Sports Editor

There will be experienced teams and youthful teams, up-tempo teams and ball-control teams — a little something for every interest — as the Rogers County high school boys basketball teams prepare in December for a run in March.

Some teams, like the Verdigris Cardinals, are expecting that run in March to include a gold ball.

Others, like the Claremore Zebras, are hoping to first make a run at conference championships; coaches always cognizant of the cautious: take one step, take one game, at a time.

Claremore has plenty of experience, and has plenty of reasons to make amends, returning from a 14-9 team.

The Zebras were rolling along just fine last season, positioning themselves for a good showing once the playoffs began.

They had won nine of their last 11 games and were playing the regionals at cozy Frank Mobra Fieldhouse ... when, surprise, they were ambushed and taken out of the post-season.

Oklahoma City Northwest came into the Zebras’ home and walked away with a 45-44 victory that ended Claremore’s hopes and season.

Four seniors, ever mindful of that Northwest passage, are back and coach Lance Bennett calls the group “very athletic.”

There is balance and talent on this squad, Bennett says, along with what he calls “impact players,” such as 6-5 Brent Wilson, 6-3 Chris Bottoms and 6-3 Andrew Rounds.

At Verdigris, the key word is “talent” ... as in Rotnei Clarke.

The 6-0 Clarke was Rogers County’s 2005-06 boys Player of the Year, as a sophomore, after averaging 34 points per game.

The balance might not be there for Verdigris, because, after all, how can a team have “balance” when one player is the most prolific shotmaker in the state?

But Clarke is the name of the game in Verdigris.

He will have a new supporting cast this season as the Cardinals try to clear the hurdle of two straight semifinal finishes at the Class 3A state tournament.

First, and foremost, is the imposing figure of Adam Hollon, a 6-7 junior transfer from Broken Arrow. He will give the Cardinals an inside threat they have not enjoyed of late.

Then there are a couple of newcomers to join Clarke on the perimeter, 5-10 junior Isaac Schultz, who moved from Pryor, and 6-0 freshman Cole Overholt, from Collinsville.

The lone senior with experience is the high-jumping D.J. Brown, a 6-2 flash of excitement with potential.

A year ago, the Cardinals put together 11- and 10-game winning streaks before falling to Oklahoma City Millwood, 69-52, in the semifinals.

Clarke was the triggerman then, and he will be the triggerman again as the Cardinals aim for the state championship bull’s-eye.

Foyil is another team with a lot to aim for. The Panthers peaked at just the right time, closing out the regular season with six wins in seven games and then rode that momentum all the way to the area finals — through the loser’s bracket.

“We need to win one more game than we did last year,” is the simple statement, and the goal, of Foyil coach Jason Ward.

He returns his top three scorers from that 20-9 team — 6-4 Jason Kersey, 5-11 Eric Murray and 6-3 Taylor Antle.

There’s a good mix of youth and experience. Murray and Kersey are seniors, and Antle at times plays like a senior, although he is a junior. Then there are the underclassmen, like juniors Kris Mount and Kenny Smith, and sophomores Jared Ward and Tyler Ridgway, all of whom can contribute.

Speaking of experience, no one has the experience of Inola. In the coaching department, any way.

Clyde Barkley is beginning his 28th season, and he is coming off a year in which his Longhorns failed to break .500 for only the second time in his 500-win tenure.

He has two returning starters to help turn around those numbers. Matt Wheeler and Nick Cotton will be joined by what Barkley calls a solid and deep roster of talent.

Although he lost three good starters to graduation, Barkley is confident that the Longhorns will be able to play, and play well, when the calendar unfolds into February.

One of his former players, Scott Kiker, is in his third season as the coach at Sequoyah.

They are in the same conference, the Will Rogers Conference, and Kiker expects that race will be a season-long marathon.

Sequoyah and Inola had similar seasons in 2005-06. Sequoyah finished 10-14, one win less than Inola.

Kiker has a roster dominated by players who helped the unbeaten Eagles wrap up the Class 3A state championship in football.

There’s always a debate as to whether championship experience in one sport can carry over to another sport.

Kiker has one take on it. “Much like our football team, these kids aren’t concerned with who scores, as long as our team scores,” he says.

Seven members of the championship football team are out for basketball, but only Blake Breshears is a returning starter.

The other two starters from last season are Nick Miller (“an athletic slasher,” according to Kiker) and Daniel Smith (“who makes things go”).

At Oologah, coach Ron Ward also has some athletic talent back on the floor, particularly in the person of 6-1 senior Jeff White.

He averaged 16.6 points and 5.6 rebounds, and if can match that, and get some help from some other seniors, the Mustangs will be climbing back above .500.

Chelsea has a new coach in James Fleming. He has four starters back from a team that went 1-23.

Eric Paul is the lone senior of the bunch, a 6-1 operative who had averages of 7 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists.

Catoosa, like Chelsea, will be trying to turn things around after a 2-20 season.

Second-year coach Scott Padek has a good building lock for that remodeling job. Brad Chesney is a 6-0 senior who averaged 12.7 points last season.

Padek calls him the team’s best athlete.


Foyil Panthers

Coach — Jason Ward, second season.

Assistant — Trent Worley.

Record last season — 20-9, Class 2A area tournament.

Key players — Eric Murray, 5-11, senior; Jason Kersey, 6-4, senior; Taylor Antle, 6-3, junior.

Coach Ward says — “We are confident in our ability, and know now that we can win. We need to win one more game than we did last year. Our goal is the state tournament.”

Chelsea Green Dragons

Coach — James Fleming, first season.

Assistant — Gary Reed.

Record last season — 1-23, Class 2A regionals.

Key players — Eric Paul, 6-1, senior; Ben Jordan, 5-7, junior; Kalub Hall, 6-2, soph; Tyler Captain, 6-0, soph.

Coach Fleming says — “Eric Paul will have to help carry the load on scoring.” Paul averaged 7 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists as junior.

Sequoyah Eagles

Coach — Scott Kiker, third season.

Assistant — Tucker Thompson.

Record last season — 10-14, Class 4A regionals.

Key players — Blake Breshears, 6-0, senior; Nick Miller, 6-1, senior; Daniel Smith, 5-10, senior; Alex Haynes, 6-5, senior.

Coach Kiker says — “We have good size and athleticism. Much like our football team, these kids arenít concerned with who scores, as long as our team scores. Daniel Smith is a born leader. He makes things go. This is a very unselfish and team-oriented group.”

Inola Longhorns

Coach — Clyde Barkley, 28th season.

Assistant — Jeff Unrau.

Record last season — 11-14, Class 4A regionals

Key players — Matt Wheeler, 6-2, senior; Nick Cotton, 5-11, senior; Seth Moore, 6-2, senior.

Coach Barkley says — “We have two starters returning, Matt Wheeler (9 points, 7 rebounds) and Nick Cotton, plus a strong junior class. We should have some depth.”

Claremore Zebras

Coach — Lance Bennett, sixth season

Assistant coach — Eric Wiens

Record last season — 14-9, Class 5A regionals

Key players — Jaren Riley, 5-10, junior; Brent Wilson, 6-5, senior; Chris Bottoms, 6-3, senior; Andrew Rounds, 6-3, senior; Trevor Grubb, 6-3, senior.

Coach Bennett says — “We will have many different leading scorers throughout the season. This year’s team is balanced, both offensively and defensively. We have many impact players, and we will be very athletic.”

Verdigris Cardinals

Coach — Kelly Clarke, third season

Assistant coaches — Conley Clarke, Kurt Schultz, Paul Hollon, Ryan Burcham, Bobby Jones.

Record last season — 24-4, Class 3A state semifinals

Key players — Rotnei Clarke, 6-0, senior; D.J. Brown, 6-3, senior; Adam Hollon, 6-7, junior; Isaac Schultz, 5-10, junior.

Catoosa Indians

Coach — Scott Padek, second season

Assistants — Larry Replogle, Greg Owens

Record last season — 2-20, Class 5A regionals

Key players — Brad Chesney, 6-0, senior; Dillon Smith, 6-3, senior; Mickey Godsey, 6-0, senior.

Coach Padek says — “Brad Chesney, with a 12.7 scoring average last year, is by far our best athlete, and needs to have a good year scoring and rebounding for us to be more competitive.”

Oologah Mustangs

Coach — Ron Ward, fourth season

Assistant — Mike Polk

Record last season — 10-16, Class 4A regionals

Key players — Jeff White, 6-2, senior; Scotty Wallis, 6-1, senior; Jared Semkoff, 6-2, senior.

Coach Ward says — “Jeff White is a great shooter, and has good basketball instinct.”