By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — Though McAlester hasn’t yet said goodbye to its fall football season, the weather has shifted decidedly towards winter. And with winter comes a shift inside for McAlester athletics.
The Buffaloes begin their basketball season Tuesday at home against Hugo at Bob Brumley Gymnasium. Last year’s Hugo Buffaloes qualified for the 3A state tournament.
“We have a young, athletic group that I feel like by the end of the season, they’re going to have a chance to be pretty good,” Buffs coach Chris Zike said on Nov. 21. “I think they’re going to have a chance to be really good.
“We’re lifting this year, and we haven’t done (that) in the past. I feel like it’s made a difference in the guys’ mindsets.”
The 2012-13 Buffaloes went 6-17, their postseason ending after just one game with a loss at Bishop Kelley in February. Several starters return from last year’s team, including sophomore guard Jalen Erving, one of the team’s best scorers.
“He does a good job getting to the basket,” Zike said of Erving.
“He shoots the ball well, too.”
A combination point guard and shooting guard, Erving is among five guards vying for a starting spot. Todd Dawkins didn’t become a starter until late last season, but he quickly stepped into the role, displaying a strong 3-point shot mixed with the height necessary to get to the basket.
Zike said that like Erving, Dawkins has benefited from the new weight-room program, and the added strength has led to added confidence on the court.
“Any of our guards are going to be able to bring the basketball up the court,” Zike said. “Now, our point guard, whoever that may, will probably have it in his hands more than any of the others.
“It’s actually a pretty athletic bunch.”
Other potential guards include Blakely Williams, Zach Baugh and Texas Pascale. Williams and Baugh will join the basketball team late, as they and center Keaton Slater are all still playing football.
“It’s going take them time, but we’re excited about when they come in, because they’re competitors,” Zike said of his football trio. “They’ve been around; they know how to win; they’ve won in football. They’re going to bring us a good spark.”
The Buffs also return senior power forward Eli Boyle, a starter last year. Slater, who didn’t start but played plenty of minutes last season, Boyle and senior center DeAngelo Rhone should comprise the Buffs’ front-court.
Coaching varsity basketball for the first time, Zike said his roster is still very much in flux. McAlester’s returning starters might have some extra experience, but that alone won’t guarantee a starting spot this season.
“We’re just trying to find five guys that want to work hard,” Zike said. “Those are going to be the guys that play.”
Whichever Buffaloes become the starting five, they’ll have to be able to handle Zike’s new offense. It’s a motion offense based around driving to the basket, which Zike said takes better advantage of his team’s athleticism but puts extra burden on the players to make smart decisions.
“It gives the kids a little more freedom,” Zike said of the new offense.
“I told them whenever we’d do it, ‘Guys, it’s a player’s offense. As long as y’all make good decisions and y’all want to do things right out of it, y’all will enjoy it. But when y’all don’t want to do those things, we’ll take it away.’”
Zike said the 2013-14 Buffs will also feature a primarily man-to-man defense. Mixing in an occasional half-court trap, the Buffs will try to force bad passes they can intercept and then convert into easy transition baskets.
“If their guys are more athletic and faster than us, we’ll just back off and guard them at the 3-point line, make them beat us on the outside,” Zike said. “We’ll run very little zone.”
Though its season doesn’t start until Tuesday, McAlester will hold its annual Bob Brumley Thanksgiving Scrimmage on Saturday. Six teams — McAlester, Byng, Latta, Okemah, Pryor and Silo — will attend, with each team playing three games either at main or practice gyms at Brumley.
McAlester plays Silo in the main gym at 9 a.m., Latta in the practice gym at 10 a.m. and Pryor in the practice gym at 11 a.m.
“We’re going to do some things different than we have, but we’re going to just try to go out and compete and play hard,” Zike said.
After Hugo, McAlester next plays at Muldrow on Dec. 10. McAlester next plays at Brumley on Dec. 20 against Ardmore.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.