Although it happened a week earlier than many expected, Scott Morris is happy to have some new additions to his Stillwater High boys’ basketball team.
The first-year coach who was hired last spring after nearly two decades at Northern Oklahoma College admitted he would have rather seen those players competing for the Class 6A-II state football championship last Saturday.
However, that didn’t happen as the Pioneers fell in the semifinal round of the playoffs. That meant some of them were back on the hardcourt a few days later as they started practice last week.
It was unfortunate good news for Morris since it gave him a few days to prepare them for the season opener, which was Tuesday night. The Pioneers fell 79-37 to No. 3-ranked Edmond North to open the season.
The Pioneers are slated to play again next Tuesday at Edmond Santa Fe, but for now, Morris will keep working on meshing the boys who played football with the ones who have been practicing basketball for months.
“The group that’s been with us the whole time is outstanding,” Morris said. “They’re good kids who are working hard and doing everything we ask them to do. We have this unique experience here where we’re feathering in the football guys, and I’ve really been pleasantly surprised on a couple of levels.
“The skill level and the athleticism that’s coming in – we kind of expected that, but their ability to pick things up and kind of get going has kind of surprised me. We still have a ways to go, but they’ve shown promise we’ll get there and get there a little quicker than we thought. The trick is going to be meshing that together and see if we can get some chemistry going at the right time.”
The Pioneers return a handful of juniors who played significant minutes a year ago. Those include Gunnar Bratton, Bayden Reese, Jackson Holliday, Adam Barth and Max Gosney. Those five players saw a lot of action Tuesday, and that likely won’t change moving forward as more players get into basketball shape as far as conditioning.
Morris said a starting rotation hasn’t been locked down yet and might not be all season, because of the fluid situation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, and the merging of players from different fall sports.
“We have some ideas, but it’s way too early to declare any of that on a lot of levels,” Morris said. “We’re blending two teams together right now. The COVID situation has us going in and out all the time and it’s been a carousel. I think the key to this year is we’re going to have to things by committee. Our starting five will evolve daily almost, but, obviously, we have kids who we expect to step in and contribute heavily, but we haven’t fine tuned that yet.
“There is no baseline for this, so everything everybody is doing right now is chaos,” Morris added. “If there is a silver lining, it’s that everybody has figured out that we have to operate in chaos. Everyone is extending everybody else grace, because nothing is normal right now. Everything is in a trial basis, so we’re having to change practice times on the fly a lot of times and we have to change personnel because kids will get quarantined. Our school schedule is always changing, so we’re all adjusting to that. It’s been interesting, but it’s been a great group of people working together to figure it all out.”
Stillwater will play just two more games before the winter break. The second of those will be the Pioneers’ home opener Dec. 18 against Yukon.
For now, Stillwater will keep working on learning the system of its new coach and building chemistry among the players. Morris said he brought the same system he used at NOC-Enid, and believes it works, but might take some time to fully implement.
“We spread the floor and run a motion offense that’s called read and react,” Morris said. “It gives a lot of freedom to individuals to become playmakers. When they’re in process of doing that the other four players on the respond accordingly, and we have rules on what they’re supposed to be doing. It takes a lot of reps to get good at it, but once you get a team rolling in it, then it’s really an effective offense and really hard to scout because everything that has options. Coaches know that, but they have to choose which one they are going to take away.
“I like to play up tempo. Twenty years of having a 30-second shot clock has probably engrained that in me. That goes back to John Wooden and prior to the shot clock. I try to pattern a lot of what I do after John Wooden. His philosophy was push the ball up the floor as hard as you can every possession, but be patient once you get there and don’t take a foolish shot. But, why not try to out run them down the floor.”
Defensively, Morris said he won’t do anything too crazy this season. He added that a team’s defensive identity can change from year to year as personnel changes.
For this year, he wants his team to play primarily man-to-man, but admitted that could change.
“I that depends on your roster,” Morris said. “I think if we were head and shoulders above people athletically, I think we’d stretch the floor and try to speed it up. I think with the nature of our roster that we have in place, I think we’re going to just keep teams in front of us and stop people as a group. It’s probably what you would consider a basic man-to-man, but we’ll mix in some zone, as well.”