NORMAN — The kids are all right.
That’s where it begins with Friday night’s Crosstown Clash at Norman High, where the Timberwolves swept a pair of dandies, the girls outlasting NHS and the boys failing to give it away despite a slew of fourth-quarter turnovers.
Even in defeat, Nichole Copeland’s Tigers proved how far they’ve come in a season, losing because they’re not North’s equal, but not because they failed to play a good brand of ball.
The NHS boys may not want to hear it, but the nightcap was a similar story. First-year Tiger coach Matt Thornton’s team actually reminded of Jeff McCullough’s rookie season, three years ago, when the Tigers darn near overachieved all the way to the state tournament.
Still, though the NHS boys claimed a 20-point victory in the season’s first Clash, nobody should be shocked by North’s emergence since.
The male T-Wolves are the future of prep basketball in this town for at least the next three seasons and, if the current group develops coattails as some groups do, attracting talent and excitement in its wake, longer.
The future may not be now but it’s much closer than it was Dec. 20, the night the Tigers beat the T-Wolves 74-54 at the North Gym. Nonetheless, North’s 52-49 rematch triumph remained more a lesson in the possibilities than an eight-week road traveled.
Marcus Dickinson, all of 15, may just be a prodigy. The first question to North coach Butch Roberts was if he’s ever coached a player with a brighter basketball future than Dickinson and the answer was quick and it was “No.”
Better is the reason why the answer comes so easily, because it’s more about Dickinson and less about basketball. Because there’s at least one sportswriter in town tired of being called “Sir” by the North freshman. And because he gets his coach in a way most youngsters wouldn’t, particularly one as busily vocal as Roberts.
“If he yells at me,” Dickinson said, “I know he loves me. He expects big things of me.”
While that kind of understanding can be as special as Dickinson’s talent, it is not unique among the Timberwolves, who count just two seniors, Aaron Goff and Blake Knighton, on their roster and only three juniors in Malcolm Carter, Tye Neubauer and Kairo Rutledge.
Another freshman, Lindy Waters, starts alongside Dickinson. At 6-3 and still growing, his physique is right out of Kevin Durant’s lone year at Texas and his game recalls Ian Boylan, the old NHS star who may not have been as great a prepster as brother Nate, but who’s made a killing playing the pro game overseas after being the best player at Cal State Northridge for four seasons.
Rutledge, a dead ringer for Malcolm-Jamal Warner’s Theo Huxtable is coming on right now and Friday earned his second straight double-double, 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Carter, with the long hair and full beard, looks like a guy who should have more flash to his game, but he’s blue collar all the way and can mix it up and hit the 3. Neubauer, not too big, can guard much bigger in the post.
Najji Brown’s just a sophomore whose future you look forward to. He’s good now but with that quality Kelvin Sampson always attributed to Johnny Gilbert. You know, “High ceiling.”
The seniors are stabilizers and Knighton, a brilliant academic, is a gunner, too. So don’t count North out of the mix, despite its 11-12 record, when the playoffs begin Thursday.
But love their future.
Once upon the time the future belonged to NHS. It was Ryan Broyles, Terrence Boyd and Kyle Hardrick.
Broyles quit to concentrate on football and you’d have to say it worked out for him. Boyd, now Western Colorado State’s leading scorer against NAIA competition, never came back for his sophomore season only to surface as sixth-man for Oak Hill Academy, in Mouth of Wilson, Va. Hardrick, forever more talent than production, transferred to Putnam City before riding OU’s bench.
Expect these T-Wolves to stick together.
“We’ve got some growing up to do but there’s a lot about this team I like,” said Roberts. “I like the way they get along. I like the way they don’t point fingers at each other.”
Also, take this image with you.
Dickinson, North’s point guard, received a pass and found himself in the paint and planted hard, getting his defender in the air while he stayed put. Only then did he lift, absorb contact and bank home the shot with a free throw to come.
As the official communicated the foul to the scorer’s table, Dickinson drifted toward his bench and extended his left hand. That’s when Roberts walked about three feet onto the court and slapped five with his freshman, putting his shoulders into it.
Roberts, always in his player’s ear, just doesn’t do that. Only with this team, despite the turnovers, a season of highs and lows, despite his own sense of decorum the perpetual attention he pays to the details of the game, he does.
They’re a match.
The future, too.
Follow me @clayhorning