CHICKASHA – With three key starters and two big scorers off the bench coming back for a senior year, the Drovers are in good shape for a strong 2012-13 season.
Head Coach Brisco McPherson said he thinks this year’s team will come in with strong athleticism, coupled with the benefit that there are seven seniors and five juniors bringing in a high level of play and experience.
McPherson said he was impressed with the intensity the players showed in their two preseason scrimmages.
“We pushed the ball pretty well down the floor and get down there pretty quick. We are going to need to use that to be effective,” McPherson said. “We’ve got guys who can run … That’s what we are going to have to do, beat people in transition.”
The Drovers open the season on Thursday against NCAA Division II Northwestern Oklahoma State. It is USAO’s Homecoming game, and tip off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the USAO Fieldhouse. Northwestern left the Sooner Athletic Conference last season.
The Rangers will be a tough match because they have four starters returning this year.
“Those teams that have experience like that, it’s a good test,” McPherson said. “Those guys know what it’s like to play in the Sooner Athletic Conference and how hard you have to play. We have guys who are still learning and haven’t played in this league yet.”
Following that game, the Drovers head right into a Saturday evening home game against Langston University, a team that has become one of the Drovers’ favorite annual non-conference match ups.
The Drovers pre-conference schedule is much different from ones in the past as they face former SAC teams Northwestern OSU, Oklahoma Christian and Southern Nazarene.
Returning for a senior season are All-Conference Honorable Mentions Phil Harris and Norris Rumph. Also for playing for another season is starter Brandon Cutler.
Harris has progressively improved each of his previous three seasons at USAO. He is now third in school history in career steals with 112. He led the 2011-12 team in three pointers with 50. Additionally, he was second to NAIA All-America First Team Kyle Hunt in total points with 337. He also was second in assists with 74.
Rumph transferred to USAO last season and immediately made an impact. He was third on last year’s squad in points scored with 298 and second to Harris in threes made with 36.
Cutler was a player who had a strong inside presence for the Drovers. He had 194 points and 92 rebounds despite a mid-season wrist injury.
McPherson said he will be looking to these guys to bring leadership and maturity to the court.
“We’ve got guys who have been here four years,” he said “They know what the conference is all about and how tough it is. They should be able to provide leadership.”
Two other key returners are Zacharias Lewis and Graham Faulkner. Faulkner is another player who is now entering his fourth year at USAO. Both players saw action in nearly every game of the season, collecting 245 combined points.
One of the key newcomers who brings in some size is Jahseth Lloyd, a 6-foot-6 junior from Hill College.
“I’ve been really impressed with him,” McPherson said. “I guess he’s just a game player. When it’s time to play a game, he is ready to go. He played real well, played hard.”
McPherson also mentioned Ahmir Bailey, a 6-foot-5 transfer from West Hills College; Darrius Bryson, a 6-foot transfer from Seminole State; Dejuan Lofton, a 5-foot-1 senior from Washburn University; and Kennis White, a 6-foot-3 junior also from West Hills College.
“Our perimeter guys are as good as any in the league,” McPherson said “I like the guys we brought in. There are some other kids we brought in that we think can help us.”
As always, the Drovers find themselves in a tough league. Two SAC teams are ranked in the NAIA Top 5. Oklahoma Baptist sits at No. 2 while Rogers State is No. 5. John Brown isn’t far behind at 17, and Lubbock Christian and Oklahoma City are receiving votes.
SAC Preseason polls put those teams in that same order, and USAO falling immediately after at sixth.
“I think we should finish higher than that, but we’ll have to see how we come together as a team,” he said. “I think we should be able to play with anyone in our league, including OBU, who was the team picked to win the conference. If we do what we are capable of doing, we are right there with every body else.”
Much like in years in the past, the goal for the Drovers is to make it to the Sooner Athletic Conference tournament because the winner earns an invite to the NAIA National Tournament.
As always, the Drovers will kick off the season with Drover Madness, USAO’s annual basketball pep rally, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the USAO Fieldhouse.