Thunder creating smiles at Positive Tomorrow

 

Photos by Michael Kinney

By Michael Kinney

Shai Gilgeous -Alexander is a pretty competitive player. When he is on an NBA court, the second-year pro puts everything he has into helping the Oklahoma City Thunder win.

However, recently, Gilgeous-Alexander put his competitive drive to the ultimate test and it had nothing to do with basketball. Gilgeous-Alexander was asked to win a cupcake for a small child and he vowed not to leave until he got that cupcake.

“One of the kids at the cake walk made sure I got them a chocolate cupcake,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “And they were not letting me leave until I got him one. I ended up getting him one, so it was pretty cool. Took 10 minutes.”

Gilgeous-Alexander was part of the Oklahoma City Thunder contingent who visited the school Positive Tomorrow Nov. 14 as part of their annual Holiday Assist Program. Almost all of the players were on hand as they played games, made cookies and painted faces with 70 kids in Pre-K through sixth grade at a Thanksgiving celebration.

What made this trip a little different than a normal school visit is that Positive Tomorrow is a school for homeless children. It’s Oklahoma’s only elementary school specifically for homeless children and provides services and education to help break the cycle of homelessness and poverty.

“Positive Tomorrow is a social service agency that works with the needs of homeless families,” said Susan Agel, the President & CEO of Positive Tomorrow. “Our primary program is that of a private school, which works with the children from those families. We work with the kids to get them up to speed academically and socially. They bounce around so much that they have a very difficult time in school. Most of them don’t like school. So we work with that from a trauma-informed perspective.”

The Thunder arrived on the same day that the students were able to step into their new 42,000-square-foot facility that will house the students starting Dec. 2. The building, which broke ground last spring, came at a cost of $15 million. According to Positive Tomorrow’s Jamie Hadwin, $10.5 million came from private funding and the rest from tax credits.

Thunder center Steven Adams was immensely impressed with the new building and the people who stepped up to fund it.

“This whole place is amazing,” Adams said. “I just took a little tour. I was interested in the whole structure. They raised $15 million for it. So it’s just good to have that security behind it. Seems like the system around these kids is going to be really great.”

According to Agel, there are more than 3,000 homeless children in the Oklahoma City Public School District and another 4,500 in the Putnam City School District.

When those children have a hard time fitting in at public school, they can find themselves getting the help they need at Positive Tomorrow.

“We had a kindergartener who came to our school in January. He walked in and the first thing he said to his teacher was I hate school,” Agel said. “But when you started looking at what had gone on in his life, we were the fourth school he had attended this year. We were the fourth school where he didn’t have school supplies, the fourth school where he had to work through the situation of his teacher realizing how far behind he was, it was the fourth school where he didn’t know the rules. I would hate school to. It’s just really tough for a lot of our kids.”

But according to Agel, they do not want Positive Tomorrow to be a school where children go to forever. So, in order to make sure that doesn’t happen they have to work with nit just educating the students, but helping the entire family

“We’re working with families, we’re working with mom and dad and help them find housing, help them to make sure income is coming in, help them identify their own goals,” Agel said. “It’s our goal for the family to become stable. Once they have been stable and have that way for a while, then we will help move the children back into public schools. We want the family to be normal. To be like anyone else and contributing to society. That’s our goal.”

But on the day the Thunder players arrived, none of that seemed to matter. The kids were running around and trying to show off for Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, Nerlens Noel, Dennis Schroder and the entire team. Just to be able to spend time with people they can only have the chance to watch on TV meant something special in that moment.

“A lot of these kids didn’t have the opportunities that we had and the opportunities that a lot of kids get,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “For us to give them this moment was pretty cool. We’re in positions that not a lot of people get to be in. And for us to just use our light, I should say, and share with the rest of the community, it’s always amazing. That’s a big thing for me.”

Thunder-PT 2.jpg

 

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Thunder mark anniversary of tragic day in state history

 

By Michael Kinney

The start of the Oklahoma City Thunder 2019-20 season has had its hiccups. With major departures from the roster, the franchise has been slow to find their rhythm on the court.

However, the Thunder showed this week that no matter what they are doing in the wins and loss column, they are still a vital part of the community and state.

Before the Thunder faced the Orlando Magic on Nov. 5, the franchise held a special ceremony to mark the 25th Anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing.

To honor those who lost their lives on that fateful April 19 day in 1995, 168 family members and survivors of the bombing traveled from around Oklahoma and eight other states to be on hand.

They were led to the center of the court where they held up the new City Edition Thunder jerseys with the names of the victims and the number 95 on the back. On the jersey, the phrase “We Remember Those Who Were Changed Forever April 19, 1995” stitched on to it.

The family members ranged in age from 11-90 and included husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, grandparents, grandkids, sisters and brothers.

The Thunder lined up on the court just a few feet away and watched the ceremony.

“It was amazing. Just a ten out of ten,” Steven Adams said. “It’s just unbelievably special and obviously the Thunder does a good job of showing us the memorial. It’s just something different, it’s absolutely amazing and the memorial does a really good job of paying respect to those who lost their lives. They’re not forgotten and the Thunder does a really good job of keeping them alive in that way. It was touching, mate.”

Adams, along with Andre Roberson is the longest-tenured member of the Thunder still with the team. So he knows how impactful the terrorist attack was on the state of Oklahoma and how it continues to build from it.

However, as point guard Chris Paul pointed out, several members of the team weren’t even alive when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was destroyed. So for them, this ceremony was their first true interaction with the story.

“That’s tough because for a lot of guys on our team, some of them weren’t even born then and for me, I was 10 years old and I remember that. I remember being at school and everything,” said Paul. “So it’s tough, and then playing here my first two years knowing how much that event impacted the city.”

As the family members stood on the court, a video was shown overhead that detailed the destruction and the rebirth of the city that came from it. Several of the survivors could be seen wiping tears from their eyes as the video played.

But it was when jazz singer Ernestine Dillard walked out and sang God Bless America that the emotions started to come to the surface. Despite still recovering from a stroke and the death of her husband, she put everything she had into the performance.

Dillard performed at the original memorial service for the bombing victims on April 23rd, 1995.

The City Edition jerseys will be worn by the Thunder several more times this season. But each of the family members who were on the court was able to keep the jerseys they held up.

For Ivan Martinez, who was just 10 days old when he lost his dad in the bombing, it will now become a family heirloom and a way to remember his father’s life.

“I’m going to give it to my kid, he’s gonna give it to his or her kid …. so on and so on,” Martinez posted on social media. “It’s gonna be beautiful.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Post Malone rocks out in Oklahoma

 

Photos by Torrey Purvey/ TorreyPurvey.com

By Michael Kinney

Special to The The Yukon Review

OKLAHOMA CITY– As I walked into the Chesapeake Energy Arena Nov. 4, I had no idea who Austin Richard Post really was. Yes, I knew of a couple of his songs such as Sunflower, but I didn’t even know what he looked like. I had intended to “Hey, Google” him, but decided to go into it with a blank slate impression.

I didn’t really have high expectations of what type of performance I was going to see at the Runway Tour. But by the end of the night, I came to understand what all the hype was around the unique brand that is Austin Richard Post, AKA Post Malone.

The night started out with a single opening act. Swae Lee, one half of hip-hop duo Rae Sremmurd. However, Lee didn’t need his brother to put on an electric performance.

“Oklahoma, yall’s energy is incredible,” Lee yelled to the fans early in the night.

For nearly an hour, Lee performed a variety of different songs with just him and one dancer on stage. His set included Close To Me, Won’t be Late and Unforgettable.

Lee made several trips into the audience where he gave out hugs handshakes and sung to fans. His performance was good enough to be the main act on many tours, but it was just a taste of what the more than 13,000 fans on hand came to see.

After a 30 minute intermission, it was Post Malone’s turn. On a long stage built to look like a runway, he didn’t waste any time turning up the energy and the volume with Hollywood’s Bleeding from his chart-topping album of the same name.

Just to show how much of a phenomenon he has become, after its first six weeks on the charts this fall, Post moved 85,000 album units, comprising 8,600 actual album sales and 94.1 million song streams.

The rest of Post Malone’s setlist included Goodbyes, Die for Me, I Fall Apart and White Iverson.

Just to show off his skills, Post Malone also pulled out a guitar and performed “Stay” acoustically.

To close out the night, Post Malone brought Swae Lee back out onto the stage to perform their hit Sunflower, which was on the soundtrack to the film “Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse.”

All told, Post was on stage for nearly two hours straight, by himself. No band, no dancers, no elaborate gimmicks. It was basically just a man and his mic singing about broken hearts, lost loves and life.

Post dedicated many of his 20 songs on his setlist to those who have been hurt by love. But he also talked about the hardships of making his career. When he got to White Iverson, Post Malone told the crowd, this was the song that took him from sleeping in his car to living his dreams.

As I mentioned, I had no clue what to expect when I first walked into the arena. But now I do. Covered in tattoos, he is a one-man hurricane of energy and passion that knows how to give everything to his fans while on stage and in his music.

“Words cannot explain how grateful and how blessed I am to be able to come here on a night where there is no hate, there’s no, there’s no violence,” Post said. “There is just love. No matter what is going on with me, being able to come out here and sing these songs with y’all, saves my life every day. I just want to say thank y’all.”

Post Malone’s final song of the night was his hit Congratulations. But he had a few words to those that doubted he would ever sell out arenas across the country as he did in Oklahoma.

“Whenever White Iverson came out, my life changed in a positive way. But it also changed in a negative way.” Post said. “There were people that wanted to talk down to me, call me every name under the sun. Call me a one-hit-wonder. It’s OK, because those same (people) are the same ones who see me walking down the street and they always put out their hands to say congratulations!!!”

Malone-2711.jpg

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

 

Thunder staying optimistic about slow start

 

By Michael Kinney

The first full week of the NBA season has been a frustrating one for the Oklahoma City Thunder. As they head into Saturday’s afternoon title with New Orleans, they have amassed a 1-4 record.

But what has been confounding is that the Thunder have played well in parts of each game. However, getting a full four quarters of strong basketball has been an issue.

“Obviously we loss against Utah. It was a close game,” guard Dennis Schroder said. “We didn’t finish it out very well. Second game against Washington, they got that win. But I think against Golden State and Houston we did a great job just playing together, being aggressive, everybody just playing with confidence. I think that was a big change. On the defensive end, we’re doing a great job. We just have to do it for 48 minutes.”

Many knew Oklahoma City would struggle with the loss of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Jerami Grant, but a quick glance at the numbers through five games showing that it has been a collapse. They are currently fifth in the league in points allowed at 101.4 ppg. They are also second in rebounds at 50.8.

“It just speaks for what kind of team we are,” Oklahoma City’s Hamidou Diallo said. “We are a team that is going to fight, we’re never going to stop fighting and no matter what the scoreboard says we’re going to come out there and we’re going to keep pushing and keep pushing.”

However, it has been on the offensive end, where they have had their struggles. They are 26th in scoring (102.2), 21st shooting (43.4%) and 26th in three-pointers made per game.

All this adds up to is some very close games for Oklahoma City. Their point differential is 0.7, which means every missed shot, turnover can be the difference between winning and losing.

Yet, veteran guard Chris Paul said now isn’t the time to get frustrated or lose faith in the system. He sees positives in how the team has played.

“I want to win, all the time. I don’t care what the situation is. You know what I mean? But we’re getting better,” Paul said. “I’m working to. It’s never about how I feel personally. It’s how we are as a team. As long as we’re making strides to get better, we know in our locker room that we’re getting better. That’s all that matters.”

At 1-4, the Thunder have the same record after five games as they did to start last season. So they know a turnaround is possible.

Oklahoma City’s struggles have been most glaring when it comes to the fourth quarter. They are averaging 22.6 points a night in fourth, which ranks 26th in the league.

However, Paul says that will turn around. But he wants to make sure they don’t give it up on the other end.

“I‘ve been around long enough to know that I am capable of (closing games out),” Paul said. “But with the depth that we have, I think game in and game out it might be a number of guys. For us, we have to be able to do it defensively. It’s cool to be able to make shots, but when you can make stops defensively, that really gives you an opportunity.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Thunder set to open 2019-20 NBA season

(Photo by Michael Kinney)

By Michael Kinney

After an offseason of upheaval and major roster changes, the Oklahoma City Thunder will tip-off its season this week. They will travel to Utah for its season opener Wednesday before returning home for their first home game Friday against Washington (7 p.m.).

There are a few key traits the Thunder will look for in the first few games.

“Transition and communication. That’s basically the biggest influences. Just like any other team,” Steven Adams said. “And you will probably get 50 positions in a game, you know, where it’s transition. You know, even like consider a transition. So obviously that will be our main focus for that, and then you will get into more of the smaller things, timing stuff, scouting sort of stuff. For the most part, yeah, transition and communication.”

Fans who were used to seeing Russell Westbrook for the past decade will now need to start to learn new names and faces. One of those is second-year guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who says the 2019-20 version of the Thunder will be feisty.

“We play really unselfishly. We are going to have to be a grit team, a grind team that can defend,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “We are obviously at our best when we can get in the fullcourt and can play fast. That’s our identity.”

Gilgeous-Alexander is expected to start in the backcourt along with veteran Chris Paul. Terrance Ferguson and Adams are also expected to be in the starting lineup.

The fifth starter could be anyone from Danilo Gallinari to Dennis Schroder to Andre Roberson, when he returns from an injury that has kept him off the floor for almost two years.

Regardless of who it is, Roberson says the squad is nowhere near where they need to be to compete in the Western Conference. But they have the making of one that can.

“We have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of competitors. Our inexperience shows at times. I know it’s just preseason, but it’s good to see ourselves go against somebody else, which is different,” Roberson said. “We come back here every day, watch our film and kind of nitpick ourselves and see where we can get better. Granted we’re still trying to figure out who works together, what guys work together, what plays work for certain guys. It’s a learning process. It’s not going to be perfect right away. We’ve got time and we’re willing to use it.”

The Thunder won’t be able to just ease into the season. They have one of if not the hardest schedule in the opening two months of the season.

After they face the Wizards, they host Golden State on Sunday (7 p.m.) before facing Westbrook, James Harden and the Houston Rockets on Monday.

They will end their first week of competition next Wednesday with the Portland Trail Blazers (7 p.m.), who essentially broke up the Thunder when they knocked Oklahoma City out of the playoffs last season.

“I’m excited about our team,” Paul said. “We’re going to go out to win every single night. It’s just building that camaraderie, just building that togetherness and making sure everyone understands that it doesn’t matter what everyone says on the outside, it matters what we do.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Sooners storm past Mountaineers

By Michael Kinney

After beating Texas in its biggest challenge of the year, some look at their game with West Virginia as a trap game. One of those contests where the team that is an overwhelming favorite is either looking ahead or still looking behind them.

In the past, this is something the Sooners had been guilty of when they drop games they shouldn’t have. But this OU squad is seemingly not going to fall for those old tricks anymore.

No. 5 Oklahoma rolled to a 52-14 victory over West Virginia Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Coach Riley always tells us to never take winning for granted,” sophomore fullback Jeremiah Hall said. “There are a lot of programs right now that are struggling or fighting to be where we are, so we understand and know that we have to get better. At the same time, we can only enjoy one game at a time and today we are going to celebrate with smiles on our faces.”

Oklahoma (7-0, 4-0) jumped on the scoreboard first on their second possession of the game. After Kennedy Brooks ran the OU offense down into the WVU territory, quarterback Jalen Hurts hit Hall for a 20-yard touchdown pass.

The Sooners liked it so much, on the next possession they drove 74 yards in just four plays. This time Hurts connected with Charleston Rambo for a 6-yard touchdown and a 14-0 advantage.

“We got ballers,” Rambo said. “Whoever is gonna touch the ball, they’re going to make a play. We just wait our turn.”

The Mountaineers used their special teams to answer back. Back up deep in their own territory, WVU turned a fake punt into a first down. That led to former Sooner and current WVU quarterback Austin Kendall throwing a touchdown and cutting the deficit to seven points.

However, touchdowns from Brooks and Hurts seemed to stop the WVU momentum and the Sooners looked like they were on the verge of running away with the game.

But with 20 seconds left in the first half, Kendall threw his second TD pass and OU led 28-14 at halftime.

The Sooners started the second half with another long scoring drive. It ended with Hurts strolling into the endzone after a 22 yard run.

But it was on the Sooner’s next possession that Hurts put the game away. He connected with Lee Morris for a 46-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline. Hurts hit Morris in stride in the endzone.

“I wasn’t surprised,” Morris said. “Really, I didn’t know how close [the defender] was until the ball was in the air like I could just feel him getting closer and closer. Other than that, it was a dime by Jalen. I just had to fetch it.”

Kendall had opportunities throughout the day to do the same thing as the WVU receivers got behind the Oklahoma secondary. However, he often overthrew them and came away empty-handed.

The Sooner’s defense stuffed WVU on their first possession of the second half deep in the Mountaineers territory and was forced to punt. Punter Josh Growden was lined up in the endzone when Brayden Willis steamrolled through the middle of the line and blocked the punt.

The loose ball was recovered by Austin Stogner in the endzone for a TD and Oklahoma led 49-14.

“Honestly, every time we get a special teams play, we’re just pumped,” Willis said. “We try so hard on special teams that we want to just be part of the game. So every time we get a touchdown on special teams, it’s a big celebration.”

Except for the two first-half touchdown drives, the Oklahoma defense had a solid outing.  They held WVU to 242 total yards. That includes just 51 yards on the ground.

“We just wanted to make sure that momentum that they thought they had right before halftime, we got that back,” Brendan Radley-Hiles said. “They scored right before halftime so you make a play right before halftime, you go in [to the second half] with a little momentum, so we wanted to take everything out of their game plan as soon as possible.”

Oklahoma racked up 560 total yards. They averaged 9.6 yards per play.

Hurts finished the day 316 yards and three touchdowns on 16 of 17 passing. He became the third OU to complete at least 90% of his passes, throw for over 300 yards and throw for at least three TDs in a game.

Hurts also led the Sooners with 92 yards on the ground and another pair of scores.

Yet, Hurts said the Sooners are far from just how good they can be as a team.

” We don’t know what the ceiling is, no one knows. How we get to it, our peak, is going out there every day and practicing hard,” Hurts said. “I’ll say it again, having the right intent and approach to what we do, being eager, essentially starving for an opportunity to play. We just got to have that factor about us, we have to be hungry for every opportunity that we have and go out there and take advantage of our opportunities.”

Up next

The Sooners travel to Kansas State Saturday. Kick-off is set for 11 a.m., which will be their fifth straight early morning start.

Texas will challenge Oklahoma’s defense

 

By Michael Kinney

A year ago this week coach Lincoln Riley made a decision that he hoped would change the direction of his football program. After a crushing loss to Texas, Riley fired longtime defensive coordinator Mike Stoops.

When the season was over, Riley hired Alex Grinch to take over as the Sooner’s defensive coordinator. Now, after five weeks of warmups, Oklahoma fans will get to see this week why he was brought to the program.

No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 11 Texas will renew their rivalry Saturday at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. It will be Grinch’s first shot at the Longhorns.

In last year’s October matchup, the Sooners allowed Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger to go wild as he accounted for five touchdowns. He ran for 84 yards and threw for 314 yards.

Grinch knows stopping the hard-charging, mobile Ehlinger will be key, especially along the goal line.

“There are other guys that are big. But he has a unique ability to find enough of a crease to create the pile moving forward,” Grinch said. “It’s why they are good at what they do and why they’ve had so much success.”

But Texas coach Tom Herman has seen some big changes in Sooner’s defense that could cause his Longhorns problems.

“In the couple of hours that I’ve watched them, they are really, really flying to the football. Not extremely complex in terms of coverage structure but they are in the right place, not very many busts,” Herman said. “Not turning guys loose. The thing that’s a bit unique is the multiplicity of their defensive front. Them stemming and moving and twisting on almost every snap, which is difficult on an offensive lineman, to be honest with you, to try to target a guy and all of a sudden he is moving on you… I’ve been impressed with Coach Grinch the short time, the level they are playing at right now.”

Texas comes into the matchup with only one loss on its resume. That was to a top-five ranked LSU squad.

However, they have been plagued by injuries this season and have watched positions such as defensive back and running back be whittled down.

Yet, because the Red River Rivalry is one of those games that the record never seems to matter, Oklahoma coaches are making sure their players don’t get overconfident.

While this is Grinch’s first foray into the Red River Rivalry, it will be the last for several members of the Sooners. That includes defensive back Parnell Motley, who has some advice for the young players who’ve never played in the game before.

“I just tell the young guys to be yourself,” Motley said. “It’s a big game, but it’s more about us. There’s going to be some moments out there, going back and forth. But at the end of the day, just play your game. I’m just glad to have these young guys on board, to just be a part of this moment in OU-Texas. This is a great moment.”

Horns Down

For Oklahoma fans who get a kick out of seeing the Sooners pull out the ‘Horns down’ hand gesture after a big play, they may be out of luck this season.

Riley announced this week that his Sooners would not be doing the gesture under any circumstance because it could draw a taunting penalty.

“Yeah, we won’t,” Riley said. “Our players won’t do it. Yeah, our players won’t do it, just like the Big 12 [Championship] Game.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Thunder show they like to run

By Michael Kinney

EDMOND– In the first showing of the Oklahoma City Thunder, one thing seems to be evident. The 2019 version of the Thunder is going to be a squad that gets out and runs.

During Sunday afternoon’s annual Blue and White Scrimmage, both units took advantage of their athletic ability and used the fast break as an integral part of their offense instead of just picking and choosing when to run.

Part of that had to do with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Gilgeous-Alexander was the starting point guard for the Blue squad and tried to push the pace whenever he had a chance. This allowed him to attack the defense and catch defenders off guard as he led all scorers with 21 points on 8 of 13 shooting. He also added six rebounds and two assists.

“He’s very uncanny. He’s got a really, to your point, a great wingspan. He’s a great finisher. I think he’s deceptive when he gets to the lane, because of his length,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “He’s got an unbelievable way where he just gets by people and he gets around people and he gets into the lane. And when he gets into the teeth of the defense with his size, generally good things happen.”

In his second year, that is an area, Gilgeous-Alexander wants to keep improving on.

“That is one of the things I work on, changing speeds and being deceptive,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “I’m not the fastest guy and I know that, so I have to do it other ways.”

Along with Gilgeous-Alexander, the blue squad starters consisted of Terrance Ferguson, Nerlens Noel, Hamidou Diallo and Deonte Burton. Andre Roberson didn’t play.

Chris Paul and Dennis Schrodder were teamed up with Steven Adams, Danilo Gallinari and rookie Darius Bazely on the white squad.

In the only meaningless score of the year, the White squad defeated the Blue 76-60.

Gallinari and Abdel Nadar each had 13 points for the White team. Schrodder added 12 points and Paul chipped in with 9. Adams hauled in 21 rebounds.

Bazley showed a lot on both ends of the court as he contributed 8 points and seven rebounds.

“He is just growing every day. He has a lot of talent; I don’t know if you all know that. It’s just his work ethic and how hard he plays,” Gilgeous-Alexander said of Bazley. “Obviously at his size and for his position he can rebound really well and things like that. I think for him just, keep working and he will be just fine.”

The scrimmage was set to only go for a pair of 10 minute quarters. But they added another quarter to get some more action in.

However, the Blue & White Scrimmage was definitely a lot different than in the past. In previous years, the team, cheerleaders and entire organization would go to a school or town and make the scrimmage an event that would draw hundreds of fans from the community.

This year, the Thunder did away with all of the hoopla and just went to their old training center in Edmond and invited 50 kids from a local YMCA to watch. For some reason this year they took the community aspect out of it and turned the event into a glorified practice.

The Thunder will return to the court Tuesday night in their first preseason game of the season. They will host the Dallas Mavericks at the BOK Center in Tulsa.

Their first game at the Chesapeake Energy Arena is Thursday when they face a squad from New Zealand.

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Trio of Sooners looking to earn spot on Olympic team

Photo credit: Michael Kinney

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — By the time Kellani Ricketts finished her career at the University of Oklahoma, softball had been excluded from the Olympics games for five years. And in 2013, there were really no signs that it was going to be added back any time soon.

Despite that, Ricketts kept up hope that one day her dream of being able to play in the Olympics would be realized.

“I think we kind of always had it in the back of our minds that we knew the 2020 Olympics would be in Tokyo. So we just kind of had hope and kept working for it and hopefully that goal would come back,” Ricketts said. “When they decided to put it back in for 2020, that’s when things started to get a little closer and you started to see a lot more people a lot more motivated because we had that goal again.”

Ricketts, who has been playing in the National Pro Fastpitch League since leaving Oklahoma, is back in the state for what could be the most important softball tryouts of her career. She joined 28 other hopefuls at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Softball Team Selection Trials at USA Hall of Fame Stadium. They are looking to earn a spot on the women’s national team that will compete in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo next summer.

“It’s really special because this is a really special event for the sport of softball,” said Ricketts. “Being able to have the Olympic team made here, being able to have it in Oklahoma City where it’s one of our biggest stages with the Women’s College World Series. So it’s special to be able to have everything here.”

The trials are open to the public to come and watch. They will last through Oct. 7, depending on the weather.

The final roster for the 2020 USA Softball WNT will be announced at the conclusion of the Selection Trials Oct. 8. Ricketts is hoping to be one of the 15 players who hear their name called.

“Obviously, the competition is going to be very intense, very good this week,” Ricketts said. “Just being able to stay confident. There’s going to be tough times for all of us and just being able to push through that.”

Rickets is joined at the trials by a pair of other Sooners who are looking to make their first appearance on the national team. They include Shelby Pendley (2015) and Sydney Romero (2019).

Romero was at the same complex just over four months ago competing with the Sooners in the Women’s College World Series.

“It’s fun. I think everyone loves being in OKC,” Romero said. “It’s nice to be familiar with the field and familiar with the atmosphere here.”

Romero said playing for her country has been a goal of hers for some time. But she doesn’t want to put too much pressure on herself to make the Olympic team.

“I’m surrounded by amazing athletes. The fact that I have the opportunity to be on the same field as them and just playing with them, competing with them, it’s a great accomplishment,” Romero said. “You can’t make it bigger than what it is. You have to go out and play, you have to be you. That’s my biggest thing, to just be myself.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

New-look Thunder on tap for 2019-20

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — In preparation for the upcoming 2019-20 NBA, Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager Sam Presti took a little vacation. The only GM the organization has ever known traveled back East to Vermont to spend time with his family, clear his head, write in his journal and grow a beard.

But the time away also seemingly gave Presti a chance to look over the 11 years the Thunder have been in Oklahoma City and let him appreciate what the franchise has been through. But also appreciate just how monumental of a job the Thunder have in front of them.

“I feel humbled about the fact that we have a really big task in front of us after 11 years in Oklahoma City,” Presti said Thursday. “We have the second-best record in the NBA, we have the second-best net rating over that same period of time, and we’ve had a lot of success. I’m humbled about the fact that now we have to look at how we’re going to continue to chart a path that’s going to be able to meet those long-term standards, and that can be energizing but it also makes you realize, like it’s hard to do that in the NBA. So I’d say those three things are the things that I’ve thought about the most, and you can thank Vermont for that, as well.”

When Oklahoma City starts training camp next week, it will be the first time the roster will not feature the name Russell Westbrook, who was traded in the offseason to Houston.

Gone also is Paul George, who asked to be traded to the Los Angeles Clippers after just two years with the Thunder and one year into his max deal four-year contract.

Replacing Westbrook, George and Jerami Grant are veteran point guard Chris Paul, forward Danilo Gallinari and guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Along with Dennis Schroder and Steven Adams, they will make up the core of an entirely different looking Oklahoma City squad than the fans at the Chesapeake Energy Arena have seen before.

“Relative to the season, I think we’ve got a really interesting mix of not just new players and returning players but also veteran players and young players,” Presti said. “I’m excited and I think everybody is excited to watch and see how the team comes together through the year. I think this team has a significant amount of discovery within it in terms of just learning about the new players that we have and how they fit with the existing group. And I think it should be really exciting to see.”

Rebuilding wasn’t the original plan

Two weeks ago, Clippers coach Doc Rivers announced that it was known throughout the NBA that the Thunder were looking to tear down its team and start rebuilding after they were knocked out of the first round of the playoffs.

Presti refuted that statement.

“I don’t know the context in which that comment was made, and obviously no one asked us our opinion about it But no, I mean, I think at the end of the day, we all know that players like Paul George and Russell Westbrook are extremely hard to acquire in cities, in the smaller cities in the league, and when you have those players, you try to do everything you can to retain them,” Presti said. “But once Paul asked for the trade, I felt like we made the most of the situation to work for everybody, which allowed us to do it. I think the thought pattern just doesn’t really line up if you just look at it logically, probably that type of thing would have been done much earlier and it wouldn’t have resulted from a trade request from one of your best players.”

Thunder still stand by KD

Former Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant was once again critical of his former team in an article in the Wall Street Journal. He said the place felt venomous and he would never be associated with it.

Presti was asked about the comments, but wouldn’t take the bait.

“I would just say this: If there is anything that Kevin Durant ever, ever needed from me or from anyone here, it would be moment’s notice for that to happen,” Presti said. “I also think if you work with people for eight years like we did, he and I — he was 19 when he came into the NBA, I was 29. We both went through a lot of changes together, and I have nothing but positive things to say about him and his tenure here.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelanmce Content Provider