Claremore Daily Progress

Sports

October 30, 2012

'Cats tip off season tonight against Central Baptist

CLAREMORE — The Rogers State men’s basketball team is coming off back-to-back NAIA National Tournament quarterfinal appearance and its fifth straight 20-win season.

Third-year head coach Justin Barkley returns seven players from last year’s squad, including five players who saw significant action.

“We are leaning on our six seniors who have been in our program for a year and had some success,” Barkley said. “One guy in particular who has been here throughout his entire career is Alex Ewings. We are looking to him and our other returners to be leaders.”

Returners

Three starters return from last season, including the team’s leading scorer, Donald Williams who averaged 14.6 points per game. In his junior season, Williams was named to the NAIA All-Tournament Team after helping lead the Hillcats to the quarterfinals. He was also an All-SAC performer after scoring 481 points in 33 games played as he connected on 41.9 percent of his 3-point attempts.

“We are expecting big things from Donald going into his senior campaign,” Barkley said. “I think the last ten to fifteen games last year was what we really envisioned out of Donald when we signed him. He can really shoot the basketball and we’re working on some things to make his game an all-around factor.  He is the type of player that turns it up a notch in the bigger settings.”

NAIA Honorable Mention All-American Kendrell Thompson returns for his final season at RSU. The Houston, Texas native played in all 33 games, starting in 31 contests. He finished second on the team in points per game, averaging 13.1 in his first season on the Hill.

“Kendrell is returning as an All-American and obviously a leader in our program,” Barkley said. “Kendrell is as solid as they come; you pretty much know what you’re getting day in and day out with him on the practice floor, in the classroom, in the community, and in the games. KT amplifies everything it means to be a Hillcat. His work ethic speaks for itself, he is very vocal, and does a great job with his teammates.”

Justynn Hammond returns to the Hill after earning SAC honorable mention recognition last season as a junior. He led the Cats in steals and assists as he started 20 of the 31 games he appeared in at point guard.

“Our big word with Justynn Hammond this year is consistent,” Barkley said. “We want him to take his game to a new level. I think he has all the physical tools in the world he just needs to put it all together.  Justynn has got a bright future and we are trying to utilize him at different positions to keep on the floor a little bit longer this year.”

“Like Justynn, we are looking to utilize Alex Ewings in different areas,” Barkley said. “With our team not as big in size, we have to find ways to get more guards on the floor because of their wingspan and athleticism. Alex has really bought into the university’s program from day one and to see his growth as a basketball player from a freshman to now as a young man and a leader is the reason why coaches keep getting into this business.”

Ewings is the lone program player in the senior laden group. The Jenks, Okla. native finished third on the team in 3-point field goal percentage hitting .391 percent while playing in all 33 games last year.

“We’re hoping with the hard work Alex has put in over the course of three and half years that he can put together an exciting senior year. Nobody deserves it more than Alex because this program is important to him.”

Newcomers

Coach Barkley brought in arguably the youngest recruiting class that will make immediate contributions in the short six-year history of the program.

“We were very fortunate that we have a great group of guys returning to work around which definitely helped with recruiting,” Barkley said.  “We have recruited some local kids who had standout high school careers that will not only help us now, but also going forward as we prepare for the NCAA Division II transition.”

The lone senior transfer added to the rosters was Ken Holdman who joins the Cats from Oral Roberts University (Okla.). As a junior for the NCAA Division I Golden Eagles, Holdman ranked seventh in the Summit League with 1.3 steals per game (45 total). He finished the season averaging six points, three rebounds and two assists per game in his final season with ORU. Over the course of his career he started 37 of his 92 appearances for ORU.

“Finding a point guard was one of the main concentrations during recruiting after losing the leadership of Maurice Rutherford, a guy that was in the program from the beginning and graduated last year,” Barkley said. “We were fortunate to bring in Ken who had a standout three-year career at Oral Roberts. We see things every day in Ken that made him a very good Division I basketball player.”

Jon “Bo” Bond is the only junior transfer and played the previous two seasons at Northeastern A&M where he was a team captain as a sophomore, averaging 12.7 points per game. Bond suffered a season-ending knee injury during the fall and will be out for the remainder of the season.

“Bo Bond, coming from NEO, was someone we were counting on and he just had a bad run of luck,” Barkley said. “He is going to miss the entire season due to ACL surgery. We are excited he is a part of our program and we are looking forward to working with him over the next couple of years.”

“This fall has been very unique in terms of some bad luck early on with some bumps and bruises and things you can’t control,” Barkley said. “I think it has allowed some younger guys to step up and fill roles they may not have had to fill at such an early age.”

The coaching staff recruited four freshmen from northeastern Oklahoma for the 2012-13 season.

“We are very excited about our freshman class,” Barkley said. “We worked hard last year chasing down some kids. A lot of times you do not see the fruits of  your labor until a little bit later down the road but this year we are liable to see a couple of these guys step up and play key roles.”

Two of the freshmen that Coach Barkley is looking to are Tulsa, Okla. natives JC Hartzler and Ehron Ponds. Hartzler, who comes to RSU following a standout prep career at Union High School, was the Tulsa World’s 2012 Oklahoma State Player of the Year. He was also named Frontier Valley Conference Player of the Year, OCA All-State and Academic All-Conference. He helped lead the Redskins to an undefeated state championship. Ponds join RSU after playing at Tulsa Edison (Okla.) High School. As a senior he was recognized as an Oklahoma Coaches Association All-State member, KTUL News Channel 8 Player of the Week, Tulsa World All-State Honorable Mention and All-Metro Second Team.

 “JC is a guy we hope to see make some contributions,” Barkley said. “We were very fortunate to land him through recruiting battles with several division II schools and he has been a pleasant surprise. JC and Ehron Ponds from Tulsa Edison were both All-Staters. Ehron has come in and worked his tail end off and I am really excited about the future.”

Jonathon Buckley and Brandon Brantley complete the freshman class. Buckley joins the Hillcats following a successful prep career at Kellyville (Okla.) High School where as a senior he reached the 1,000 career points mark while averaging 22 points, 8 assists, 15 rebounds, 8.1 blocks and 4 steals. He was named first team all-state, first team Indian all-state and Oklahoma Basketball Coaches Association Big 8 Star MVP. Brantley comes to RSU from Tulsa Booker T. Washington (Okla.) High School where he was an Academic All-State selection.

“Every time I look up our freshman class is in the gym working together and that is a good thing,” Barkley said. “Jonathon is a raw athlete and his best days are still ahead of him. He is the first All-State basketball player from the town of Kellyville and that is kind of a neat experience. Brandon has already demonstrated one of the best work ethics in our program on the court and in the classroom. He is a leader and has a team-first mentality.”

Schedule

The men’s basketball team has taken on a tough non-conference schedule in preparation for the grueling rigors of Sooner Athletic Conference play.  

“Anyone who follows NAIA basketball and has an appreciation for small college basketball will understand we really did not do ourselves any favors with the non-conference slate we put together,” Barkley said. “We really want to challenge our guys early on and find out what we need to work on.”

The game against Evangel will be a rematch of the NAIA National Tournament round of 16 where the Hillcats staged a come-from-behind, 69-63, victory to advance to the quarterfinals. The Hillcats will take on St. Thomas (Texas) and Red River Athletic Conference champions Our Lady of the Lake (Texas) at a classic in San Antonio in November. The regular season conference slate begins on Jan. 3 as the Cats travel to USAO in Chickasha, Okla. RSU will take on SAC rival Oklahoma Baptist on Jan. 10 at the Claremore Expo and round out the regular season while celebrating senior night on Feb. 23 against Oklahoma City.

“Yes, it will be very challenging but as I tell our guys we want to be battle tested, we want to be ready if we are going to be able to compete in our conference,” Barkley said.  “Our main concern is to try to get better every day. There are so many unknown variables right now with this team with health, new roles, and shifting guys around on the team for me to put a thumb on wins and losses. I  like my team I really like going to work with these guys each and every day. ”

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