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Verdigris girls coach Mike Buntin

Verdigris girls basketball recently wrapped up the 2020 portion of its schedule, earning a No. 6 ranking in Class 4A with a 4-1 record.

However, the Lady Cardinals were set to compete in the 56th annual Tournament of Champions from Dec. 28-30 at the BOK Center in Tulsa before the event was canceled because of the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. It would’ve served as a measuring stick for Verdigris, which defeated Class 3A No. 4 Adair 53-32 in its most recent game on Dec. 18.

The Lady Cardinals would’ve played Class 5A No. 1 Sapulpa on opening day, but they are now in the middle of an 18-day layover and will return to their home court Tuesday, Jan. 5 against Rogers County rival Inola.

Verdigris coach Mike Buntin reflected on his team’s start and gave his thoughts on the cancellation of the Tournament of Champions:

1. What are your takeaways for the season so far?

We have had a really good start to the season as we are 4-1. But I think we have a chance to be really special. But we are still looking for team chemistry. We have been extremely successful, but our offense lacks any rhythm or flow. We are averaging 55 ppg while shooting 43% from the field. However, most of those points are in transition from forced turnovers. Normally we are extremely tough defensively but still have a lot that needs to be improved on that end of the floor. Teams are shooting 38% from the field against us. That’s the highest FG% we have allowed in my 10 years at Verdigris.

2. What was your reaction to the Tournament of Champions cancellation?

I really felt bad for our kids. Playing in the TOC was something this group of seniors had set as a goal several years ago. Most of our current players watched our 2012 team play in the tournament and wanted to be invited back. This group of seniors has meant so much to program. Not only have they been one of the most successful on the court, but they are some of the best kids we’ve had in our program off the court.

3. With such a long layover, what is your biggest concern for your players?

Anytime you have an extended break you worry about losing any kind of rhythm you have developed as a team. However, this year has been different than any other we have experienced. Due to injury and quarantine, it’s been difficult to get quality practices. So that’s what we have focused on over the break. Getting back to the basics on both ends of the floor. Getting opportunities for some of your younger players so they can develop and help us in the second half of the season.

4. Who among the newcomers has stood out?

The first newcomer that has stood out is Maddy Daniels. She’s a freshman but isn’t scared of the moment. She comes into the game and provides our team with a huge burst in intensity and enthusiasm. She’s extremely aggressive on offense and gives us another weapon. Emily Stout has also been very impressive. She doesn’t score much but has been our best team defender. She’s not a newcomer, but she didn’t get much varsity playing time over the past two years. However, she knows what we expect and does exactly what we need her to do. She’s also one of our best leaders. She's extremely vocal and spirited.

5. What made you want to become a basketball coach?

I became a coach because of the impact several coaches had on my life. Growing up in Cleveland, Okla., I had the pleasure of playing for numerous men that impacted my life. They pushed me to become more than I ever imagined I could become. I wanted to have that same type of impact on others. I love the competition and relationship with the youth of our community.

-- Kevin Green

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