There’s a lot of mystery surrounding boys basketball in the area this season, which is underway in small fashion with Braggs starting last Friday and others cranking it the next three weeks, with much of the season underway the week of Nov. 27.
Some front-stove issues:
• Fort Gibson faces a major reloading mission.
• Okay, which barely missed a fourth trip to state in Class A, has lost the last of the starters from that run.
• Lots of teams that haven’t been successful were young last year. Will maturity lead to a rise in stature?
Then there’s old reliable.
Despite the loss of four starters off a 24-5 team that was a late whistle away from being semifinalist in Class 3A, Sequoyah will look different, but the end result should come in the same time of the season.
Last year’s physical approach will revert back to a pedal to the metal style, utilizing depth in rotations. It’s what can happen when you graduate three starters, all football players.
“This group may not be as physical and not take as many charges and not be as good in half court defense but they’ll be very fast, shoot well and we’ll stress people a different way — particularly other team’s guards to keep up with us. And we’re deep,” said coach Jay Herrin.
They’ll also have size. Blaine Garner, the lone returnee, is 6-5 and versatile. He averaged 7 points a game but had 30 steals and 17 blocks. Herrin touts him as a bona fide all-state candidate. Sequoyah also got 6-5 junior Brayden Haddock on transfer from Muskogee. The younger brother of two-time All-Phoenix guard Brooks Haddock is a more natural post presence.
The rest of the group is guard-loaded. C.J. Soap and Tomas Herrera shot right at 40 percent from 3-point range and should be more effective in this style.
“We should be a better shooting team, and this group of guards may be the best I’ve had,” Herrin said.
Two other teams with less questions than answers are Oktaha in 2A and Wagoner in 4A.
While the Tigers lost 40 points of their offense in two of three graduated starters including All-Phoenix pick Dean Austin, they return four with heavy playing time along with a rapidly progressing group of talented sophomores who together drop a classification from 3A, where their run ended in the Area tournament last year after losses to eventual state champ Star Spencer and Okmulgee.
Matthew Fry, a 6-5 senior forward averaged 11.3 points and 5.5 rebounds. Guards Korey Walker (senior) and junior Trey Cundiff averaged 8.8 and 7.1 points. All have three years of starting experience.
DeAndre Lang, Adam Johnson, Jacob Yandell and Ethan Frazier all saw varsity time but also were part of a group of six freshmen who lost just one game last year.
“That group is going to make the push for us, They’re athletic and Yandell is one of our top three shooters,” said Oktaha coach Darian Dickson. “This group is going to have a major impact the next three years.”
But it doesn’t have to wait to get started.
“We’ve already heard coaches talk about us being in the top 8. We’re just about there,” Dickson said. “The biggest key to that this year is going to be leadership. We have to find an identity that brings that to the surface, the maturity and all that goes with it. These guys can be really good when they want to be.”
Wagoner, which hasn’t made the state tournament since 2002, may have a legitimate shot this year. Six-6 senior Chris Coulter (13 points, 10 rebounds) brings his double-double capability back to the post where the Bulldogs will have added inside strength in 6-6 senior forward Ashton Bartholomew (10 points, 8 rebounds). Jaevon Robertson, another senior, averaged 8 points at guard. Two sophomore guards, 6-4 Sawyer Jones and 6-3 Jacob Scroggins, add to a talented group that stumbled in the regional finals but gave Fort Gibson a pair of scares last year.
Some infusion of young depth on move-ins has the Bulldogs in position to make a run. The key?
“Consistency,” said Bulldogs coach Zach Ange. “I told them the difference between us and the teams I saw in the state tournament was the defensive intensity and effort. We’ll be tough to hard and match up with athletically but at times the teams outplayed us and out hustled us. We have to learn to play at that level every game.”
So Sequoyah, Oktaha and Wagoner lead the field. Beyond this, it’s an up-for-grabs year. Taking a flyer on four to round out the preseason Super 7, with a number of others capable of entering that group:
4. Tahlequah — Junior guard Jaxon Jones averaged 15.5 points and the Tigers return four starters. The key will be whether the Tigers can impact the defensive boards.
5. Fort Gibson — Sophomore Connor Calavan (13.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg) returns after earning Newcomer of the Year honors. His brother and three other starters are gone and the Tigers will start a freshman point guard in 5-11 Jaxon Blunt. But the last time the Tigers had close to this kind of a rebuilding project, they reached the state finals. What will Todd Dickerson’s group do in his first full season at the helm?
6. Braggs — A team led by juniors Parker York (11.8 ppg) and Zack Askew (11.4 ppg) won 16 games a year ago as freshmen and sophomores. Is a big year this year or next?
7. Muskogee — The most seasoned and potent returnee, Cameron Clemmons averaged 10 points a game last year. The Roughers lost Brayden Haddock, the younger brother of two-time All-Phoenix standout Brooks Haddock, and there’s seven players on the roster still in football. Josh Berry says it’s a day at a time, which makes sense when at least seven players on your roster are still in football, all of whom should play key roles in the team’s direction.
A look at those others:
A recurring theme facing some of these teams are how much growth happened with a young group coming off losing seasons? For others, it’s the start of or continued implementation of programs and in some cases, plain old work ethic.
Hilldale — Scott Hensley enters his second year after two state trips with the girls. Junior T.J. Maxwell and Hunter Parson together averaged 14 points as guards a year ago and will be at the core of what success the Hornets have this year. Sean Lester, a 6-4 junior, will provide toughness and rebounding. A foundation is being established.
Gore — The Pirates have won 12 games in three years, but have improved that number each year going 8-14 in 2017-18. Junior guard Jericho Pettit leads returnees with a 12.9 average and the Pirates will open a new event center.
Eufaula — Jeff Oliver moves over from Wagoner’s girls program and inherits three starters from an 11-11 team and longtime EHS coach Brad Campbell. Senior guards Kobe Warrior and John Bailey averaged right at 11 points each. An up-and-comer could be athletic freshman guard Khelil Deere.
Haskell — Watch for 6-2 forward Zane Adams. He averaged 16 points and had a career-high 44-point night, two triple-doubles and 10 double-doubles. But can four other starters off a team that went 7-16 help mold the work ethic to make a run?
Hulbert — One former Fort Gibson standout now coaches a Riders team that may be very interesting with four returning starters, three of which averaged between 12-14 points game in 5-11 senior point guard Jacob Bruce, 6-4 sophomore Gabe Lewis and 5-11 sophomore Ethan Chuculate. Chase Vaughn adds board punch with 8 rebounds and 2 blocked shots for his 6-7 frame. The Riders were 10-17 last year.
Okay — Six-7 freshman Elijah Lapham adds an intriguing piece to five seniors who replace last year’s starters.
Porter — Levi Keeton, in his fourth season, has the most depth and athleticism he’s had. Conner Herberger, Tyler Kilgore and K.J. Reynolds are all experienced senior forwards. Much higher expectations are in store after last year’s 8-19 mark.
Porum — Montana Ellison and Butch McMellon were double-figure scorers last year, and the Panthers return everyone from a year ago. So improvement off a 5-18 mark should be easy to do, but how much improvement?
Vian — Coach Anthony Porter lost much of his offense off a 23-6 team, but a young nucleus surrounding two starters, Iman Harrison and Ben Spyres (who averaged 5 points a game) has him thinking the journey will be fun.
Warner — Jack Van Daley, Nathan Ohl and Wryan Daniels form a trio with some serious offensive punch on a team that didn’t lose anyone but has some growth to do from 9-16. How much growth will come?
Webbers Falls — Joshua Laney takes over the boys Webbers Falls, where Jerry Ward will relinquish double-duty to focus on the girls squad. Laney has one returning starter in senior Jacob Coleman.