"Jerome Washington is a versatile five-man that is athletic and able to knock down shots as well. Ty Herrmann has been great defensively for us and we just got Shomari Parnell back from a football injury."
And the Jaguars success could carry over into next season as Belt and Leedom are the only seniors in Andover Central's top seven.
Bell, who appeared on the cover of last November's Winter Sports Preview, is one of the top athletes in the state and will have to choose between the football field or the basketball court when it comes time to make a college choice. Currently Bell holds offers from the University of Denver and Southeast Missouri State for basketball and reports he is receiving interest from North Dakota State, K-State and KU for football. When asked what sport he plans to play in college and where he said he said he is undecided.
Bell said he feels he has improved significantly this basketball season.
"I feel this season probably has meant the most to me," Bell said. "Just seeing how far I’ve come as a player, and then other teammates too, like Braden and Easton, we’ve really grown together and figured out how to play with one another. And so, with that being said, if we’re all playing together, and playing to win, there’s no doubt in my mind that we will be playing for the state title come early/mid-March."
Check out Bell's cover feature by Conor Nicholl from this year's Winter Sports Preview below:
Xavier Bell has enjoyed a standout first two seasons with Andover Central. As a freshman, he averaged 10 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists for a Jaguar squad that earned the No. 8 seed at the Class 4A, Division I state tournament, pulled an upset and advanced to the final four.
“That was crazy,” Bell said. “I can tell you, we did not expect to get that far.”
Last season, the 6-foot-4 Bell upped his numbers to 16 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists a contest. AC again defeated KC-Piper at state, and then advanced to the final four where it lost to Miege in the semifinals.
However, Bell has seen significant strides in his game through coach Chris Tyler and the well-known MOKAN Elite program. Tyler met with Bell and his parents in February/ March, explained the team and Bell’s development. “Eighth grade, I was kind of the wild kid who was just like running around everywhere,” Bell said. “Someone actually sat down, and broke my game down, just to build it back up again, which was really awesome.”
The left-handed Bell said he and Tyler developed his shot “a lot,” and improved his ball handling, especially with his right hand. Bell worked on ball handling first, then shooting, then shots off the dribble.
“I would always do everything, but try and come back left,” Bell said. “So I think when we got in the gym and really just tried to work on my right hand.”
Bell traveled throughout the country with MOKAN, including Atlanta, Dallas and Indianapolis. He has procured two offers from Division I mid-majors: University of Denver and Southeast Missouri State.
Bell and his MOKAN coaches have had communication with multiple schools. Oklahoma State was the first school to contact him. Valparaiso, Colorado, Missouri State, George Washington, Tulane, Drake and others have talked to him as well. Bell has received the most contact from Wichita State and Tulsa.
This season, Andover Central moves up to 5A and is the smallest 5A school. McPherson, a 4A power, also bumps to 5A. However, Bishop Miege, the three-time defending 4A champions, remained in 4A. AC returns 92 percent of its scoring and 86 percent of rebounding. The top-six scorers return. Senior Braden Belt averaged 14.1 points, while senior Easton Leedom has delivered 13.4 points and six rebounds a contest. Veteran coach Jesse Herrmann calls this “probably the most experience team I have had in 22 years of head coaching.”
“We return over 85 percent of our points, stats, assists, rebounds from last season,” Herrmann added. “We had an undefeated JV season last year and our junior class has some depth. The key to us being successful is everyone buying in to the ‘we before me’ mentality and playing for each other.”
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