By BEN JOHNSON
Annette Kennedy has been around high school basketball in Oklahoma for quite some time now. She’s heard the whispers — or even the outright candid naysaying.
People outside of the state of Oklahoma have made their feelings on girls basketball in the state well known and bluntly obvious.
Kennedy — who recently wrapped up her 15th season as Booker T. Washington’s girls basketball coach — said, “I’ve always been told that Oklahoma is behind on the times after playing 6-on-6 for years.”
Whoever uttered those comments can now be outfitted for a muzzle. Those days are long gone.
Oklahoma may not be the queen of girls basketball production, but it’s certainly in the royal family at this point.
Just take a look at the state-wide distribution of teams in the women’s NCAA tournament. Tennessee and California are sporting five teams apiece in the 64-team field. Texas, Florida and New York are each sending four teams to the Big Dance.
Oh, and so is Oklahoma. For the first time in the state’s history, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Tulsa and Oral Roberts will all be dancing in the NCAA tournament together.
On a per capita basis alone, Oklahoma is blowing other states out of the water, in terms of representation in the NCAA tournament. After all, with only four Division I programs in this state — and all four slipping on dancing shoes — it’s awful hard for other states to beat Oklahoma’s flawless batting average of 1,000 percent.
What makes Oklahoma’s presence in the NCAA tournament even better? The fact that each OU, OSU, ORU and TU are all comprised of in-state talent.
“It’s been a long time coming to really have that kind of standing in the NCAA tournament,” said Kennedy, who has two former players competing in the NCAA tournament: Taleya Mayberry at Tulsa and Kamri Anderson at Oklahoma State.
Oral Roberts — seeded 15th and set to take on No. 2 Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn., on Saturday — and Tulsa — the unforeseen Conference USA champion, which received a No. 16 seed and a first-round matchup with No. 1 Stanford — are both heavily reliant on in-state talent. And this year, more than any, that’s been a flawless formula.
For Oral Roberts, three of Oklahoma’s own lead the scoring charge. Former Adair standout Kevi Luper averages 19 points a game while Jaci Bigham (from McAlester) and Taylor Cooper (of Shawnee) both pour in more than 10 points a game.
Cooper’s former high school teammate, Kelsee Grovey, has been an integral piece of the Golden Hurricane’s success. As a freshman, Grovey has chipped in 10.5 points per game, slightly off Mayberry’s 18.7 points-per-game average.
Shawnee coach Wendi Wells could not be more elated for the two that helped her win a Class 5A gold ball in 2012.
“I’m extremely excited and proud of them,” Wells said. “To be able to make such an impact on two NCAA tournament teams is a testament to how hard they’ve worked.”
Also in the mix at Tulsa is Ashley Clark (Midwest City), Antoinet Webster (Western Heights), Kadan Brady (Healdton) and Mariah Turner (Norman North).
As a No. 7 seed taking on No. 10 DePaul in Durham, N.C., on Sunday, Oklahoma State counts on in-state talent — but on a smaller scale. Sure, Britney Martin (Syracuse, Utah) and Tiffany Bias (Andover, Kan.) are key pieces for the Cowgirls, but the bulk of the heavy lifting is done by those from the Sooner State. Liz Donohoe (Edmond North), Kendra Suttles (Lawton) and Toni Young (Del City) have led OSU to 21-10 mark.
Still need convincing that Oklahoma has entered the upper echelon producing the top high school talent? Fine.
One of Oklahoma’s main contributors is Star Spencer’s Sharane Campbell. Kaylon Williams (Midwest City) would be a part of that discussion if not for an Achilles tendon that sidelined her in October.
Nothing to worry about for Midwest City, though. The Bombers are being represented by Williams’ former teammate, Richa Jackson, at perennial power Duke. Jackson is one of nine former in-state standouts that opted to venture outside the state boundaries to display their specialized skills.
Among that group is Sequoyah’s Angel Goodrich at Kansas. And in a unique situation, two former Edmond athletes — Texas A&M’s Courtney Walker (Edmond Santa Fe) and Wichita State’s Alie Decker (Edmond Memorial) — will square off in the NCAA tournament’s first round in College Station, Texas.
It’s easy to see: Oklahoma has taken the NCAA field by storm.
“It’s a tribute to Oklahoma basketball,” Kennedy said. “It shows that we’re producing the kind of athlete to compete at the next level.”
And it only gets better.
Oklahoma isn’t anywhere near finished when it comes to churning out talent for the next level.
Heading to Oklahoma State is Anadarko’s Lakota Beatty. Carl Albert’s Gioya Carter is staying close to home and going to Oklahoma. Stevi Parker (Bixby) and Liesl Spoerl (Cascia Hall) are going to team up at Tulsa, and Muskogee’s Alexus Wilson and Kelsey McClure will continue to be wear the same uniform together at Oral Roberts. Departing for out-of-state programs will be Union’s I’mani Davis (Tennessee State), Bixby’s Christian Devers (Arkansas), East Central’s Bria Pitts (Arkansas) and Jenks’ Jessica Washington (North Carolina).
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Oklahoma has arrived — and is verging on powerhouse producing status.
Talent on display
Each Division I program in women’s basketball in Oklahoma is represented with in-state talent from the varsity level. See which former high school standouts will be competing in this year’s NCAA tournament:
- Tulsa: Kadan Brady (Healdton), Ashley Clark (Midwest City), Kelsee Grovey (Shawnee), Taleya Mayberry (Booker T. Washington), Mariah Turner (Norman North), Antoinet Webster (Western Heights).
- Oral Roberts: Emma Gade (Stillwater), Taylor Cooper (Shawnee), Christian Key (Victory Christian), Kevi Luper (Adair), Elisabeth Daniels (Tuttle), Jaci Bigham (McAlester), Jenni Bryan (Coweta), Felecia Achilefu (East Central).
- Oklahoma State: Kamri Anderson (Booker T. Washington), Liz Donohoe (Edmond North), LaShawn Jones (Putnam City), Kendra Suttles (Lawton), Morgan Toben (Owasso), Toni Young (Del City).
- Oklahoma: Sharane Campbell (Star Spencer), Kaylon Williams (Midwest City).
In-state players at out-of-state schools:
- Fresno State: Toni Smith (Del City), Taylor Thompson (Cache).
- Kansas: Angel Goodrich (Sequoyah).
- Texas A&M: Courtney Walker (Edmond Santa Fe).
- Wichita State: Alie Decker (Edmond Memorial).
- Prairie View A&M: Deanna Moore (Muskogee).
- UCLA: Alyssia Brewer (Sapulpa).
- Duke: Richa Jackson (Midwest City).
- South Carolina: Ashley Bruner (Norman).