NORMAN — Daniel Harper knows what it takes to win. The Norman High senior was a key part of last season’s 14-10 squad that saw plenty of success before ending its season prematurely with a disappointing loss in regionals.
With NHS in what will likely be a rebuilding season, he plans to bring those lessons to the inexperienced players around him.
“I try to lead by example,” said Harper, chosen as team captain by his teammates before the season began. “I try to go out to practice every day and bring the energy and make sure we have a good day.”
NHS began the season Friday with a loss to Southmoore, coming with Harper as the only returning starter from last year’s team. The Tigers lost six seniors to graduation, not to mention head coach Jeff McCullough.
All of which creates a challenging situation for Harper and new coach Matt Thornton, who came to NHS this season after five seasons at Tecumseh. Thornton enjoyed considerable success at Tecumseh, developing the program and taking the Savages to the state semifinals in 2011.
And, while there are some familiar faces gone this year, there are also some returning. Besides Harper, the Tigers return forward Sam Blodgett and guard Cooper Clark, both of whom made significant contributions to last year’s team.
Clark, in particular, could be a bright spot for the Tigers. The 6’0 guard is the only sophomore on the varsity roster, and his explosiveness was on display in flashes last season. He returned to practice this year with an even more polished game.
“Cooper is going to amaze some people,” Harper said. “We have plenty of talent on this team, and he’s come a long way.”
As far as the Tigers have come, there is still a long way to go, Thornton said.
“We’ll have some growing pains,” he said. “We have occasional offensive droughts, and having a lot of inexperienced guys we sometimes take bad shots. If you miss a couple and the other team scores a few, sometimes young teams can rush things.”
All are concerns, but Thornton has a track record of success. At Tecumseh, he guided his teams to three years of 20 or more wins. He understands there’s a difference in the speed of the game at the 6A level, but the former Westmoore assistant is familiar with what is needed to succeed on the 6A level.
“I always wanted to get back to this level,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what level you’re at, basketball is still basketball, no matter who’s on the floor.”
Entering the season with that mindset, the Tigers set a series of goals for themselves, including reaching 15 wins and making it to the championship game of every tournament they play in. Most importantly, they want to make a run at the state tournament.
“Nobody expects us to be very good this year,” Harper said. “But people have developed over the summer. We’re going to surprise some people.”
Corbin HoslerFollow me @Chosler88chosler@normantranscript.com