BURKBURNETT, Texas — As the two teams were warming up for Saturday’s Bulldog Classic championship game, Norman North boys assistant Patrick Schaeffer was asked if a good game appeared on tap.
He said it did.
He was wrong.
In front of a few parents and maybe no fans, the Timberwolves made a statement Saturday afternoon south of the border.
Already, Thursday, they’d handed Highland Park, Texas’ seventh-ranked Class 4A squad, its first loss. Two days later, it was time for home standing Burkburnett, Texas’ fifth-ranked Class 3A squad, and it was no good game at all.
Lindy Waters went for 15 points and 13 rebounds, Marcus Dickinson went for 17 points, seven rebounds and three assists and Trae Young went for 11 points, five rebounds and five assists.
And North’s starting backcourt — two sophomores and a freshman — combining for 45 points, 25 boards and nine assists were only the beginning.
How good this team could become in two years may be the stuff of dreams. How good it might become by the end of the season should land it nowhere short of the Class 6A state tournament.
A couple of scenes might be helpful.
The first quarter had ended, North led 18-15, Waters already had seven points and six rebounds, part of a performance that would eventually earn him tourney MVP honors, and the T-Wolves were huddled around their first-year coach, Bryan Merritt, who clearly won the lottery when tabbed to succeed Butch Roberts.
Merritt was slamming the floor with his right palm, seemingly furious, almost a little nuts. The T-Wolves weren’t doing this right and this right and this right and this right..
Two things about that.
By the half, North had given up just nine more points to a two a team that’s been scoring closer to 70 than 50 most of the season and led 38-24.
Also, when it was over and Merritt was explaining what Highland Park and the home-team Bulldogs were ranked, seemed like a different guy than the one in the huddle between quarters.
“We couldn’t have played any better at this tournament,” he said.
Yeah, but you were so angry between quarters?.
Actually, that wasn’t pointed out. Some good things are best left alone.
Later, during the third quarter, North really was stinking the joint up.
The T-Wolves allowed a 13-3 run that brought the Bulldogs from 40-24 down to 43-35 down. Suddenly it was a game. Yet, those waiting for a Merritt meltdown or even a timeout were left disappointed.
“If we had an older team I probably would have called timeout,” he said. “But we have sophomores and freshmen. I wanted them to have to work it out.”
Dickinson is one of those sophomores. Owner of a superior stratospheric basketball IQ, he knew what was happening.
“I knew he just wanted us to play through it,” he said.
So they did, closing the quarter on a 12-5 run and even upping their halftime lead from 14 to 16 points, and continuing to maintain it throughout the fourth quarter.
It was during that timeframe that Payton Prince knocked down nine of his 10 points, and everybody was accurate, North canning 14 of 19 second-half shots … even on a day offense was not the centerpiece.
“We just really focused on coming out and playing as hard as we could,” Waters said. “We focused on playing defense more than offense.”
Of course, that was true as early as the first quarter, even if the T-Wolves earned their coaches ire by giving up a few second-chance points before the frame was up.
It goes right back to that backcourt of Dickinson, Waters and Young, who have bought into Merritt’s move-your-feet defense-first approach so well, they’re bound to blunt any foe at the point of attack.
“We knew we had to play hard,” Dickinson said. “We knew this team was really good and if we didn’t play defense, we could get beat.”
Or, Schaeffer could have been right. IT could have been a good game. The T-Wolves just made certain it wasn’t.
They still have big Kairo Rutledge in the middle. They still have Malcolm Carter, who brings his lunch-pail to work. Najih Brown’s plenty capable of making a difference, too.
The coaches ranked them No. 13 to begin the season because they don’t know any better and maybe because they’re still so young and maybe nobody’s supposed to be all that good playing for a first-year coach.
But Merritt seems to know when to lay into his team and when to back off and his team seems to know when to stop the shenanigans and put its foot down and, if it’s all about talent, go watch the T-Wolves play and keep an eye on that young backcourt.
The T-Wolves are 3-1 and they’re just getting started.
Already, they’ve come a long way.
Follow me @clayhorning
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