McALESTER — De’Angelo Rhone has taken the classic path through McAlester’s basketball program. He started playing for the Jr. Buffs at Puterbaugh Middle School, moved up to the freshman squad at McAlester High School, spent his sophomore year on the junior varsity and split his junior year between playing JV ball and acting as a reserve on the varsity.
Now a senior, Rhone has finally gotten a chance to shine, starting multiple games and playing significant minutes at center.
“The biggest thing is this year, from the first two to this year, how much more competitive he is,” Buffs coach Chris Zike said of Rhone on Friday.
“He can do a lot of things, guard, rebound. He’s really bought into battling with (opponents).”
Rhone said he’s always lived in McAlester and has grown up in McAlester’s public school system. His basketball career began long before junior high, he said, when as a boy he played for his father’s team at the Boys and Girls Club.
“I had like this little basketball goal at my house, and I used to just shoot on it when I was little,” Rhone said.
Rhone said he still spends most of his free time either with his Buffs teammates or practicing by himself at his house, though now uses a bigger basket. He added that he has high hopes for this Buffs team, which has started 3-3 and not lost a game by more than 6 points all season.
As one of the Buffs’ starting centers, Rhone’s been a major part of the Buffs success this year. The Buffs have started much faster than they did last year, when they started 0-6, and Rhone credited that to new coach Zike.
“He doesn’t take a lot of credit for it, but he’s the main reason,” Rhone said of Zike. “He makes us work and get better every day. You can’t show up every day not wanting to work.”
Rhone said the Buffs started coming together at a basketball camp at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee over the summer. They played especially well in a Dec. 13 game against Wewoka in the consolation semifinals of the Okemah Invitational.
The Buffs beat Wewoka 64-59, then came back the next day to beat Riverside in the consolation finals.
“We all stepped it up, all together,” Rhone said of the Wewoka game.
“We can go as far as we want to go, as long as we keep working. If we keep working hard, we can go as far as we can imagine. But if we start slowing down and not playing well, it’s going to be just like last year.”
Zike said Rhone brings a level of athleticism to his position that works well with McAlester’s fast-paced offense, and Rhone agreed that the 2013-14 Buffs seem to play best when they’re flying up and down the court.
As a center, Rhone said he sees rebounding as his primary responsibility to the team.
“Rebounds really do win games,” Rhone said. He added that rebounding comes down to a combination of “boxing out and making sure I get my man boxed out so everybody has a fair chance at getting the rebound.”
The Buffs still have two months left of basketball season, and Rhone said this senior year hasn’t yet felt like it’s flying by. But once it’s over, Rhone said he’ll most miss his teammates.
“It’s been a privilege to be able to play basketball and be around all these people,” Rhone said.
Rhone said he’s also run track and field for McAlester in the past, competing in the 400- and 800-meter dash. He said that assuming McAlester fields a track team in the spring — McAlester athletic secretary Mary Martin confirmed it would — he’ll most likely run again this spring.
After graduation, however, Rhone’s plans become far more unsure. He said he might go to college, but he hasn’t started applying to schools, nor has he decided on a major.
Rhone might be leaning towards the social sciences, as he said his favorite class at MHS has been a government class taught by Buffs assistant coach Ryan Walters.
“He’s a good teacher, and he makes sure everything gets to us, and I just love history,” Rhone said.
Rhone said his dream school is Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. But if he doesn’t go to college next year, he might instead work for his father LeNard Rhone at Rhone Insurance Agency in McAlester.
“I used to work for him during the summer, so I have some experience,” Rhone said of his father’s agency. “I was filing stuff for him, typing stuff into the computer.”
It’s taken Rhone four years to earn his playing time, but he’s finally earned his place on McAlester’s varsity squad.
Whatever next year may bring, Rhone seems fully grounded in this current basketball season.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.