‘It’s a great group:’ Bearcat basketball players celebrated on Senior Night

Published 3:18 pm Thursday, February 8, 2024

The senior Bainbridge Bearcat basketball players were honored before their game against Early County Tuesday night. The team has seven seniors, and head coach Kelvin Cochran said the seven are a “joy” to coach.

“We’ve got a good group of seniors,” Cochran said. “They get along, they be funny. They be on each other… That’s the good thing about them, There ain’t no drama. They have fun, and it’s a joy to coach.”

AJ Grant

AJ Grant has played varsity basketball for the Bearcats for four years. After graduation, Grant plans to continue his basketball career in college and obtain a Bachelor of Science in dental hygiene. He also plans to obtain his real estate license.

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Grant came into his senior season the only returner from the 2023 team’s core group of starters. Cochran named Grant co-caption and has looked to him to lead the team in 2024. 

“I put a lot on his shoulders this year,” Cochran said. “I’m very proud of him, the way he’s stepped up and tried to be a leader… you can see a shift in him and the way he goes about his business.”

Ja’Mauri “Flip” Williams

Ja’Mauri “Flip” Williams has played varsity basketball for the Bearcats for two years. After graduation, Williams plans to attend Albany State University and pursue a career in sports science. 

Williams has had to fight through adversity to reach the senior night ceremony. He was born without hands and has learned how to do things with his physical disability. Despite the limitations associated with his situation, Williams works every day not to let it hold him back.

Cochran said Williams is “pure inspiration” to him. Cochran went blind in his right eye before entering the ninth grade and said Williams has motivated him to fight his adversity. 

“When I look at what Flip does on a daily basis,” Cochran said. “Like tie his shoes, play video games, he drives, he does everything. I can’t even look at my situation, like, Flip, you can’t help but to feel inspired by this man.”

Zyrell Williams

Zyrell Williams has played varsity basketball for the Bearcats for three years. After graduation, Williams plans to attend college, pursue a career in business, and become a real estate agent. 

Cochran said Williams has impressed him with his leadership abilities. Williams suffered a season-ending injury last year, his junior year. Cochran said Williams could have chosen to let his situation get him down, but Williams stayed positive and became an encouraging force for the team. That encouraging mentality has carried into his senior season, where Williams is co-captain. 

“He started to impress me last year,” Cochran said. “When he was hurt, he didn’t just sulk and kind of fade into the background because he wasn’t playing. He started displaying leadership skills just by him encouraging the guys, picking up the guys, you know what I mean?”

Keith Gaines

Keith Gaines has played varsity basketball for the Bearcats for three years. After graduation, Gaines plans to attend college. 

Cochran said he’s proud of the player Gaines has become this season and is looking forward to seeing what more he can accomplish.

“I still don’t think he’s reached his potential,” Cochran said. “He’s got a lot more upside to his game… I think he’s not finished yet.”

Gabriel Smart Jr.

Gabriel Smart Jr. has played varsity basketball for the Bearcats for three years. After graduation, Smart Jr. plans to attend college and pursue a career in Business Administration.

Cochran described Smart Jr. as a player he can depend on to give maximum effort every time he’s on the court. Cochran said he spent a lot of time working with Smart Jr. last year after an injury on the team promoted Smart Jr. to a role more prominent than an off-the-bench role he was filling. The previous year and a half of coaching experience has Shaped Smart Jr. into a better man, according to Cochran.

“I’m proud of Gabe for his growth as an individual,” Cochran said. “He had to learn how to take getting coached hard like I do. I’m proud of his growth in that and the fact that he can ask questions and have conversations about what’s going on and what he sees.”

Cam Sanders

Cam Sanders has played varsity basketball for the Bearcats for three years. After graduation, Sanders plans to attend college and play football at the college level.

Cochran said he has a lot of experience coaching Sanders, endearingly saying he’s “been a pain in my ass for a long time.” Cochran said he is impressed with the competitor Sanders is and that he’s been proud to watch him grow and mature as he’s gotten older. 

“He’s grown a lot,” Cochran said. “Just to see him grow, from the YMCA days… to now when he’s fixing to be graduated in a couple of months. Just having some conversations with him, you can tell he done matured and grown a lot.”

Denzel Chappell

Denzel Chappell has played varsity basketball for the Bearcats for two years. After graduation, Chappell plans to continue his basketball career in college.

Chappell stepped into a prominent role on the team this season, according to Cochran. Coach Cochran said Chappell has had to adjust to the increased responsibility but that the process has gone smoothly. 

“Coaching him is easy,” Cochran said. “He doesn’t do nothing to draw attention to himself. He listens to you, ‘Yes sir,’ and he’s gone back and tried to redo it. He listens, he looks you in your eyes like a man, like you’re supposed to… I’m proud of his growth and all the challenges that we’ve put him in.”