The Tournament of Champions, Oklahoma’s premier boys invitational basketball tournament, rolls out its 43rd edition next week.

Verdigris is back for the second straight year, on the strength of its shooting star Rotnei Clarke.

Since its inception in 1966, the Tournament of Champions has played host to most of the state’s brightest stars.

Clarke certainly fits into that category.

He led the state in scoring a year ago as a junior. As a sophomore, he was among the state’s leaders in points and in curiosity among fans.

He was one of the state’s most talked about players even then. He ratcheted up that interest as a junior, especially when he broke the state tournament scoring record with 60 points in the opening round.

The 6-foot senior is averaging 38.7 points per game through seven starts this season.

Clarke, however, will not be the lone standout in this Tournament of Champions.

There’s Keiton Page of Pawnee, mentioned almost in the breath as Clarke.

Clarke and Page were 1-2 in scoring at last year’s Tournament of Champions, Clarke scoring 104 and Page 74.

Clarke’s total is the fifth best three-game offensive outburst in tournament history.

Clarke and Page each were named to the All-Tournament team. Page was also an All-Tournament selection as a sophomore after scoring 75 points. He already ranks seventh in career scoring at the Tournament of Champions.

Stringtown is the defending state champion in Class B, and the Tigers are back in the Tournament of Champions for the second straight year. A year ago, the Tigers knocked off Verdigris, 82-71, in the seventh-place game.

James Watson was one of the two inside highlights for Stringtown in that game, scoring 25 points. Clarke scored 35.

The 6-9 Watson did not make the All-Tournament team at the Tournament of Champions, but he did make the all-star squad following the state tournament.

Another hard-to-miss player is Oklahoma City McGuinness’ 6-10 Daniel Orton. He’s just a junior, but he was the MVP of last year’s Class 4A state tournament. He led the state in blocked shots as a sophomore, averaging eight a game.

Another returnee from last year’s All-Tournament team is Jenks’ 6-6 Bryson Pope. He helped carry Jenks to its second consecutive Tournament of Champions title.

Jenks is one of three teams to win back-to-back championships at the Tournament of Champions. No team has won three straight.

Stringtown and Tulsa East Central open the tournament at 2 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 27. Verdigris and two-time defending state champion Oklahoma City McGuinness of Class 4A will meet at 3:30.

The Tournament of Champions, sponsored by Cherokee Nation Enterprises, begins its three-day run on Thursday, Dec. 27, at the Fairgrounds Pavilion on the Tulsa Fairgrounds. It marks the third straight year the tournament has been played in the Pavilion, and the ninth time overall.

Stringtown and Tulsa East Central open the tournament at 2 p.m. Thursday. Verdigris and two-time defending state champion Oklahoma City McGuinness of Class 4A will meet at 3:30.

Tickets are $5 for students, $6 for adults.



THURSDAY, Dec. 27

Game 1 — Stringtown (B) vs. Tulsa East Central (5A), 2 p.m.

Game 2 — Verdigris (3A) vs. OC McGuinness (4A), 3:30 p.m.

Game 3 — Pawnee (2A) vs. Jenks (6A), 7 p.m.

Game 4 — Tahlequah Sequoyah (3A) vs. Bixby (5A), 8:30 p.m.

FRIDAY, Dec. 28

Game 5 — Game 2 loser vs. Game 3 loser, 2 p.m.

Game 6 — Game 1 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 3:30 p.m.

Game 7 — Game 2 winner vs. Game 3 winner, 7 p.m.

Game 8 — Game 1 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 8:30 p.m.

SATURDAY, Dec. 29

7th Place — noon.

5th Place — 2 p.m.

3rd Place — 7 p.m.

Championship — 8:30 p.m.

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