Thanksgiving Takeaway: Phipps, Thompson, Walker Among State’s Elite
In Oklahoma basketball usually fully gets under way in December following the handing out of State Championships on the Gridiron. But in Texas, the action heats up in November, which often leads to top programs in Oklahoma venturing south to kickstart their season. The 10th annual Thanksgiving Hoopfest in Duncanville, Texas has long been a destination for Oklahoma squads.
Stevie Clark’s Douglass teams were annual fixtures in the event. In 2011 with nation wide scouts and college coaches in attendance, Clark established himself an elite player with 41 points against storied Dallas Kimball. Juwan Parker, Trae Young and many more Oklahoma players have joined Clark among elite performers at the Hoopfest.
For the second straight year, 6A State Title contenders Booker T Washington and Putnam City West represented Oklahoma south of the Red River. Booker T, fresh off a season in Class 5A, and West, a fixture in the Class 6A state tournament this decade, both started the season impressively 2-0.
While it’s still early in the season, both teams have laid down markers as serious contenders for the Class 6A crown. They will be contenders this year and next, in large part due to talented Class of 2020 members. This past weekend seemed to set the stage for huge upcoming seasons for Booker T Washington’s junior backcourt of Bryce Thompson and Trey Phipps. Along with junior lead guard Rondel Walker of West.
Class 6A heads into the year with the appearance of being wide open, as last year’s champion Putnam City North lost the bulk of their rotation. They still have one of the top players in Oklahoma in point guard Micah Thomas, but there could be growing pains as a young roster learns on the job around him. While recent 918 powers Union and Broken Arrow both appear to be rebuilding after strong recent runs of recent.
Sapulpa is expected to be among the contenders, as they will be one of the best scoring teams in Oklahoma. While Edmond Memorial is geared up for another run as the early favorite to be the best team out of Edmond. Many different scenarios could play out in Class 6A, where it wouldn’t be surprising to see a handful of teams end up raising the Gold Ball in the Mabee Center.
Even though it may be recency bias, especially as teams grow and improve at different points over the course of the season, Booker T and West currently feel a cut above. Especially as they have elite talent leading the way.
In 2011 Lenny Bert took over Putnam City West. Since 2011, Patriot basketball has been defined by defense, quickness and toughness. These traits were still evident in their 69-68 win over Justin Northwest and 78-68 win over Trinity Christian.
West thrives when they cause havoc, forcing runs out for easy scores. And even when opponents break their press, their pressure often leads to foes taking bad shots. Which often leads to the fast Patriots pushing off defensive rebounds and still scoring.
The new wrinkle to PCW’s team this year is exceptional shooting. With the exception of energy forward Jaylen Rainey, seemingly every player on the court is a danger from beyond the arc. The ringleader of their skilled shooters is junior Rondel Walker.
Walker was at his best this weekend, as evident by the thirteen straight points he scored to end the third quarter and swing the game against Trinity Christian. The savvy Class of 2020 combo guard has long been tipped to be “Next” in the line of top 405 prospects. His sophomore campaign ran hot and cold, which could be partially attributed to a leg injury suffered before the season even began. To make matters worse, his AAU season was also shut down following an another leg injury.
Fast forward to November, and a healthy Walker has interjected himself into the conversation of being one of the top players in Oklahoma. It started with a strong showing at the Elite 14 showcase and was followed up by his outstanding weekend in Duncanville.
Now standing a solid 6 foot 3, possibly even bordering on 6 foot 4, Walker played with improved confidence. He has always excelled as a bit of a gambler on the defensive end, and his efforts pay off more often than not. With long arms and quick hands, he’s able to jump passing lanes, rip the ball away from players with lazy handles, and even be an effective rebounding guard.
Those exploits on defense, allow him to often be in the position he and his Putnam City West teammates thrive in. Transition basketball. In the chaos of pushing the ball against a scrambling defense, Walker’s quick passing instincts really kick in, as he almost always makes the right decision.
The previously mentioned third quarter flurry against Trinity Christian was a big sign of halfcourt offensive improvement for Walker. Against Oklahoma foes last year, Walker was adept at drawing fouls, which boosted his half court totals. In both games in Texas, Walker struggled with finishing on half court drives. But now he’s more capable in the 12-18 feet range, and routinely hit contested mid-range jumpers.
Then against Trinity Christian, Walker canned three straight triples. Impressively, they were in a variety of ways. From a sizing up the opponent and pulling up in their face to contested catch and shoot rhythm makes, Walker was in the zone. Shooting is now a premium. If Walker can build off this and go from “a guy who can make some shots” to an “at all times accounted for player”, it will do wonders for PCW this year, and Walker’s recruiting profile.
Speaking of shooting, last year Bryce Thompson and Trey Phipps were Booker T Washington’s best players. And they were only sophomores when BTW made their run to the 5A State Championship last year. What’s scary is that sophomore to junior is often the biggest jump prospects make during their high school. Both looked ready to reach a new level down in Duncanville.
The duo gives the Hornets something no other current program in Oklahoma can claim to have, two high major shotmakers. Phipps has near game breaking range and seems to always be on the edge of stringing together a quick 10 points by himself.
If he played at a smaller school, Phipps would be mentioned in the same breath as Keiton Page and Rotnei Clarke. Even though he’s only a little taller than 6 foot, Phipps is one of the most dangerous offensive weapons Oklahoma has seen in recent years. Currently committed to Tulsa, he is an absolute steal for a program looking to return to being a NCAA tournament regular.
Meanwhile, Thompson is an accomplished long range bomber in his own regard, but he’s also added to his bag of tricks. With improved athleticism, he’s now capable of getting to just about anywhere on the court. And Thompson remains one of the best players in Oklahoma at making contested jumpers. The development of the 6 foot 4 guard from being a catch and shoot weapon as a freshman to an all around scorer has been impressive to track.
The long term knock on both has been their ability to handle pressure and quickness. While it was improved this last weekend, few teams provide pressure at the level of the Patriots. Putnam City West might as well be a basketball stress test, as they eat up teams with shaky ball handlers and bad decision makers. Phipps plays with enormous amounts of energy and passion. Which often is beneficial, but it can also lead to more mistakes against a team like West. Thompson is improved in his handle, but his lanky frame could still struggle against quicker and smaller foes.
That’s what makes a potential match up between West and Booker T so tantalizing. Not only would it feature some of the best players in Oklahoma. It would also feature contrasting styles, that would make the fight all the more entertaining. Especially as the Hornets would likely have an edge on the glass thanks to bruising 6 foot 6 senior Seth Hurd and energetic 6 foot 7 junior Jalen Breath.
While a potential Class 6A State Tournament match up could loom in March, both programs are in the historic Tournament of Champions at the end of December in Tulsa. Joining these two titans, are fellow heavyweights Tulsa Memorial and Kingfisher. Memorial, the favorite in Class 5A, and Kingfisher, the favorite in Class 4A, would both be in the Class 6A State Championship conversation.
Barring any small school upsets, by say Kingston, on Thursday that the Tournament of Champions is known for. The semifinals games in Tulsa on Friday December 28th could be the best games of high school basketball all season in Oklahoma. As any combination of games between Booker T Washington, Kingfisher, Putnam City West and Tulsa Memorial would lead to highly entertaining basketball.
For now one thing is for sure. After long being the talk of the future of Oklahoma basketball, Phipps, Thompson and Walker are now the present. Meaning, we’re in for a fun couple of years.