Sometimes a loss can be a win.
Ardmore's early exit from the Class 5A football playoffs meant boys basketball coach Mark Wilson got more of what he needed. With the Tigers graduating every starter from last season's state tournament team, and the eligibility of top forward Braxton Booker in the balance, Wilson is cherishing every minute of practice time with his pupils.
Every extra minute on the court is a win for Tigers basketball. It's a teaching time at Ardmore, which will open its season today against Northeast in the Carl Albert Festival (3:30 p.m.). The Tigers close the Festival against Carl Albert on Friday at 8 p.m.
"You can have six (scrimmages). We canceled three because we didn't have enough guys in the gym before football," Wilson said. The Tigers will have only one scrimmage under their belts entering today's game. "We need more time."
Time is ticking on the Tigers in regard to one of their top players. Ardmore is still waiting on a ruling from the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association on whether or not Booker will be eligible.
The active 6-foot-3 senior was a key rebounder and inside scorer for the Tigers leading up to the state tournament. In his first varsity action last year after sitting out an entire year due to transfer rules, Booker was instant energy off the bench, earning All-Ardmoreite Super Team honors as the Tigers' star sixth man.
If Booker is granted another year, he'll be one of few returning players with extensive playing experience from last season. The Tigers bring back 5-9 senior guard Dre Johnson, who saw spot duty as a starter last year, but no other players logged significant minutes in 2011-12.
"A lot of people aren't experienced," Johnson said. "A lot of these guys are new to each others' game. Once we get to know each others' moves, we'll be alright."
Wilson cited a strong sophomore class of Kevion McGee, Keishon Brown, Jared Gregoire, Chance White and Anthony Willis as the key to the Tigers' maturation. Brown, White and Gregoire appeared in a few games last season, but will be pushed to the forefront as second-year varsity players.
"The sophomores will be heavy contributors," Wilson said. "We only have two seniors and few juniors."
With the loss of All-Ardmoreite Player of the Year and All-Stater Travis Galbreath, as well as East Central signee Marquis Walters, the Tigers' backcourt loses its top two scorers. Also missing will be the rebounding of Treyon Grant and Daylon Wilkins, who averaged more than 13 boards a game between them.
To offset the lack of size and shooting prowess, Ardmore will get out on the break and trap even more than in recent seasons.
"It's been way different, harder," Johnson said of the preseason. "We're going to have to push the ball up the court.
"It's going to be hard, but we're working every day to get better."
Erik K. Horne