Ah, the sacrifices one must make to excel.

Those late-night sandwiches and slices of cake that used to make for a good bedtime snack are out for Matt Qualls. But he’s used to it now as he dropped 20 pounds over several months in the summer before doing the really hard work — adding 5-6 pounds of muscle this fall.

As if the Tigers didn’t need something else to feel good about, the 6-foot-7 senior with a 25-point, 14-rebound average has developed into a more versatile player.

“I used to be iffy about being a 3 but I can play the perimeter because my footwork is so much better,” he said. “That and the strength I’ve gained, I think I’m a more complete player.

Qualls and two other full-time starters will lead the Tigers into Class 5A.

“I thought we’d do some damage in 6A with what we had coming back then hearing we were dropping down, it really fired us up,” he said. “Our team is very confident we’ll be in the state tournament.”

And with good reason. The Tigers, having lost just one starter off a 10-13 team, beat defending 5A finalist Tulsa Washington twice in the Hardwood Tipoff preseason scrimmage tournament.

“Knowing we can compete at that level and knowing that we don’t have as many obstacles as we did in 6A, I’m excited about what we have,” said the Tigers coach, Leroy Qualls. “We’re going to be a more balanced, more well-rounded offensive team.”

Jon Gribbs, a 5-10 guard, averaged 9.2 points and 5.3 assists. Josh Todd, a 6-1 senior guard, also started last year. Michael Tinsley (5-11, so., guard) and Nigel Turner (6-3, sr., forward) were part-time starters.

He also has the additions of 6-6 junior forward Adam Stovall, who played at Keys as a freshman, and 6-5 senior guard Weston Cox, who played at Pryor.

Tahlequah opens the season at their new gym against Stilwell on Nov. 25.

— Mike Kays

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