Riley: “He was just slightly better”

By Michael Kinney

For the second year in a row,  Lincoln Riley said it was a difficult decision. That is how Oklahoma’s head coach a starting quarterback for the 2019 season.

Riley announced that graduate transfer Jalen Hurts would start the season opener Sept. 1 against Houston. But on Tuesday during a brief media session, Riley explained his decision.

“I just thought he was slightly better here as it went on,” Riley said of Hurts. “It was probably the closest one we’ve had since I’ve been in Oklahoma. Honestly, all three had days that they were the best quarterback.”

Hurts beat out redshirt freshman Tanner Mordecai and freshman Spencer Rattler to earn the starting nod. Mordecai will be the backup while Rattler is the No. 3 quarterback.

“It was a good battle without a doubt,” Riley said. “Tanner Mordecai did a phenomenal job, made a lot of big plays during camp. Spencer Rattler showed early control and playmaking ability that’s pretty rare for someone his age. So you certainly get pretty excited about those two and the bright futures they both have for this 2019 team and beyond. But Jalen was just a little bit better.”

For many, Hurts was the favorite to win the starting job after he announced he was transferring from Alabama before the spring. With the Crimson Tide he started 28 games during the 2016-17 seasons.

Hurts also played in three College Football Playoff National Championships games. That includes winning the national title in 2017.

However, Riley says he didn’t give Hurts extra credit for the experience he possesses.

“It had nothing to do with experience. I told myself before it started that wasn’t going to matter,” Riley said. “I just based it purely on performance. I’m not going to sit here and break down, he was just a little bit ahead.”

Riley expressed many of the same sentiments last season when Kyler Murray beat out Austin Kendall for the starting job. Murray went on to win the Heisman and became the No. 1 overall pick for the Arizona Cardinals. Kendall ended up transferring to West Virginia at the end of the season.

Riley made to emphasize that it’s not over for Mordecai and Rattler. Either one of them could see time as a backup or get an unexpected start due to injuries.

Also, because of the transfer portal and the way quarterbacks are flocking to it when they do not start, Riley has to keep his backup signal-callers engaged.

“You’ve got to be ready,” Riley said. “I know we have three guys in there that no doubt can go play and play extremely well right now.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider 

Sooners look to fill holes in secondary

By Michael Kinney

Oklahoma made it official this week when coach Lincoln Riley announced that Tre Norwood will be out for the season after tearing his left ACL earlier in fall camp.

The junior defensive back from Ft. Smith Arkansas was considered one of the Sooners best cover cornerbacks. In his first two seasons he started 19 games and played in a total of 28. He also collected 88 tackles, 1.5 interceptions and 13 pass breakups.

Norwood’s teammates know they will feel his loss in the defensive backfield.

“He just told us we have to step up,” Brendan Radley-Hiles said. “He told me that especially, being at that (nickel) position. His presence is still there. His leadership factor is still there. We have to step up and play for him.”

Norwood was expected to start at the nickel spot this season. But now that position leaves a wide-open spot that players such as Radley-Hiles are looking to fill.

“I was always a free player playing the strong safety position last year,” Radley-Hiles said. “Bumping down and playing a nickel. You’re always a free player at that nickel position, but at the same time it’s similar as well. Both are high energy.”

Along with Radley-Hiles, look for Chanse Sylvie and Jeremiah Criddell to get their shot.

“Sylvie’s down there a little bit, and there are a number of other guys,” OU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “We’re kind of by committee. Criddell, a freshman, is getting some work down there. But like a lot of spots, it’s kind of a position to be named later in terms of who that guy is. But at this point, I’ve been pleased with Bookie.”

With Norwood down, the Sooners now have only a few DBs who have experience. They include players such as Parnell Motley, Tre Brown, Jordan Parker, Robert Barnes, Pat Fields, Justin Broiles and Delarrin Turner-Yell.

However, Grinch is looking for more players to step up.

“Probably not as much competition as I’d like at this point,” Grinch said of the safeties. “Credit goes to (Turner-Yell and Fields) in that sense. So there’s some positives. The negative side, I don’t feel the push from that second level… I’d like there to be more competition on the back end, but those guys have done a nice job thus far in fall camp and continued on from the spring.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Bookie says new OU defense fits perfectly

By Michael Kinney

Heading into 2018 there was no bigger name on the campus o Oklahoma than Bookie. The nickname given to Brendan Radley-Hiles, was on the lips of fans, media and coaches.

Despite just being a freshman, Radley-Hiles was expected to have a huge season and help transform the OU defense. That is a lot to put on the plate of a 5-9, 180 defensive back who had yet to play a game. But his coaching staff believed he could handle it.

However, that was not how the season went. Radley-Hiles was unable to find a consistent spot in the rotation and went several games where he was almost invisible or didn’t play. He called it a humbling experience.

Now, Radley-Hiles returns for his sophomore campaign not only with a new mindset, but a new defensive scheme he feels fits him perfectly as he looks to earn a starting spot at the nickel or safety.

“My goals are high,” Radley-Hiles said. “There are a lot of them I’m just going to keep to myself personally. I have them written down somewhere. But they are high. They are higher than what anybody else can put on me. From last year’s statistics to this year’s fall camp, my expectations for myself are very high.”

Radley-Hiles said he has improved in several areas. They include eye discipline, footwork and knowing and understanding concepts.

“Understanding where the ball is going to be is being at the right place at the right time,” Radley-Hiles said.

First-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has already seen improvement in Radley-Hiles since spring football.

“I commend Bookie up until this point,” Grinch said. “There are several guys who have taken leaps from the spring and he would probably be No. 1 on that list. He would echo that. He is just playing more consistently and playing with more technique and fundamentals. I commend him on that.”

Part of Radley-Hiles early-season positive outlook comes from being able to play in Grinch’s defense.

“It’s simple and fast. You have your certain rules. If you understand them you can play fast and downhill and just make sure your eyes are in the correct place and you’ll be fine,” Radley-Hiles said. “It fits me perfectly. Just knowing where I am supposed to be and knowing my assignment.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Thunder schedule released

By Michael Kinney

When the Oklahoma City Thunder traded away Paul George and Russell Westbrook, fans knew interest around the nation might dwindle. But it wasn’t until this week that they got their first glimpse of just how much.

On Monday the NBA released the full 2019-20 season schedules for every team in the league and the Thunder find themselves in an unfamiliar position. Only three of the team’s 82 games will be featured on national television this season.

That is compared to the 27 Thunder games that were shown nationally during the 2018-19 campaign.

The three contests include Denver coming to Oklahoma City Feb. 21 and the Thunder visiting the Milwaukee Bucks on Feb. 28. Both of those are on ESPN.

But the main game will take place Jan. 9 when Westbrook and the Houston Rockets come to Oklahoma City for a matchup on TNT.

FOX Sports Oklahoma will broadcast 81 of the Thunder’s 82 regular-season games.

But for the first time since 2011, the special Christmas Day game will not be on the Thunder schedule. They were left off this season as other new teams were added.

One tradition that has not ended is Oklahoma City hosting a game on New Year’s Eve. When they take on the Dallas Mavericks Dec. 31, it will be the 11 consecutive season they have hosted the game and third straight against the Mavs.

The Thunder kick off the season Oct. 23 in Utah. Their first home game is Oct. 25 against the Washington Wizards. Then things get difficult for Oklahoma City.

On Oct. 27, the Golden State Warriors come to the Chesapeake Arena. The very next night is the first matchup with Westbrook, James Harden and Rockets in Houston. Two nights later, Portland makes their return to OKC since knocking the Thunder out of the postseason.

The Thunder month-by-month breakdown includes five games in October (three home, two road), 13 games in November (seven home, six road), 15 games in December (eight home, seven away), 17 games in January (seven home, 10 road), 10 games in February (seven home, three road), 14 games in March (five home, nine road) and eight games in April (four home, four road).

Other highlight matchups include hosting Zion Williams the New Orleans on Nov. 2: Lakers coming to Oklahoma City Nov. 22; Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and the L.A. Clippers hit the town Dec. 22.

Former Oklahoma Sooner Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks come to Oklahoma City Jan. 24 while Blake Griffin arrives Feb. 7.

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Overcoming adversity is a family trait

By Michael Kinney

The injury bug started biting Oklahoma back in the spring when they lost linebackers Jordan Kelly and Caleb Kelly to knee injuries. And just this week cornerback Tre Norwood went down with an apparent knee injury, according to multiple reports.

While injuries are a part of the game, Oklahoma has had to deal with its share of them over the past few years.

But if anyone on the Sooners needs to find the secret to overcoming devastating injuries, they just have to go talk to wide receiver Nick Basquine. Ever since the redshirt senior walked-on in 2014 he has had to battle serious setbacks and injuries just to get on the field.

But no matter what, Basquine said he has never lost sight of his dream.

“Just know you can set your own expectations,” Basquine said. “It doesn’t have to be defined by anybody else.”

Basquine finished the 2018 campaign with seven catches for 134 yards in 14 games. He has only one other season in which he contributed to the stat box, which was 2016. That year he posted 20 receptions for 265 yards and two touchdowns.  That same year he was put on scholarship.

But every time it looked like Basquaine was ready to get back on the field and help his team, something else would happen and knocked him back down.

After redshirting his freshman season, the injuries started to hit the next year when Basquine tore the ligaments in his thumb, which forced him to sit out all of 2015.

After coming back and having a breakout 2016 campaign and earning a scholarship, Basquine tore his left Achilles during camp. Six months later he tore his right Achilles.

While others may have folded their tent and called it quits, Basquine was not built that way. He says his faith and his mother (Mary) are the reasons he kept coming back.

“My mom, she is a praying mom. Prayer is real,” Basquine said. “Also just my makeup. Seeing her work, a single-parent home. You know there is going to be obstacles, but you have to just persevere and get through them. Not just get through them but dominate whatever is in front of you.”

Whatever perseverance Basquine has shown in his time at Oklahoma has been directly influenced by watching his mother when times were tough in their home. That includes having to work two or three different jobs to support the family.

“She has been my main constant my whole life,” Basquine said. “I’ve seen her through the good times, I’ve seen her through the struggles. So I’ve learned through her just by observing and also the lessons she tells me.”

Now as he enters his final season with the Sooners, Basquine knows he has on last chance to show people what he can do and what type of player he can become.

“I think (my mom) is really proud, but I don’t think she is satisfied yet either,” Basquine said. “I’m not satisfied either. People think it’s crazy about wanting to go to the NFL and do all these other things, but that’s what I want to do and that’s how I’m attacking this. I want to have an impact season.”

Basquine already says he is ahead of where he was at this point last season.

“I think the biggest thing is obviously being healthy,” Basquine said. “I was rehabbing all last summer. But this year I am actually working out. I came up with a pretty deliberate plan with coach Riley about things I need to get better at. I worked on them every day. I feel pretty good coming into camp.”

Inside receiver’s coach Cale Gundy has been just as impressed with what he has seen out of his veteran wideout.

“He’s come full circle,” Gundy said of Basquine. “He’s been in a lot of situations, a lot of ups and downs through his career. He is a great kid, has great faith, great mom. He is somebody that continues to work constantly. He is always up in the office, always watching film. He is somebody that everybody is pulling for.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Defensive state of mind for the Sooners

By Michael Kinney

A lot of words seem to pop up into conversions when the name Alex Grinch is mentioned. Oklahoma’s newest defensive coordinator has been associated with pressure, aggressiveness, toughness and intensity.

But no word gets as much attention as competition. As Grinch begins his first season with the Sooners, he has made it known to his players and coaching staff that Oklahoma’s defense will be a unit that competes at all times.

“The magic word is compete. The more bodies that you have, not just competing for starting sports but competing for roles, certainly is an important element of things,” Grinch said. “We do take a lot of stock in what’s taken place in the past – that’s the responsible thing to do. Open minds for those guys, fresh start, just like we expected them to have open minds with our coaching staff, so we took that approach.”

However, because of injuries, the OU defense wasn’t at the competitive level in the spring at Grinch wanted to see when he took over. But now as fall camp has begun, he’s expecting to see more from his squad.

“I think number one would be competition. With more guys, there’s that element of – you eliminate the survival element of practice. It’s OK to just survive a given practice, a given drill, a 7-on-7 period, an 11-on-11 period. And why can’t you survive it? It’s because they’re not performing to a certain level. There’s another guy we can bring in for you. There’s a legitimate guy we can bring in for you. There’s shot fakes in basketball, but there’s head fakes in football, too, where you take a guy out and put someone in that he knows and you know is not capable of executing at the given level, then it’s not true competition that way. I think that’s good. I think as we move forward into camp, having a full slate of guys from a health standpoint and obviously given the young guys coming in will be advantageous for us.”

Oklahoma kicked off its season Friday afternoon meeting with the media then taking part in the annual Meet the Sooners Day event with the fans. Practices officially began Saturday morning.

One of the biggest questions the Sooners had, as they rolled into camp, surrounds the defense. It has been labeled the weak link to Oklahoma’s title hopes every year under Lincoln Riley and the players know it.

“Last year the defense was getting attacked from everybody,” sophomore defensive end Ronnie Perkins said. “You watch how the offense gets all that love. I want to get that same type of love. I want people to feel that same type a way about us to.  Everybody spoke highly of the offense and coach Riley. Then it was like ‘but the defense…’  It was a weird feeling, but a feeling I think will be gone soon.”

However, Grinch didn’t want his defenders to forget about that feeling too quick. During the offseason he had reminders built into workouts that they were the 129th ranked defense in the nation in 2018.

“I think at this point, as you go in the fall starting out, what’s done is done. We can’t have any impact on that,” Grinch said. “I think we did workouts with coach (Bennie) Wylie in the weight room and did good workouts that from a rep standpoint added up to 129 as a reminder. I think as we flip the page and the calendar goes on to August, it’s on 2019 so that’s no longer the emphasis. I think that serves as a reminder that it’s difficult to play defense in 2019. You’re one play away from being average.”

The returning Sooners who had to deal with the constant criticism do not want to have to go through another season like that again.

“I am sure we all got chips on their shoulder and want to send a message this is a new defense, it’s a new team,” Perkins said. “I feel like we’re a way better and more complete team.”

Junior linebacker Kenneth Murray agrees Oklahoma looks like it has found the missing ingredients that will take them from a borderline horrendous defensive unit to one that can win games for the Sooners.

“Just the way that we attack things, the way we’re doing things, we’ve done things this offseason a lot differently than we’ve done in the past. Just a lot more team defense, a lot more things we do together as a defense, player-led things, just to make sure that we’re better,” Murray said. “I think all that work and all that preparation is going to add up. Going into fall camp I think we are in a better position than we were last year.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Changing the training room culture

By Michael Kinney

Leander Walker had been hearing about it for months. The Yukon High athletic trainer had heard about the remarkable healing process of the Fascial Distortion Model from friends and fellow trainers to the point where he just had to see what all the hoopla was about.

“We started asking around what the cost would be to go down in Dallas and take it. Got talking to those guys. We discussed how we could get them to just come to us,” Walker said. “So we called out some of our contacts, athletic trainers from around the state, high school, small college, stuff like that. We knew that we could host them here, so we were happy to do it.”

Walker and 20 other high school and college athletic trainers and therapist from around the state took part in the two-day course and came away with what they could be a game-changing way to treat athletes from now on.

“It’s another tool for us to use in our daily treatment,” Walker said. “But when you talk to people who do use it and they say it’s definitely something they use every single day, and it makes them look at injuries and the way that they treat those injuries differently just because you have a different way of looking at what’s happening with the athlete in the injury.”

The Fascial Distortion Model (FDM) was developed by Dr. Stephen Typaldos, DO in 1991. He had begun to pass on his teachings until his death in 2006.

But it wasn’t until 2012 when a couple of men were so impressed with the FDW that they wanted to make it their business to spread the word.

“We go around and train anyone who is licensed to do manual therapy and how to use the Fascial Distortion Model to treat soft tissue and muscular-skeletal disorder,” said FDM partner, Jay Ferguson. “All the other techniques were really just do this, hope for this. And if it didn’t work, you really didn’t have other options. You kind of just kept doing it. You could get some decent outcomes, but you were missing a lot. When we started looking at FDM, it really opened your eyes to so many different ways to use the six different distortions and within them, 12 different treatment methods.”

The six distortions that the FD Model is built on are Trigger bands, Continuum Distortions, Cylinder Distortions, Herniated Trigger points, Folding Distortions and Tectonic Fixations. According to Ferguson almost every ache, pain, swelling and discomfort that can take an athlete away from their sport for a significant amount of time can be fixed using the FDM.

The athlete’s verbal and physical descriptions, coupled with the mechanism of injury and relevant orthopedic tests, will lead the practitioner to the proper form of soft tissue treatment.

“When you are looking at your athlete and you are looking at your patient, there is no more guesswork,” Ferguson said. “If you saw them do this, it led to a kind of a diagnosis of what’s going on. If you understood the tissue and what’s going on with it, you knew how to treat it. Instead of it being kind of a shotgun approach, it’s a sniper approach. You’re really pinpointed at what’s going on, with confidence.”

One of the earliest converts in the state was Michael Bronson, an athletic trainer with the University of Oklahoma wrestling team.

“I have basically been in athletic training since I was a junior in high school,” Bronson said. “I was just tired of the same old, same old. Here is a bag of ice, he is an ultrasound, heat. I wanted the next level. I don’t want six to eight weeks of someone being out for an injury. I want quick, better and fast.”

So a friend told Bronson to check out FDM, who just happened to be holding one of their courses with the Oklahoma City Thunder two years ago and he went

“I just fell in love with it,” Bronson said. “I use it on a daily basis.”

According to Bronson, the results speak for themselves. He is seeing athletes spend less time in the training room and the recovery time cut down drastically.

Bronson even went as far to say he no longer uses ice, a staple of athletic trainers for decades, because it doesn’t do any good, according to the FD Model.

It was Bronson who got into the ear of Walker and several other trainers around the state that the FDM was something they needed to learn about. And when he heard the claims, he was skeptical. But Walker plans to implement the FDM at Yukon this year.

“There was definitely a level of skepticism. We do what we do because it’s science-based,” Walker said. “Talking to him or talking to other people who had used this and were using it in their practice daily, it was just more of about, “Hey, let’s check it out, let’s see what it’s like.” We’ll try and use some of it this next year and see how it goes. I truly hope that we see a lot of the results that they’ve seen.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Trade demands caught Thunder off-guard

By Michael Kinney

After an offseason that saw the Oklahoma City Thunder shocked its fan base and the rest of the NBA with a series of epic trades and deal, general manager Sam Presti finally addressed the public Thursday when he met with the local media.

During his 37 minutes press conference, Presti made one thing perfectly clear. The path the team is currently on now was not one they had expected to see when the season ended.

“We were excited about heading into the season with some of the additions that we made,” Presti said. “But shortly after free agency began, things changed a little bit. The players have the freedom to be able to talk and recruit, and there’s nothing limiting that, and that obviously changed the game for us.”

What changed for the Thunder was Paul George coming to Presti and asking for a trade days after free agency started and weeks after the draft. That led to Oklahoma City also trading Jerami Grant and the franchise cornerstone Russell Westbrook in the following days. In return, they received eight first-round picks, Chris Paul Danilo Gallinari and second-year point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

George described his decision to leave the Thunder as something he and the franchise both wanted.

“This was nothing that came out of the blue; we were all on the same page,” George told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols on Wednesday. “The initial plan was to give it another year, see what we could do and I did that. We played another year and it felt like we were just stagnant. Next thing was, let’s move forward with other plans”

However, Presti provided a little pushback on George’s explanation.

“I think the world of PG. I think everybody knows that,” Presti said. “I know that he had used the term mutual. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that because that would infer that we were wanting to trade Paul George, which I think most people would agree that that probably wasn’t on the top of our off-season priority list. But I would say that it was not adversarial at all, and I also fully respect the way that it was handled.”

Presti was asked if he could have just said no to George’s trade demand, especially since he believed Oklahoma City had the chance to have a very good 2019-20 season.

“The reason that we were able to find a way to do it was because of what we were able to get back,” Presti said. “I wouldn’t say that we were going to appease the request simply because it was made, but more than anything, it was because of the fact that we were able to get the return that we did, which then allowed us to accommodate what he was looking for, as well. So yeah, no, it wasn’t necessarily permission. It was how can we make this work for everyone.”

When it came to trading Russell Westbrook, Presti wanted to make sure he did right by his former star point guard as well.

“I would say the same thing. How do we make it work for everybody? Obviously, Houston was the place he wanted to go, and we were able to find a way to accomplish our goals and his,” Presti said. “If we couldn’t accomplish our goals we wouldn’t have traded him to Houston, but we were able to find a way to communicate through that process to get that to happen.”

Going forward, Presti doesn’t call what the Thunder are doing a rebuild. But even with Paul and Gallinari and Gilgeous-Alexander joining what is left of the Oklahoma City roster, he is asking for patience from the fans.

“I think our focus right now is on the team that we have. It’s going to be a different iteration of Thunder team than we’ve seen over the last several years,” Presti said. “But I would just say that we’re going to take a very long view to make sure that we’re putting ourselves in position to have a long run of success in Oklahoma City as we possibly can and not shortcut that process.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Big 3 doing more than just basketball

(Photos by Michael Kinney)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — In its three years in existence, the Big 3 Basketball Tournament has become a big deal. The traveling 3-on-3 basketball league has become a hit almost everywhere it goes.

It stopped in Oklahoma City Sunday with six of the league’s 12 teams playing three games at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Big 3, which was founded by entertainment mogul Ice Cube and entertainment executive Jeff Kwatinetz, has now come to Oklahoma twice in three seasons.

But while much of attention went towards the rosters filled with former NBA players and the fans who came out to support the event, their biggest move may have taken place Saturday.

With no fan fair and only one member of the media on hand, the Big 3 in conjunction with the Ricky Davis Legacy Foundation spent several hours at the City Rescue Mission for the Dribble Out Hunger initiative, which provides food and personal essentials to displaced, disadvantaged and destitute communities and families.

“This is the third year we are now doing stuff in every city,” said former NBA player Rickey Davis. “We are doing the Dribble out Hunger campaign. We do the Legacy labs and health fairs for the kids. Just anywhere we can be in the community lifting a helping hand.  Just giving back.”

Davis spent 12 seasons in the NBA before playing his final game in 2010. He is now a co-captain on the Big 3s Ghost Ballers.

Despite a long career that saw him play on six different NBA teams, Davis wasn’t ready to stop playing basketball. So he jumped at the chance to join the Big 3 when the league began operations in 2017.

Davis also wasn’t ready to stop giving back to his community and those that are less fortunate just because he was no longer in the NBA.

“The Ricky Davis Legacy Foundation started my first year in the NBA,” Davis said. “Just giving a donation to various programs, kids, people in need, communities. And every year it’s just been getting better and better. Adding different programs, different initiatives for kids, homeless people. So now we have just hooked up with different community places like the rescue mission. Just going in and giving a helping hand any way we can.”

The City Rescue Mission (800 W. California Ave.) is the largest homeless shelter in Oklahoma City. The privately-funded organization houses 350 men, women and children and is faith-based.

Davis contacted the mission five days before The Big 3 came to Oklahoma and asked if he could do something for the residents. That help turned into the Ricky Davis Legacy Foundation donating food (from Brother’s Produce), toiletries, clothes, shoes and other items and hand-delivered them to the residents.

Davis personally helped the children pick out new shoes, which many of them have not had for quite some time.

The foundation also provided a barber and hairstylist for the residents.

“You know, you look good, you feel good,” Davis said. “That’s what it’s all about. Some people think it’s all about the money. But if you can help them get a haircut so they can look good to help them get a job. Just little things that some people miss that we try to help with.”

Joining Davis at the shelter were NBA legends Rick Barry and Clifford Ray, along with former players Jamario Moon and Donte Green. The four of them served food to the residents and then took photos and signed autographs with the excited residents.

“This is kind of home,” Ray said. “So any time I can help. I have always been an advocate of (Davis). He does good things.  It’s my pleasure to be here.”

Ray, 70, played his college basketball at the University of Oklahoma (1969-71) before being drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1971. He then went on to play 10 years in the NBA with the Bulls and Golden State Warriors. That included winning a championship with the Warriors in 1975.

Ray, who has also been an assistant coach and consultant in the NBA, said giving back to the community should be something all former players should strive to do after their playing days end.

“I just think that if you can do something all over the country and you have the means to get around and do so, it’s a positive thing,” Ray said. “And it can’t do anything but help. It might be able to encourage some of the other players to do things. Because sometimes if you look around, there are a lot of things we can do if we are just asked. A lot of times people don’t ask us. When you get older, they don’t ask you, but this is a good thing.”

For Davis, giving back is not really a choice.

“God has blessed me,” Davis said. “So just being a blessing to others is important to me and my family. It’s what we stand for. Being able to bring my kids and show that everyone is not privileged. We are blessed.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Now what?

By Michael Kinney

In a span of 11 years the Oklahoma City Thunder rose from the depths of one of the worst season’s in NBA to become a title contender and one of the most exciting franchises in the league.

At their pinnacle in 2012, the Thunder made it to the NBA championship on the backs of four young superstars. And even though they lost to the Miami Heat in five games, it looked like Oklahoma City was destined to be the next dynasty and collect a bunch of rings.

But then a quirky thing took place on the way to that glorious future. Life happened.

Egos, money, questionable decisions, injuries and bad luck all seemed to hit the Thunder at different points and the talk of the small-market wonder team disappeared as frustration and angst took its place.

That era officially came to an end when Oklahoma City traded guard Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets. Westbrook was the last remaining cog of the four stars that had carried the franchise to the precipice of the promise land.

Along with Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant are all now with large market teams in big cities looking to compete for NBA titles. Durant and Ibaka have already tasted what being a champion taste like while Harden and Westbrook are hoping their reunion in Houston will lead to their first title.

But unfortunately for Thunder fans, none of that ultimate success will take place in Oklahoma City.

What is hard for many Oklahoma City fans to get over is that of the four players, the Thunder ended up trading three of them away. Durant is the only one who left via free agency.

Throw in players such as Paul George, Victor Oladipo and Enes Kanter, and Oklahoma City has traded away some impressive talent in its 11-year history.

It has left fans asking what happened? How did this budding dynasty get off course?

The answer for many is the exact fears the NBA had when first making the decision to allow the franchise to leave Seattle and move to Oklahoma City. It’s the small market vs big market battle.

One look at the major player moves this offseason show a distinct tendency of smaller marker teams losing their stars to big markets. Whether it’s by free agency or demanding trades, marquee players are heading to the bright lights of a large metropolis.

According to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, this type of player movement is only going to continue.

“Some feel that the player movement we have seen, particularly players asking to be traded or leaving teams that have the ability to pay them more money is a problem,” Cuban wrote in his blog. “I don’t. I think it is exactly what we should expect and it reflects what is happening in the job market across industries in our country.”

Through the past decade, Oklahoma City hasn’t felt the full effect of this trend. When they lost players such as Harden, Ibaka and Durant, Presti found ways to wheel and deal and bring in Oladipo and George. And they also had Westbrook to fall back on.

But this offseason, George’s unexpected and painfully bad timing trade demand threw the entire process in flux. The Thunder shouldn’t have given into the bully tactic, but once they did and Westbrook made it known he wanted out, the Thunder had no way to replace them with equal talent.

So now, Oklahoma City has compiled eight first round picks and four pick swaps from their destruction of the team. That gives them the potential of 15 first round picks from 2020 to 2026.

Oklahoma City can use those picks to make trade and bring in big name stars, but they will end up in exactly the same position as they were with George. Someone who really didn’t want to be in Oklahoma City and used the franchise to get his max contract before forcing his way out.

That is Oklahoma City’s future if they continue down that same path.

In order for the Thunder to get back to being title contenders, they may have to take a page from their past. Starting with Durant, the Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder had a three year stretch of almost unprecedented drafts. While Durant was obvious, Westbrook, Ibaka and Harden were reaches in many analyst estimations.

Since then, Oklahoma City’s draft resume has been suspect at best. Since 2010, the only players they have drafted who spent significant time in the Thunder starting lineup have been Reggie Jackson (2011), Steven Adams (2013), Andre Roberson (2013) and Terrance Ferguson (2017). The rest have been dealt away or languished on the roster of the Oklahoma City Blue (D-, G-League).

It may seem impossible that the Thunder will ever be able to collect a young, hungry crew like Durant, Ibaka, Westbrook and Harden again. But that has to be their goal with all of the draft assets they have accumulated.

The only hope of small market teams like the Thunder are to draft great and get as much out of their homegrown talent for as long as they can hold onto them.

But history has told them that at some point, the players will want to leave and the Thunder and its fan base need to be prepared for it.

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider