NORMAN — The summertime is the most frustrating part of the year for Norman High basketball coach Matt Thornton.
“You can’t officially practice,” he said. “You’re watching summer league and trying to fix mistakes as you play, but when you don’t get practice time to fix those things it’s tough.”
Frustrating as it can be, the summer has been good to the Tigers. After losing several seniors from last year’s squad, Thornton was eager to get his team onto the court. And, after team camps at Carl Albert and Westmoore as well as a summer league at Edmond Memorial, Thornton likes what he’s seen.
Led by returning starters Cooper Clark and John Michael Benardello, the Tigers have changed tempo this season. Last year’s team was led by big man Sam Blodgett, and as a result the Tigers were more of a halfcourt team than Thornton is used to running. With a team dominated by guards, the second-year coach has opened up the offense this summer. Even Clark, who has played shooting guard in the past, has moved up to power forward at times this summer.
“My good team in the past have been four or five guards on the floor, and that’s more what we’re going to be this year,” Thornton said. “We’ll try to be more of a backcut-type team with more movement. Defensively we’ll probably pressure a little bit more, too. We’re not going to be an all-out, full-court press team, but we will put more pressure on.”
That style fits the roster nicely. Bolstered by Michael Patterson, a prolific junior varsity player last season, and Desmond Ognuo, the Tigers have more athleticism on the floor than they have in the past, something that Thornton is excited to bring to the game.
“We’re going to be a lot different than last year,” he said. “We won’t be as big, but we’ll be a lot more athletic and try to push the tempo a little bit faster.”
The Tigers will also have a new face on the coaching staff this season. Jason Sanders, who coached last season at Bridge Creek, will join the team. Thornton said having another set of coaching eyes on the players will be helpful as he develops the program, beginning with implementing more of his system.
But Thornton’s chance to bring the new, faster version of the Tigers to the floor is still a bit away. They can’t begin practice until the end of football season, and those few months can’t pass by fast enough for Thornton.
“That’s what sucks about basketball season, that you’ve got to watch all of the football season before you can get on the floor,” he said. “I’m chomping at the bit.”
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