– BY MICHAEL KNIGHT
It’s still March and this year’s gold balls haven’t even been placed in each team’s trophy case yet. However, it’s never to early to start looking ahead at who might end up being the top dogs at this time next year in each class. Obviously a lot can change between now and November, when the season tips off. And things can DEFINITELY be different between now and the start of March, 2019.
A lot of factors could come into play that we don’t even know about. Players could transfer, get hurt or decide not to play. Look at Midwest City at this time last year. They seemed to be a heavy favorite to win 6A. Then star guard Keyshawn Embery transfers to the IMG Academy in Florida. That’s followed by bruising forward Jalen Redmond enrolling early at OU to play football. Things change. Next thing you know, Midwest City is on the outside looking in on the state tournament.
Teams can drop down or move up a class. Looking at you Booker T Washington. What are you? The biggest 5A school or the smallest 6A school? The Hornets could very well be moving back up. We know for sure that one big-time program will be moving up a class. Two-time defending champion Christian Heritage will take their lengthy winning streak up to Class 3A. Because CHA is a private school, if they finish in the top eight, two out of three years, they automatically get bumped up.
So yeah, things are going to look a little different. But let’s dive into it anyway. Who are the WAY too early favorites to be taking home the gold ball in 2019?
Putnam City West Patriots
Class 6A is probably the hardest class to point out one team as the early favorite for next year. Just about every team that made the state tournament has question marks and holes to fill as we head into the offseason. Even our pick has to find some guys to replace in their lineup. However, Putnam City West has two of the best young tandems in the state with sophomore Rondel Walker and freshman Tobias Roland. The Patriots also have one of the best coaches in 6A basketball with Lenny Bert. Year in and year out, Bert has proven that he will get the absolute most out of his roster. One thing that makes 6A basketball so hard to predict next year is the status of Booker T Washington. If the Hornets return to Class 6A, they would take over the top spot in 6A. Led by current sophomores Bryce Thompson and Trey Phipps, as well as current junior Seth Hurd, the Hornets would feature the most talented starting five in the state. Sapulpa is another team to watch. They could have been a state tourney team before losing star guard Julian Smith.
Sand Springs Lady Sandites
The Class 6A state tournament was full of talented players and teams. However, a lot of those teams have to replace some really good players. But a few teams are in good shape as they head into the offseason. Sand Springs came into this season as one of the favorites to win Class 6A. After a bumpy regular season, the Lady Sandites still found their way to the state tournament but was bounced out in the quarterfinals to Choctaw. While this year wasn’t the year for Sand Springs, next year could very well be it. The Lady Sandites return everyone from this year’s team. Literally. They didn’t have one senior on their squad this season. The duo of Destiny Johnson and Holly Kersgeiter will have Sand Springs as one of the more experienced teams in 6A basketball. Sand Springs will have plenty of competition in their own conference as Bartlesville will be a serious contender once again. They lost to Sand Springs in the area round, going unbeaten prior to that loss. Led by the backcourt of Avery Allen and Jena Williams, the Lady Bruins will push Sand Springs.
Just like in Class 6A, a lot depends on where Booker T Washington lands on the next ADM. The Hornets may end up in 6A and the path to the gold ball becomes much less bumpy for Memorial. The Chargers return twins Kalib and Keylan Boone. Both averaged a double double during the state tournament. Both are two of the best basketball prospects in Oklahoma’s 2019 class. Memorial will be the favorite as the 2018-2019 season opens up behind the Boones. They’ll need to replace some key pieces in the backcourt but we’ve learned a lot about this program after this season. Memorial replaced four starters and found new guys to step up into the roles voided by guards Caleb Nero and Kobe Rose. They found that and didn’t miss a step. The Chargers have established themselves as one of, if not the absolute best, programs in Oklahoma basketball during this decade. If their rival Booker T remains in 5A, the odds of a championship rematch will be rather high. Led by big man Antonio Gordon, Lawton Ike will be back in contention next year as well.
Lawton MacArthur Lady Highlanders
First year head coach David Vann exceeded his own expectations this year by taking a young Lawton Mac team to the state tournament. With four starters returning and one of the more athletic teams in the state, the Lady Highlanders get the slight nod over a few east side teams. Just like in boys basketball, a big question looms with Booker T Washington possibly moving back up to Class 6A. If they remain in 5A, you might have to put the reigning champs in this spot. However, all signs point to BTW going back to 6A for next season so Lawton Mac gets the top spot. Two teams that will surely have something to say about this as serious contenders is Coweta and Pryor. Coweta was this year’s cinderella story as they entered the playoffs at 11-12, upset East Central and Tahequah and made it to state. Their young team won’t be considered a cinderella story next year. You also have to look at Pryor, a team that was 9 seconds away from being this year’s state champ. Current sophomore Chloe Martin will have the Lady Tigers back in contention.
It’s very difficult to put Kingfisher in this spot over reigning champion Heritage Hall. However, the Yellowjackets will get the nod as they return everyone and they have some young players that will be a year older and the ceiling is extremely high. Guard Bijan Cortes will be a sophomore and is already considered one of the best players in his class. However, when you talk about that 2021 class right now, the best player is Heritage Hall’s Trey Alexander. The Charger guard led Heritage Hall with 27 points in their title win over Kingfisher. So Alexander might get the nod in that match-up but the Yellowjackets get the overall nod, as they return Jett Sternberger and Trey Green for another season. Sternberger is one of the best shooters in the state and Green is does a little bit of everything for the Yellowjackets. Other teams will without a doubt emerge as contenders during the next season. However, starting in November, Heritage Hall and Kingfisher will be on a collision course for one another in a state championship rematch.
Muldrow Lady Bulldogs
It’s weird not having a perennial powerhouse like Fort Gibson or Harrah in this spot. But both teams will have to replace some really talented seniors and will have to find other players to step up. However, it’s not smart to completely write off either of these team as serious contenders for next year’s state championship. Muldrow just has the firepower coming back that shoots them up to the top of the list. Class 4A was an absolute gauntlet this season, full of great teams all over the state. Muldrow will feature one of the top players in the state with current sophomore Taylen Collins coming back. Collins has a skillset that most seniors have. Class 4A will once again be a tough class to navigate next season. In addition to Fort Gibson and Harrah, other contenders include teams like Anadarko and Victory Christian. Both teams made it to the state tournament this season. Anadarko returns all five starters and Victory will have four starters back, including one of the best inside outside threats with forward Ruth Udoumoh and guard Gem Summers.
Kingston nearly went wire to wire as Class 3A’s top team. However, the Redskins fell in overtime to LaTarryus Smith and Star Spencer. Smith will graduate in May and that opens the door for Kingston to possibly go wire to wire next season. They will more than likely open up the season as the top ranked team and with four starters returning, it’s hard to see an outcome that has the Redskins getting tripped up a second straight year. When facing 3A competition this year, with the exception of the title game, Kingston was unstoppable. They blew out just about everyone they faced. And as for the players returning, none are bigger (literally) than 6’10 Jacob Germany. He’ll be a candidate for Player Of The Year next year and will look to cap off his career with a gold ball. 3A basketball won’t be a one-team race next year. Other teams will step up and join Kingston as legitimate contenders. However, no team has a clear path to the Big House quite like Kingston. And with Germany leading the way, they’re an easy pick as the way too early favorite.
Tahlequah Sequoyah Lady Indians
If you’re looking for a class to be the (soccer term coming at ya) “Group Of Death”, look no further than Class 3A girls basketball. It was already going to be brutal, but now that Christian Heritage is headed up to 3A, good luck finding a clear path to the Big House. Christian Heritage and Tahlequah Sequoyah are hands down the top two teams going into next season. But defending 3A champ Tahlequah Sequoyah gets the nod here. All five starters return for the two-time state champs. That includes two-time tournament MVP Lexy Keys, who is one of the top players in Oklahoma’s 2020 class. Other serious contenders include Adair, returning four starters. Holland Hall returns four starters as well, including scoring machine Gabby Gregory, who averaged north of 30 points per game as a junior. Kingston fell to Tahlequah Sequoyah in the title game, but they return four starters. Prague returns three starters, including Chantae Embry, who just finished up her freshman season and has already established herself as one of the best in the state.
This season, Latta and Wright City were the top two teams in 2A basketball nearly all season. They were on a crash course for one another and finally met in the title game. However, both teams have some huge shoes to fill. Wright City has to replace Robert Briley and Latta will have to replace Trent Smith. Because of that, the door is open for a new team to step up as the new top dog in Class 2A. Pun intended. The Hooker Bulldogs are that team for next season. With four starters returning, including leading scorer Tate Cathcart, averaging nearly 20 points per game, Hooker has the firepower to make a run at the gold ball next year. The Bulldogs were one of the best teams in 2A basketball this season, winning 20 consecutive games before losing a close one to Latta in the semifinals. They only lost one other time during the season. Other teams will join Hooker near the top of the rankings but the Bulldogs look like a serious contender to dominate 2A basketball next season.
Howe Lady Lions
Similar to Class 4A, the 2A state championship race this season was a fun race to watch but it was full of star power and great teams. The road will be a a little more clear as we go into next year. Christian Heritage, who went 30-0 and captured their second straight state title will be moving up to Class 3A. Cashion, a team that bounced around from #1 and #2 all season will have to replace senior stars Presley Payahsape and Sydney Manning. That opens the door for a new team to enter the fold and go into next year as the favorite. We’re going with the Howe Lady Lions, led by one of the top scorers in Oklahoma. Soon-to-be senior Jalei Oglesby took Howe to the state semifinals and almost single-handily brought them to Championship Saturday. She simply could not be stopped or slowed down by anyone all year. There is no reason to think that won’t be the case as we head into next season. The Lady Lions will see some competition from other squads. But with Oglesby, who will be the best player in the class, Howe might not be slowed down.
No it’s not a typo. You probably expected to see Fort Cobb-Broxton here. That’s not the case as the run has to end sometime and it might just happen in 2019. The Mustangs have been one of the top programs in the state, winning four straight state titles with the last three coming in Class A. However, graduation hit the Mustangs hard last year and will hit them again this year. Meanwhile, Cyril returns nearly everyone for another run at a possible gold ball. Not to mention they almost sent Fort Cobb-Broxton home in the semifinals, losing a close one to the Mustangs. They return two players that average nearly 20 points per game. Cyril gets the nod as the way too early favorite. However, you can’t just completely write off the four-time champs. This year showed that if you bet against them because of graduation losses, you’re going to lose. They return sharpshooter Kellen Hines but he’s going to need some new faces to step up around him. Also keep an eye on a Glencoe team that returned to state this year and brings back nearly everyone.
Seiling Lady Cats
Karly Gore? Check. Macy Gore? Check. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Led by the Gore sisters, Seiling has captured three consecutive state championships. The two sisters return for their senior season and Seiling will be the hands-down favorite to capture a fourth consecutive championship. It’s not just the Gores that put Seiling over the top. The Lady Cats will also return Raylee Tautfest. The last time we saw her, she was hitting seven three-pointers and dropping 32 points in Seiling’s championship victory. Yes, there’s no doubt that Seiling will enter next season as the favorite to win it all, but they’ll have some company at the top of Class A. Cyril and Frontier are two teams that have the talent coming back that could end up ending Seiling’s dynasty. If we had to pick another team besides Seiling to be the favorite, we would happily take Frontier. They made it all the way to the title game, before losing to Seiling 60-57. They destroyed every Class A team they faced with the exception of Seiling. They return all five starters, who averaged double figures.
Whitesboro was a big underdog (again, pun intended) as they headed into the state tournament this year. It was their first trip to the state tournament since 1947 and did not back down. They pushed #1 Earlsboro to overtime and nearly went into a second overtime until Elijah Stargell sent the Bulldogs packing with a layup at the buzzer. Earlsboro would go on to lose to Red Oak in double OT and finish as the runner up. Both Red Oak and Earlsboro have to replace stars and several other starters off this year’s team. Meanwhile, Whitesboro heads into this offseason thinking that next year is their year. They didn’t have one senior on their roster so everyone will be back on a team that nearly knocked off #1 on day 1 of state. That alone makes the Bulldogs the favorite to make it back to state next year and possibly contend for the state title. Earlsboro and Red Oak aren’t going anywhere, but all signs point to Whitesboro taking it all.
Hammon Lady Warriors
We’re going with the reigning champs to be staying in that spot at this time next year. All five starters return on a team that just got done winning the state championship. Hammon will have plenty of company near the top of the rankings but you have to give the Lady Warriors the nod at this point. Varnum will be right there with Hammon as a serious contender next year. They have to replace two starters but they return their leading scorers and one of the top scorers in Class B with Nakai Harjo. Oh, and you can’t forget about perennial power Lomega. While they have some key pieces to replace, including Kenzi Lamer. It’s hard to believe that Lomega would miss out on the state tournament two years in a row.