, Muskogee, OK


March 10, 2013

A hardwoods wrap after a weekend at the Big House

One key to building a championship program is not necessarily dominating through the ebb and flow of a regular season as much as it is having the poise to perform best on the big stages. That was why Fort Gibson brought home their second state championship this weekend.

At times this year, they were flat, even into their regional – struggling to avoid an upset in the regional semifinals. That’s why, at least in this corner, the loss to Byng in the area finals wasn’t stunning news.

What it was, however, was a wake-up call to rise up and the Lady Tigers did, playing their three best games in succession.

Successful programs learn how to respond on the biggest stages. Walker and his coaching staff have been there six times in eight years, making mental notes through the close calls of failure to fine-tune for next time. Successful programs learn from their mistakes and overcome them.

Others are doomed from mistakes because they’re repeated.

Not at Fort Gibson.

If being a dynasty means winning back-to-back, they’re not. But what they are is a program you know belongs on that stage. Three consecutive finals with two titles and six times in championship games in eight seasons is more than enough to be labeled “elite.” Sequoyah’s girls won three straight, but is riding a three-game losing streak at state. What the Lady Tigers have done holds its weight to that.

So you’ll never forgive Caisen Green for that Facebook post of a pit bull he put an arrow through. Go stand with those from parts afar who seem to be following his every mention on the Internet. But I’m going to give the kid props for how he handled another tough situation.

In the semifinals Friday against Okemah, Green, who averages 14 points a game, was shut out. Some pros would blow off postgame opportunities to talk about that. Green didn’t. Overwhelmed by the Panther defense during the game, he was poised afterward.

That’s the kid I’ve seen since he’s been at Sequoyah.

The arm of the law has decided not to prosecute and in spite of what we might think – and I have four pets myself – that’s what counts. Maybe we can realize that at best, threatening dog or not, he was a teen-age kid who learned a valuable lesson about sharing a little too much with the world.

Speaking of kids in tough situations, how about Trey Johnson, the kid from Hugo who unintentionally became a weekend celebrity – for all the wrong reasons.

With just seconds standing between Johnson, his Buffaloes teammates and a trip to the 3A semifinals, Johnson got dyslexic in his focus in the moment. He took the inbounds pass from the sideline and broke for the wrong basket, scoring a layup for Millwood. The buzzer-beater sent a buzz throughout the Internet world and landed on several national websites.

History is full of such sports bloopers: Chris Webber’s lost count of timeouts for Michigan in a national championship game, Bill Buckner’s ball between the legs in the 1986 World Series. Dallas Cowboy Leon Lett’s touching a dead ball, giving Miami a do-over game-winning field goal on a sleet-covered Texas Stadium turf one Thanksgiving day.

Johnson was one of Hugo’s top athletes who made one of the worst mistakes you could make on the worst possible stage, one forever engraved in his psyche. Maybe it will be one those things he can laugh off at reunions. Maybe, being that he’s a JUNIOR who also plays football, there will be room for moments of heroism that will lighten the scar of this moment.

Here’s hoping that he, and those around him, remember that it is just a game. We’ve seen teen-age lives ruined for needless reasons. This shouldn’t be among those reasons.

Oh and while Millwood didn’t necessarily earn that win, they worked for the other two, beating Centennial in double overtime and Okemah in three overtimes in the final game of the tournament.

Worst regret: In spite of the treat of partaking of the mystique of the Big House on Championship Saturday, I should have spent the weekend at the Mabee Center. But Muskogee’s untimely meltdown in the 6A East Area tourney canceled that ticket and even more painful was Bixby, a team they were 2-0 against in the regular season, and Tulsa Washington, recipient of arguably the Lady Roughers’ worst game of the season, played in the finals. It’s kind of like the Hugo squad, knowing its five were better than Millwood’s five, but not getting the prize.

Looking ahead: Hilldale’s girls were by far the most improved team in the regular season, winning more games than in any year since 1997.  Maybe there’s a little dream in this, but wouldn’t it be something if the Red-White Rumble was brought to the Big House next year?  OK, if not, maybe the Area finals.  Good job by Lady Hornets coach Scott Hensley, who will get all his starters back in 2013-14.

Raise the backboards into the rafters and see ya in November.

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