By BEN JOHNSON
After being void from the calendar last season, Tahlequah’s annual basketball tournament is back. And it’s back with a vengeance this year.
“Looking at the tournament brackets across the state this week,” Tahlequah boys coach Mike Leafgreen said, “I think we have the best boys side bracket in the state.”
The Edmond Open and Bixby Invitational figure to have strong fields with Class 5A and 6A teams, too, but Leafgreen filled out an eight-team bracket that includes his club, Moore, Sand Springs, Sapulpa, Muskogee, Coweta, Enid and SOYLA (Save Our Youth Leadership Academy).
Not bad at all.
“Moore and Coweta are both pretty good,” Leafgreen said of the Lions (15th in 6A) and the Tigers (seventh in 5A), respectively. “There will be some teams that go 1-2 and are better than that.”
For Tahlequah, the tournament kicks off against Sapulpa on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. at the TMAC. SOYLA and Muskogee will follow at 2:30 p.m.; Coweta and Enid will square off at 5:30 p.m.; and Moore and Sand Springs will play the nightcap at 8:30 p.m.
The first round of the tournament will be only the second games of the season for both Tahlequah and Sapulpa. Yet, Leafgreen knows what to expect from the Chieftains.
“They’re going to be very athletic,” he said. “We saw them last year in the Shawnee tournament, and they can shoot the ball really well. We have to limit them to one shot and go score on the other end.”
In order to slow down Sapulpa’s starting five of DeShawn Zachary, Sam Gottsch, Ben Johnson, Sam Johnson and Larry Marshall, Tahlequah will have to avoid another repeat performance like it had against Skiatook in a 63-60, season-opening loss last week.
“We will have to get back to playing defense like we did last spring — like we did last year in the Shrine tournament,” Leafgreen said. “We can’t do that we did the other night. If we do that, we can get beat by anyone.”
On offense against Skiatook, Lain Wright led Tahlequah — and all scorers — with 28 points. However, he was the only Tiger to score in double figures.
“On the offensive end, we’ll be fine,” Leafgreen said. “We had the open looks [against Skiatook]. Having your best shooters taking your shots is what you want. We won’t have another game like that.”
Lady Tigers open with Sand Springs
The Tahlequah girls will kick off the tournament Thursday at 1 p.m. against Sand Springs — a mystery team to Tahlequah coach Chad Walker.
“All I know about (Sand Springs) is Bishop Kelley beat them by five,” Walker said. “Don’t know anything about them.
“According to a couple of coaches that I’ve talked to, they have a couple of guards who aren’t real good. The do have a good post girl who can score and grab rebounds.”
The Tahlequah-Sand Springs winner will advance to take on the winner of Moore-Muskogee JV, which is the first game of the tournament on Thursday at 10 a.m. The other side of the bracket features Muskogee-Oklahoma City Southeast (7 p.m. Thursday) and Rogers Heritage (Ark.)-Yukon (4 p.m. Thursday).
“It’s going to be a good tournament,” Walker said. “It’s an athletically-packed tournament.”
Muskogee and Tahlequah are the only two ranked teams, but with a field packed with 6A schools, Walker knows the competition will still be stout.
“You can get plenty of tough games against 5A competition,” he said, “but our philosophy has been, ‘the harder, the better.’ We want our girls to understand what it takes to win against the best teams; we don’t want our girls taking it lightly.”
Much like its opener against Skiatook, Tahlequah will be without Desiree Phipps, who Walker said should return next week against Bishop Kelley after enduring a severe illness prior to the beginning of the season. The Lady Tigers, though, will have Jhonett Cookson, who had 16 points and 12 rebounds against Skiatook in the opener, despite also not feeling well herself.
“If she’s going to play like that under the weather,” Walker said of Cookson, “I want her under the weather every game.”
UKB Tahlequah Tiger Invitational
Game 1: Moore vs. Muskogee JV, 10 a.m.
Game 2: Tahlequah vs. Sand Springs, 1 p.m.
Game 3: Yukon vs. Rogers Heritage (Ark.), 4 p.m.
Game 4: Muskogee vs. OKC Southest, 7 p.m.
Game 5: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 10 a.m.
Game 6: Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 1 p.m.
Game 7: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 4 p.m.
Game 8: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 7 p.m.
Game 9: Game 5 loser vs. Game 6 loser, 10 a.m.
Game 10: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 1 p.m.
Game 11: Game 7 loser vs. Game 8 loser, 4 p.m.
Game 12: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 7 p.m.
Game 1: Tahlequah vs. Sapulpa, 11:30 a.m.
Game 2: SOYLA vs. Muskogee, 2:30 p.m.
Game 3: Coweta vs. Enid, 5:30 p.m.
Game 4: Moore vs. Sand Springs, 8:30 p.m.
Game 5: Game 2 loser vs. Game 3 loser, 11:30 a.m.
Game 6: Game 1 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 2:30 p.m.
Game 7: Game 2 winner vs. Game 3 winner, 5:30 p.m.
Game 8: Game 1 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 8:30 p.m.
Game 9: Game 5 loser vs. Game 6 loser, 11:30 a.m.
Game 10: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 2:30 p.m.
Game 11: Game 7 loser vs. Game 8 loser, 5:30 p.m.
Game 12: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 8:30 p.m.