Duane Jones has seen the very best of his Tahlequah basketball program over recent weeks.
There’s the experience factor.
There’s the high volume of summer games.
And, there’s the high number of returning players.
The Tigers will have played a season’s worth of 27 games over the summer.
They’ve competed at the Oologah Team Camp, Bishop Kelley Summer League and Oklahoma State University Team Camp and will be attending the Oral Roberts University Team Camp later this week.
Jones, who will be in his third year as head coach in 2019-20, has a good core returning and only loses point guard Michael Murphy and forward Noah Riley to graduation from a team that posted a 12-12 mark.
“It’s an experience thing,” Jones said Monday. “We only lost the two seniors with Murph and Noah. Everybody is now a year stronger, a year more experienced. They’ve grown up a little bit and they know more of what to expect. It’s really going to help us in the future.”
“I counted up and my varsity guys are going to have 27 games over the summer,” Jones added. “It’s a full basketball season. We played 10 games this last week. We went to Bishop Kelley on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings and turned around on Friday, Saturday and Sunday where we went to OSU.”
The most notable performance came during a three-day visit to Bishop Kelley. The Tigers gave three-time defending Class 5A state champion Tulsa Memorial all it could handle.
“We played really well against Memorial, took them down to the wire and had a chance to win,” Jones said. “They have a lot of great athletes and we played super well against them. It may have been the best game I’ve seen us play in a couple of years.”
Senior-to-be and do-it-all guard Jaxon Jones is the centerpiece. Jones, now expected to see more time at point guard, averaged a team-high 16.9 points as a junior. He scored 20 points or better eight times and dropped in a season-high 30 against Skiatook at the TMAC in late January.
But the Tigers have an experienced supporting cast to go around Jones with the likes of Hayden Wagers, Tyler Joice, Tanner Christian, Kooper McAlvain, Simeon Armstrong and Qua’shon Leathers.
Wagers made huge strides in his sophomore year, averaging 8.6 points, and led the Tigers in rebounding at just under five per contest.
Joice, who will be a sophomore, can play any of the guard positions. He saw his playing time increase as the season went along and averaged 3.8 points as a freshman.
Armstrong and Leathers will remain big parts in the backcourt, while Christian can play any one of four spots and McAlvain is another big body inside who can also step out and shoot from the perimeter.
“I’m really encouraged with how well we’ve been playing,” Jones said. “We’re playing really hard as a team. We’ve been taking 10 guys with our varsity and each of them are getting a lot of minutes in. Everybody’s kind of figuring out their role. It’s been a great experience. From the end of last season to where we are right now we feel like we’re a much stronger team.”