By Matt Goisman
HAILEYVILLE — Even from a distance, it’s obvious Haileyville junior Bryer Stites is pretty tall. But the closer you get, the more your neck cranes upward, almost to the point of pain.
By the time you’re at a conversational distance, your eyeballs have rolled so high in their sockets that you can almost see the inside of your skull.
All of which means, simply, that Stites is really, really big.
“I’d like to know how tall I am, but the scale at the clinic doesn’t go that high,” Stites said Wednesday.
“It’s kind of fun being tall. But in some spots ... like walking through doors, I’d rather be short.”
Stites is the starting center for the Haileyville Warriors. He measures approximately 6-foot-9 and weights 323 pounds.
He averages 15.4 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game, according to coach Jody Hull. He’s been a key member of a 2013-14 Warriors team that shocked the rest of the Pitt 8 Conference by upsetting the top three seeds and winning the Pitt 8 Tournament.
“For not being there in 70 years, it’s a bigtime deal, and it was really fun to play in,” Stites said of the Pitt 8. “I enjoyed it.”
Everything seemed to come together for the Warriors at the Pitt 8, but since then they’ve gone 1-3. They head into Friday’s district semifinal against Clayton at Stuart on a three-game losing streak.
“If we play like we did our last three games, we aren’t moving on,” Stites said. “That’s what we’re doing today, is working on getting our minds changed over and get back that Pitt 8 momentum, that spark we had.”
Hull said Stites’ numbers this season are “about the same” as last season, but this Warriors squad is without doubt a better team. Guards Tristan Tiger and Seth Davidson, a move-in and a freshman, respectively, have vastly improved the Warriors’ backcourt, but Stites attributes the team’s success to the rapport he’s developed with veteran forward Jason Mayo.
The two have formed an impressive high-low post combination, with Mayo able to draw in defenders from the high post. That often leaves Stites down low in a one-on-one battle in which he’s almost always the taller player.
“Him at high post and me down there, we read each other’s minds,” Stites said of Mayo.
Stites said he’s been playing basketball since he was 5 or 6 years-old. He started at the Boys and Girls Club in McAlester, then went on to school ball when he transferred from Hartshorne to Haileyville to start the third grade.
“One time we were at the Boys & Girls Club, and this coach said, ‘Hey, you want to play for us?’” Stites said.
“I shot a 3, and I completely missed, and that was probably the most embarrassing thing I’d done. ... I just kind of turned around and walked away real slowly.”
Always the tallest player on his team, Stites said he’s spent his whole career battling with centers and posts underneath the basket. But using his size to his advantage is a skill just like shooting or dribbling, and this season Stites has started to really use his size the right way.
Before, Stites was settling for fadeaway jump shots or turning perpendicular to the backboard and trying to swish the ball through the rim. This season Stites has been able to square up with the backboard, elevate over his defender and easily bounce the ball off the backboard and in.
“If you square up, it’s a lot easier,” Stites said.
“Coach, he tells me to get between the free throw line and the block. There’s a little peg there, and he says, ‘Get on that line.’”
Though Stites played football for the Warriors in the fall and has played baseball in the past, he said basketball has always been his favorite sport. He said he loves watching the NCAA basketball tournament every March, rooting for teams like Duke University and Oklahoma State University, and he also watches plenty of Oklahoma City Thunder games.
He’s also played for Crowder coach Will Holiman Jr.’s Amateur Athletic Union travel basketball team in the past, and he might do so again this offseason.
“You have to be a lot quicker,” Stites said of AAU basketball. “These kids come to play. High school ball, you have what you have, but these kids come to play. You have to be competitive and work your butt off.”
Still a year from graduation, Stites said he’d like to play basketball in college. He said he’d like to study criminal justice, then become a police officer.
Wherever he goes and whatever he does in the future, Stites will likely always be the biggest man on campus.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.