NORMAN — It’s no secret that Norman High, while an upperclassmen-laden group, has no shortage of players who haven’t seen significant varsity minutes before this year. From Jay Finley, who sat out last year injured, to Boston Lewis, who focused solely on football last year, the Tigers have plenty of new blood on the roster.
But, compared to their rivals from Norman North who will host the Tigers at 7:45 tonight in the first Crosstown Clash of the year, NHS has a decided advantage as far as experience is concerned. That’s because the Timberwolves have two freshmen in the starting lineup and three who see significant minutes.
And, while the trio of Marcus Dickinson, Quan Hogan and Lindy Waters III has been stellar so far for North, one thing they haven’t done is be anywhere near the bench, much less the court, for the Crosstown Clash.
It’s a fact that an anxious NHS team hopes will work to its advantage when the two teams tip off tonight.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who are upperclassmen,” coach Matt Thornton said. “They’ve been in these situations before, either on the floor or on the bench. The more times you’ve had experiences like these rivalry games, the easier you hope it gets.”
Of course, it may turn out that having so many young players could work in the T-Wolves favor, a fact Thornton acknowledged.
“Sometimes freshmen don’t know to be nervous,” he said. “It can go either way.”
The Tigers — whom Thornton said have talked of nothing but the Clash for weeks — return plenty of Clash experience from last year’s squad. That includes senior captain Daniel Harper, a starter on last year’s team and a leader on this year’s.
“It’s going to be up in the air until the very end,” he said. “We need to focus on getting easy baskets and be patient on offense. We don’t have to force shots.”
North is not completely devoid of Clash experience. The T-Wolves return Payton Prince, a key starter from a year ago, but it drops off quickly after that. Prince said he’s made an effort prepare the underclassmen for the rivalry.
“This week in practice we’ve tried to hold people accountable and keep everyone focused,” he said. “I’ve tried to set an example and I’ve talked to them about the crowd will be yelling at you the whole time. You’ve just got to keep your head in the game and be the bigger person. Don’t say anything back; just let your game do the talking.”
While so many are focused and worried about how the freshmen will respond, North coach Butch Roberts isn’t worried.
“I can’t tell you how well they’re going to play or how many shots they’re going to make,” he said. “But I know it won’t be because of the environment. These guys have been in enough big situations that they won’t be scared of the moment.”
Corbin HoslerFollow me @Chosler88chosler@normantranscript.com