NORMAN — One of the major themes heading into Thursday night’s Crosstown Clash was the number of unanswered questions surrounding each of the four teams involved.
Two hard-fought games and a couple hundred hoarse voices later, we don’t have definitive answers to those questions. But we do have some hints.
For starters, the young guns from Norman North are going to be great. The freshmen trio of Marcus Dickinson, Quan Hogan and Lindy Waters didn’t have much of a shooting night, but as coach Butch Roberts predicted, they didn’t shy away from the spotlight. The trio combined to score 33 points, grab 19 rebounds and dish out three assists.
It may have come in a losing effort, but it was still an impressive Clash debut for three young athletes playing in just the third varsity game of their young careers. And with a solid group of upperclassmen, led by junior Payton Prince, the ceiling for these T-Wolves is high.
When North’s coaches talk about the potential of this group, they aren’t looking years ahead, when the wily freshmen become seasoned veterans. They’re talking about this season. About the fact that after a few more months this group will have a dozen games under its belt and will learn to bring the “edge” Roberts saw in last week’s season-opening upset of Moore.
On the other side of the court were the Norman high boys, who for the first time this season were able “to put it all together,” in the words of senior guard Jay Finley. In front of a packed house, the Tigers put together their most complete game of the young season, epitomized by a 15-0 run to take control of the game after North had taken the lead.
But while things may have coalesced best two nights ago, it’s a point that has been in the works for a while. Every since coach Matt Thornton arrived late in the summer to take over the program, the Tigers have been steadily improving. With the holiday break allowing them a chance to get in the gym and implement more of Thornton’s system before a pair of tournaments that will test just how far along NHS has come.
Thornton’s squad isn’t the only one showing improvement at NHS. The girls have faced one of the more difficult early-season schedules possible, but it’s something they’re getting used to learning from.
And by the time it’s all said and done, the Tigers’ first Clash loss in more than 10 years may be the catalyst that turns around the season.
“We needed this to humble us,” senior Bethany Cox said after the game. “We can use this as motivation to work hard in practice over the break.”
There were some encouraging signs for coach Nichole Copeland. The Tigers played stout defense and had more success working the ball inside than they have in recent outings. More importantly, their 13 baskets came on eight assists.
And there’s nothing embarrassing about a loss to North. The Timberwolves have their best squad in many years, with a host of underclassmen providing the depth behind Bri Kuestersteffen that North lacked a year ago.
But maybe the most impressive thing about this North squad is its attitude. No one could fault the Timberwolves for reveling a bit in Thursday night’s historic victory. Still, they didn’t.
Instead, after shedding a few tears of joy, the T-Wolves were already talking about their next goal, winning the Duncan tournament that begins Thursday.
It’s a mindset that coach Jeff Blough said he hasn’t seen in years, and with the athletes North has, it’s a mindset that could spell big things in the Timberwolves’ future.
Four teams, all at various stages of development. But if Thursday’s Clash was any indication, it’s a development that’s far from finished. For high school basketball fans in Norman, that may be the best gift of all.
Corbin HoslerFollow me @Chosler88chosler@normantranscript.com