The SportsTalk Network kicks off its basketball coverage with the Dec. 14 Crosstown Clash doubleheader, beginning at 6 p.m. at Norman High School Gymnasium.
The NHS girl’s basketball team enters this season with high expectations after a 16-10 finish in 2017-18 where they advanced to area play and a loss to Midwest City ended their season.
The Tigers return a pair of seniors that have seen plenty of action in 5-foot-10 small forward Turner Mattingly and 5-foot-7 shooting guard Christina Shadid. NHS also features a tandem of super sophomores in 5-foot-7 point guard Kelbie Washington and Westmoore transfer Kendra Gillispie.
Head coach Michael Neal feels this could be the year his program takes the final step in his tenure to advance to the state tournament.
“Our girls, our coaching staff here, that’s what we’ve been working towards. In the past, we’ve always been taking steps forward to get there,” Neal said.
Neal raves about his team’s versatility.
“We have a lot of girls that can do a lot of different things and a lot of pieces that come in with experience,” Neal said.
Across the way, Norman North girls basketball head coach Rory Hamilton also has a team that advanced to area play last season, finishing at 17-9. North will rely on star sisters Jacie and Jessika Evans. Jacie, a senior guard, and Jessika, a junior forward, were both starters a season ago.
“The head of the snake for us is obviously Jacie being a big contributor over the last three years,” Hamilton said. “She’s in that point guard position and really sets the tone for us offensively. Her competitiveness on both ends of the floor really sets the tone for everybody.”
Hamilton commented on what her sister Jessika would bring.
“The luxury, for her to be able to go inside and outside, is having a versatile player that we can utilize in certain situations,” Hamilton said.
Look for senior center Emma Base, junior guard Kayton Kite and sophomore guard Kennedy Cummings to be contributors as well for the T-Wolves.
As for the boys, Norman North enters this season in transition with first-year head coach Kellen McCoy. The 2005 NHS graduate comes over from Mount St. Mary in Oklahoma City and inherits a program that advanced to the state semifinal last season and lost in the 2016 state championship game.
Norman North finished last season 25-3, but graduated guards Jalen Crutchfield, Juwan White, Brandis Fender, Cole Robertson and Drake Stoops.
The T-Wolves look for senior forward Shemar Smith to continue his ascension into stardom.
“Shemar is probably our headliner,” McCoy said. “He’s 6-foot-6, very athletic. He’s going to be invaluable inside for us doing all the dirty work, rebounding the ball and protecting the basket.”
Seniors Ian Bell, Josh Crutchfield, Josh Robinson and Peyton Vinyard and sophomores Aiden Walker and JJ White also figure to factor into the rotation.
“We’re excited about our group. We’ve got a good nucleus of our upperclassmen and some younger guys that will be able to work well together,” McCoy said.
The Norman Tigers lose some integral parts from the 15-9 squad that bowed out in area play versus Westmoore. Gone are guards Bryce Mooreland and Jakaree Homes as well as forwards Shane Didiuk and Jake Ogle.
Junior-to-be Dayten Holman was expected to take on a larger role, but the 6-foot-6 guard transferred to Bella Vista Prep in Scottsdale, Arizona.
NHS boys head coach Rodney Dindy will look to juniors Ben Emmert and Isaiah Lancaster for leadership and scoring.
“We have a very deep roster of juniors,” Dindy said. “Ben Emmert is a 6-foot-5 guard/forward. He started last year as a sophomore. Isaiah is a very fast point guard that can really shoot it and distribute the basketball.”
Edmond North transfer Jaden Bray will also provide an immediate impact. The 6-foot-4 sophomore guard was a contributor last season for the Huskies.
“He’s a high-major D1 kid right now. He can really get to the hole,” Dindy said of Bray. “He’s athletic, can really shoot at times and guard well. We expect a lot from him.”
“We have a lot of guard depth,” Dindy continued. “We’re looking forward to a great season, being able to win our conference and looking forward to making a run for the state tournament.”– BSM