By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Typically, Stillwater High School boys basketball coach Michael Davis doesn’t pay too much attention to rankings.
But when you have two top five teams in Class 5A and another looking to crack the top 10 in one tournament, it’s enough to even get Davis’ attention.
“It’s a really, really good field,” Davis said. “You have two top 5 teams in Class 5A with Coweta at 13-1 and Southeast at No. 5. Then you have El Reno, who is also ranked and on our side of the bracket. It’s pretty solid.”
A deep field might intimidate most teams, but not the Pioneers. Early season wins over some top-ranked teams — including a win at Edmond Santa Fe last week — have the Stillwater (12-3) battle tested and ready for the Shawnee Invitational.
“We realize that you have to go play the game,” Davis said. “Our first concern is Choctaw because that’s who we play in the first game. That’s what we’ve been working on — getting focused and ready for Choctaw. Our deal is one game at a time.”
Last year the Pioneers finished second to El Reno in the tournament. Now they begin a new quest against possibly even tougher competition, beginning with the game against Choctaw at 5 p.m. Thursday.
“We got beat in the finals by El Reno, but we won it the year before with Alex Budke and that group when they were seniors,” Davis said. “We’re very familiar with this tournament. We look forward to this tournament. We think this is the best tournament in the state for us.”
It doesn’t hurt that Stillwater has plenty of momentum heading into the tournament — perhaps part of the reason the Pioneers are favored to reach the finals again this season.
Stillwater is coming off a 65-60 overtime victory over Ponca City and is looking to build on that momentum.
“Our confidence is really good right now,” Davis said. “They’re right where they need to be — not too high and not too low. Playing Ponca City gets you ready because we knew that we were going to get their best effort. ... We knew what they were capable of and for some reason, they find an extra gear when they play us.”
But it isn’t just building momentum for the tournament that Davis is concerned about. He’s hoping the tough competition this weekend will also help the Pioneers gear up for the playoffs, which are quickly approaching.
“The thing about tournaments is that you never know what’s going to happen,” Davis said. “Everything’s different. You get a chance to play against three different styles of play. That always helps you going into the playoffs. If you play every kind of team out there and every style, it only helps you become more familiar with what to do. Everything you do is a part of the process and that’s what we keep telling our guys.”
Davis said he isn’t looking forward to the rematch with El Reno in the semifinals — saying that he’s more worried about Choctaw at this point. But with Stillwater’s offense rolling by using both post play and outside shooting, it’s safe to say that the Pioneers are a very dangerous team in this tournament.
“We just have to take it one game at a time,” Davis said. “We can’t be worried about who we’re going to face in the next round or in the championship because we’re not there yet. Our guys are taking it one game at a time and that’s how we’re going to have the most success — by not getting ahead of ourselves.”