, Muskogee, OK


March 30, 2014

2013-14 ALL-PHOENIX BASKETBALL TEAMS: MHS, FGHS front the season’s best

Gym rats and blue-collar coaches. That’s the story at the top of the 2013-14 All-Phoenix basketball teams.

Both MVPs, Muskogee’s Aaliyah Wilson and Fort Gibson’s Jordan London, have had deep exposure to the game's competitive arena.

“My parents had a basketball in my hands from the time I was able to hold one,” Wilson said.

And London? Let his coach speak for him.

“He’s one of those guys who does a lot of things on  the court you can’t attribute to coaching,” said Tigers coach, and Phoenix boys coach of the year Gary Hendrix. “He’s been around the game all his life, coming from a coaching family. He sees things some players don’t see and I can’t take credit for putting it there.”

Wilson’s father RuDel is a Muskogee assistant coach who played there in high school before moving to the college level at Langston. Her mother Sheri played at Boynton. Her sister Alexus was an All-Phoenix selection who just finished an impressive first season at Oral Roberts University.

London’s dad Chuck is a girls basketball assistant at Fort Gibson who coached his older sister Taylor and is part of three state championship teams.

“He realizes who is open, where they can get shots from and when he should take a shot, and he’s a multi-sport guy (football, basketball and golf),” Hendrix said. “A kid with a great sense of what to do when he’s competing."

Both players were saddled with high expectations. London, a junior, was the lone returning starter on a team that would combine some hard-working seniors with a couple of move-backs and returned the Tigers to the state tournament for the first time since 2010, going 24-4 and defeating then-No. 1 Victory Christian in the area final in Wilburton.

Wilson saw her sister and another Division I signee in Kelsey McClure graduate off a team that had made the state tournament in 2011-12 and barely missed a repeat trip a year later. When not a part-time starter, Wilson was the first player off the bench.  She became a leader of a team that didn’t have a senior in its starting rotation, one that didn’t have a lot of expectation.

All they did was go 23-5 and make the 6A semifinals.  It’s the first time a Muskogee team has advanced this far since the OSSAA went to five-on-five in 1995. The last MHS team that got there was under the six-on-six rules in 1982-83.

Wilson did a little bit of everything. She averaged 18.4 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 3.6 steals and 3.6 blocked shots.

“I’ve coached a lot of girls and I don’t know if I’ve coached one with the work ethic and desire she’s got,” Rowland said. “She may not be in a class of her own but it won’t take long to call that roll.

“She’s only a sophomore. I don’t know if you want to say a sophomore can be a leader but she was and she led by example. I never told Aaliyah who I wanted her to take hold of on defense. She just took it on herself to locate the best player on the other team and go for it. I never told her I wanted her to block shots but she blocked 3-4 a game. I wanted to preserve her minutes and keep her out of foul trouble but you can’t take the go-getter out of her.”

Wilson said she never hesitated in taking the reins of this young squad.

“I guess you have to overlook your age and just go do the things you know you need to,” she said. “I remember my sister talking to me before my first game without her (the two played one season together a year ago) and she just told me ‘go do what you know how to do.’’

London is humble about his season — which saw him average 16 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists.

“I feel blessed to be considered MVP,” he said. “My teammates, they swing me the ball. We have team work and I wouldn’t have gotten this without them. That’s what gave us the success we had.”

Pushed on his own play, he became a little self-critical.

“My shooting wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be but I think I handled the ball well and did a good job finding open teammates,” he said. “My rebounding I was happy with. You’ve got to make yourself get rebounds and I got a lot of put-backs off my rebounds.”

Aside from her older sister, the younger Wilson has drawn comparisons to  the best known standouts in Muskogee hoops history — even surpassing Angie Hillmon (Eastern JC, Colorado), Kamara Stancle (Arkansas), Sharee Mitchum (Oklahoma). Sheryl Crowder (set a state tournament scoring record with 50 points in one game) and current assistant coach Shonika Breedlove (Eastern JC, Oklahoma).

“If she keeps her head on the way it is now — she’s also an excellent student — she’ll have lots of options beyond this stage,” Rowland said.

Rowland’s youth blended together for a surprising season.

“There was a time in our ORU team camp last summer where (assistant coach) Aaron Daniels and I looked at each other and had the same idea — that this might not be as bad as we had thought it might be,”  he said. “These girls were very coachable and that’s what made them learn, develop and succeed.”

Told of that remark, Wilson grinned.

“He emphasized working hard. He told us that if there wasn’t any hard work in the preseason there wouldn’t be any games in March,” she said.

Blue-collar is what Jerry Walker has thrived on at Fort Gibson, which put together the first back-to-back championships in Class 4A in the five-on-five era. The Lady Tigers rallied from 16 down to beat Anadarko 50-47 and finished 30-1. The girls coach of the year last year shares this year's honor with Rowland.

“When you look at honestly, what, three championships in four years, that’s never been done either and I’m not sure you can find a school that’s been to the state tournament 10 straight times let alone be in the finals seven of the last nine times,” Walker said. “But it’s something that we’ve built through great assistant coaches, good kids who are smart, hard-working girls who are role models on and off the court to the girls who look up and want to be a part of this down the road. The cupboard’s never bare and I feel blessed to be surrounded by what we have here."

Hendrix’s emphasis on unselfish play made an impression on his kids just as it did on him as a kid playing for Walker’s father, Jerry Walker Sr., and then under Jack Dobbins at Northeastern State.

“That lineage has always been a part of my philosophy and I believe in it,” he said. “Sometimes  you see the professional game where there’s a lot of one-on-one things with the emphasis on the individual, which at times there’s a place for. But dealing with our kids, the way I learned has been a good fit. We don’t have superstar athletic ability but more so the good workers and intelligent kids. And that’s been a key to our success.”

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