Jeff Fry remembers that Saturday of spring break a year ago, his season having just ended.
“I had about seven guys beating on my door, wanting to get in the gym and shoot,” he said.
That’s what the energy of a first state tournament trip in 61 years gets you. Adding to that, getting four double-figure scorers from that trip back.
Lock this — Braggs won’t have to wait another 61 years to make that journey west. The commitment to get it done in a hurry is there.
“The other day it’s 10 to 3 and we start practice and at 5:20, we’re still on the court,” said Fry, who was Coach of the Year on last year’s All-Phoenix boys team. “These guys don’t want to chip away, they want to hack away. I’m super excited for them. I don’t know if they can get enough basketball and that’s a great problem to have in this little spot of the world.”
The Wildcats have a blend of all the right ingredients, including the experience of having reached that plateau a year ago after losing its first game in districts and putting together six consecutive wins through the consolation brackets, capping it by beating the New Lima team that sent them there to begin with.
Zack Askew, a 6-foot-2 senior forward, averaged 16.1 points a year ago and 5-10 senior guard Parker York, 16.0. Both were All-Phoenix selections. Jase King, a 6-6 junior forward, averaged 12.8 points and just missed making it. Throw in Gavin Dause, a 6-2 senior guard and his 9.9 points, and there’s no lacking in shooters.
King, who had ample time in AAU play over the summer, may have the highest ceiling.
If the state trip wasn’t enough exposure, Fry took the team, minus King, to Pioneer for a team camp over the summer, a higher-level exposure than they’ve had in previous summers.
“It was good for them, and teams knew we didn’t have all our pieces and we competed,” he said.
One early test for the Wildcats, who are already 2-0 due to being able to start early as a non-football team, comes Thursday at home against defending champion Kinta, which eliminated them a year ago.
“I told my kids this is not our defining moment,” Fry said. “If we win we’re not the greatest team in the state and if we lose we’re not the worse. Our kids want it bad but I can’t sell this team just on what happens Thursday night.”
Indeed. They lost their opener to Kinta last year.
A look around at some others with good reason to expect big things in 2019-20, which for most doesn’t get started until the end of the month or first of December:
The Indians, looking for their eighth consecutive state trip, don’t have to reload. Four senior starters are back starting with All-Phoenix returnee, 5-11 guard C.J. Soap (14.3 points). Also, 5-9 guard Shade Watie (7.1 points, 5 assists) 5-9 guard Tomas Herrera (10 points) and Brayden Haddock, a 6-4 post with a year in the system averaging 7.3 points and 5.6 rebounds after having transferred from Muskogee as a sophomore.
Who knows what might have happened had the Haymakers, 24-5 a year ago, not taken an unexpected stumble in districts and had the long road to hoe. They battled through the elimination ladder with four straight wins, getting to the area semifinals where their season ended against Star-Spencer. All-Phoenix MVP inside powerhouse Zane Adams (17 points, 12 rebounds) leads a loaded squad of five returning starters. Junior Dixon averaged 11 points at guard. Along with a deep athletic bench, the Haymakers should keep their footing.
The Tigers took a dip last year, going 13-13, but have back two-time All-Phoenix guard Connor Calavan (21.3 points), along with Jaxon Biunt, the Newcomer of the Year who averaged 10.3 points and 3.7 assists. Tommy French was hurt part of last year. His 6-5 presence inside and a full year on the court will be a plus. Look for the Tigers to challenge for a return to state after a two-year absence.
The Hornets had their moments, such as reaching the finals of the Old Fort Classic after knocking off Sequoyah, and ending a 16-game losing skid against Fort Gibson that dated back to 2010. They were 16-8 but a sketchy draw left them with a tough road out of regionals, which they didn’t navigate.
T.J. Maxwell made All-Phoenix as a junior guard averaging 13 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. Sean Lester and Ty O’Neal bring the height at 6-5 and 6-4 having started a year ago and averaged 8 points each. Brayson Lawson had a solid freshman season, also averaging 8 points a game. Hunter Parson, a guard, averaged 10 points. Most telling may be this from Hilldale coach Scott Hensley, in his ninth year but third as boys coach: “It’s going to be a fun year. It’s amazing what can be accomplished when nobody cares who gets the credit.”
Expectations were optimistic for a Tigers team coming off a 20-win season with quality youth and depth to go with a standout senior, but they were mysteriously dumped in the first round of districts as a 16-10 team. They’ll be motivated to rectify that with four guys who averaged just shy of 10 points — senior forward Dillon Watson (9.7), junior forward Adam Johnson (9.2), junior guard Jakob Yandell (8) and junior Ethan Frazier (8). Freshman Preston Holmes (5-7) has already established himself as the team’s top point guard.
Jason Dowdy begins his eighth year with a talented and deep group of guards that went 16-10 last year. It starts with 6-1 guard Brendan Dan who averaged 17 points per game. Jacob Barrett (12 points) and point guard Caden Martin (10 points) add punch.
Lynwood Wade takes over as coach and he’s got James Brown (the ball player, not the singer), and his 9-point average. Xavier Brown led the Roughers with 12.9 points. It was a young team that won just two games a year ago, and it’s still young as Dominick Nero, a 6-2 forward, is the only senior out now. But all of that young talent have had significant growth, enough that Wade is looking to take a team that won just two games last year to a first-round playoff win, something that hasn’t happened since 2013-14.
Jack Van Daley led the area in scoring last year, averaging 21.4 points a game. He’s a deadly 3-point shooter. Juniors Camden Chappell and Haiden Peters have started at various times, and Trae Fairchild, who stepped into his dad Sam’s spot as head coach after the latter took the same role at Bixby, sees them stepping into a bigger role along with a strong group of sophomores he’s coached as a group the past couple seasons.
Jordan Garner, an alum who played for current girls coach Jerry Ward, comes over from Vian to coach a team led by 5-11 junior Jake Chambers (17.4 points). The Warriors were 3-19 a year ago.
The Mustangs have two returning players with experience from an 18-12 team. Aaron Perkins and Mitchell Richardson averaged 7.6 and 6.8 a year ago. Okay may catch some attention in senior Jacob Berry and junior Elijah Lapham, listed as 6-7 and 6-5. Both are new to the program and developing, but with some obvious attributes.
Jacob Scroggins is the remaining part of a trio that had a higher ceiling than the 19-6 team that wound up with an early exit in regionals. The 6-4 junior who averaged in double figures has six others with experience, but several are still in football.
The Wolverines have just two back with experience, Guard Iman Harrison and forward Ben Spyres, both seniors, averaged just 5 points.
Sophomore Khalil Deere and junior guard Nick Jones will shoulder the load, as three starters were lost to graduation. Football participation and success will slow the Ironheads out of the gate.
Nate Smith takes over the Pirates, who will have some height in sophomores Caden Williard (6-2) and Kejuan Renolds (6-3). But youth will have growing pains early.
The Panthers have one returning starter, 6-0 Briley Berry, who averaged 10 points.