Melo opens up on “challenging” season

(Photo by TorreyPurvey.com)

By Michael Kinney

Carmelo Anthony’s first season in Oklahoma City was by all accounts his worst in his 14 year NBA career. It was also one of the worst for the Thunder after the high expectations that were put on the team in the offseason after combining the ANthony and Paul George with Russell Westbrook.

So when the Thunder held their exit interviews Saturday after being eliminated from the playoffs the night before in Utah, Anthony, for the first time, showed the frustrations he had in trying to deal with the entire situation.

“I think this season, as an individual, it was very kind of challenging for me as far as kind of coming here at the last minute, right before training camp,” Anthony said. “You know, being willing to kind of sacrifice kind of my game and style of play, coming to a new situation, not — kind of not knowing what to expect, having to figure it out on the fly, figuring it out on the fly and accepting that, and kind of just taking the other challenges that comes along with that transition. I thought we did kind of a great job of just adjusting to that and figuring that part out.”

Anthony averaged a career-low 16.2 point per game this season, which is down from his 24.1 career average. He also shot .404 from the field, the worst of his career.  He seemed to attribute much of that to the sacrifices he made this year.

“I don’t want to say stripped, but I think just challenging me to be a different type of player, a different caliber player,” Anthony said, “a guy who for 14 seasons has been a certain type of player and to kind of be challenged and tested and say, okay, we need you to be this player, this type of player, this caliber of player, very different than what I was used to before in the past. I think for me, that was the most challenging part of it. But also being willing to accept that, understanding the situation and the circumstances that I was handed to.”

The Thunder traded for Anthony right before training camp started. The suddenness of it, he says, was a contributing factor to the slow learning curve of him figuring out what the team wanted from him.

“I think the player that they wanted me to be and needed me to be was for the sake of this season, should I say, because it was just so — like I said, everything was just thrown together, and it wasn’t anything that was planned out,” Anthony said. “It wasn’t no strategy to me being here, me being a part of the actual system and what type of player and things like that. As far as being effective as that type of player, I don’t think I can be effective as that type of player. I think I was willing to accept that challenge in that role, but I think I bring a little bit more to the game as far as being more knowledgeable and what I still can do as a basketball player.”

Throughout the season, whenever Oklahoma City struggled, it was Anthony who received a lion-share of the blame from the fans and media. It led to debates on whether the veteran forward is now better suited to coming off the bench at this stage of his career.

For Anthony, that is not an option. He says he has sacrificed enough.

“I’m not sacrificing no bench role, so you can — that’s out of the question,” Anthony said. “I think everybody knows that I’ve sacrificed kind of damned near everything, family, moving here by myself, sacrificed my game for the sake of the team, and was willing to sacrifice anything and everything in order for this situation to work out. So it’s something I really have to think about, if I really want to be this type of player, finish out my career as this type of player, knowing that I have so much left in the tank and I bring so much to the game of basketball.”

With a nearly $28 million still owed Anthony on his contract, most believe he will be back in Oklahoma City for his 15th year in the league. Even though he didn’t outright say it, Anthony gave every indication he will be returning.

If Anthony and George, who is a free agent, return next season, the year they have spent playing with Westbrook should be beneficial. Anthony says this experiment can still work. But, according to Anthony, they have to all figure out how to mesh their games together to get the most out of each of them.

“I think (Westbrook) established himself as playing a certain type of basketball. We’ve all — I think we’ve all established ourselves as playing a certain type of basketball,” Anthony said. “But I think in order for us to take that next level, we all have to sit down and figure out what do we — what each of us bring to the table. What can we bring to the table to make the pieces to the puzzle fit. I think we understand what we can be as a team. It’s just a matter of how are we going to implement that. How are we going to utilize each other’s assets and each other’s talents to figure that out.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with EyeAmTruth.com

Mayfield proves doubters wrong, again

By Michael Kinney

Baker Mayfield has made it a habit of proving people wrong. Whether it was in high school or even on the college level, whenever someone has said the former Oklahoma quarterback wasn’t good enough to do something, he found a way to prove them wrong.

That Manifest Destiney type attitude was on display Thursday night when Mayfield was selected as the No. 1 overall pick  by the Cleveland Browns in the 2018 NFL draft.

Instead of attending the draft, Mayfield was at his home in Austin, TX. Surrounded by family and friends when he got the call that he had been waiting his whole life to get.

“Been a long journey to get here; a lot of work,” Mayfield. “So when I’m sitting there on the couch (for the draft), the thoughts running through my head as I start looking around at everybody in the room, a bunch of different people who have been there at different stages of my life. From the very beginning, obviously, my immediate family, then the friends and coaches and people who have helped shape me. It was everybody that was a part of the whole process.”

Mayfield became the fourth Sooner to ever be taken first in the NBA Draft. It’s a list that includes Lee Roy Selmon, Billy Simms and Sam Bradford.

However, while the previous three seemed to be sure choices, Mayfield was far from it. Many analysts had him going anywhere from No. 3 to the Jets or falling out of the top 10. The latter was something Mayfield scoffed at in interviews leading up to the draft.

Mayfield’s height, 6-0, was a major concern many thought would prevent him from being the first quarterback taken. The prevailing theory was that a team couldn’t take a chance on a shorter quarterback with that early of a pick.

However, the Browns saw past the stature and saw the other ingredients Mayfield brings to not only the position but also a team.

“I think with Baker Mayfield, what we have is a guy who we talked about who wins the game of football, is-ultra competitive and is revered by his teammates and anybody who has ever been around him,” Cleveland General Manager  John Dorsey said. “This is a guy that has earned everything he has ever had from high school to college and now up here. He is a winner. He is competitive. He really is.”

Mayfield’s newest head coach, Hue Jackson, echoed Dorsey’s sentiments.

“Here is a guy that wins football games, tremendous accuracy,” Jackson said. “Obviously, the guy was the best college quarterback this year by far in our opinion. Going through our process and meeting with him, spending time with him, putting him on the board, digging into everything about Baker, we feel very comfortable as a coaching staff and as a personnel staff that this was the guy for us.”

Jackson is also a fan of the attitude Mayfield carries with him onto the field.

“This guy has a chip on his shoulder. I think we all know that because I think that he has a burning desire to be the best,” Jackson said. “I think what I saw from him was a guy who is a leader of men, and I think that is very important. He gets his teammates to play at a whole different level. I think that was seen at Oklahoma, and I expect him to do that here. He has got to earn the right to do that, and I think that he understands that.”

Dorsey also said Mayfield was thoroughly vetted and was not concerned about off the field issues that have taken place.

“First off, my faith says that every man may deserve a second chance. Have you ever been 19 before? Have you ever been 20 before? Young men do certain things, and you know what? They learn from that. They will learn from that. I like the guy. He is very mature,” Dorsey said. “He is very smart. I bet you that we all learn from our mistakes. I have learned from my mistakes in the past, too. I am better today than I was a year ago. I have no problems with a young man being allowed to understand the mistakes he makes, and let’s move forward. Let’s move forward and let’s not do it again. That is how I look at it.”

According to Oklahoma, Mayfield became the 84th Sooner to be drafted since. Oklahoma is the lone program to produce two quarterbacks this millennium who were picked No. 1 overall, and the only program since the 1940s to produce two No. 1 QB picks in a 10-year period. It is also one of just six schools to have at least four former players go No. 1 overall.

“It’s an emotional night,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “Baker’s been through a lot and this is a great night for him and for his family. You look at where he started and how he was overlooked a lot his life but continued to believe in himself, continued to fight. Having a front-row seat to his journey the last three years, it’s really unbelievable. He’s believed in himself the whole way, and that shows you how important that is.”

Riley and former OU coach Bob Stoops were with Mayfield when he was drafted. Both said the Brows are getting a franchise changing player.

“This is what should have happened for him. He’s the best player out there,” Stoops said. “What he did for us — just go back. The last three years have been magical. What he did in my last two years with the two Big 12 championships, the leadership, the toughness and everything else, I don’t know that I’ve ever had anyone like him. He earned everything he got, and to finish his career the last two years by setting the NCAA pass efficiency record both seasons is just incredible. What an exceptional player and story. So happy for him.”

The Browns have been the doormat of the NFL for years. They have a myriad of starting quarterbacks go down in flames trying to guide the hapless team.

Mayfield doesn’t seem to be worried about what happened before he heard his name called Thursday.

“I’m excited,” Mayfield said. “I said it at the (NFL) combine; I’d love to be the guy to help turn them around and I think if anybody’s going to do it it’s going to be me. It starts in the locker room, it starts leadership wise with your teammates; changing the culture, installing a belief with everybody else. They have all the tools and the pieces. Let’s just make it happen now.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with EyeAmTruth.com

Thunder will themselves back into series

Photo by TorreyPurvey.com

By Michael Kinney

By halftime of Game 5 Wednesday night, the story of the 2017-18 Oklahoma City Thunder was being played out in slow motion. Nothing was going right and there looked to be no way their season would last past midnight.

But then something happened. Whether it was a switch being turned on or the bitter reality of the situation hitting them in the face, the Thunder stormed back from being down 25 points to defeat the Utah Jazz 107-99 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“I really don’t have any words for it. I’ve been in the league for 13 years and it’s probably one of the most amazing games I’ve ever been a part of,” Thunder guard Raymond Felton said. “To be in and feel that feeling, that atmosphere, the crowd was amazing, my teammates were amazing.”

With 8:32 left in the third quarter and the Thunder trailing by 25 points, Russell Westbrook, the still reigning MVP, got hot.  He drained back to back 3-pointers to stop Utah’s momentum. In the process, it ignited Oklahoma City.

The Thunder continued to chip away at the Jazz lead. Westbrook and Paul George were the main culprits in the ferocious comeback as they tied the game at 78-78 by the end of the quarter.

“Well, I think a 25-, 20-point lead in the NBA is not safe, especially when you’ve got two guys like Russell and Paul George that can do what they did,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “I thought the two 3s that Westbrook hit were big shots, and then Paul George followed up with a three-point play, and all of a sudden a 25-point lead is a 16-point lead, and they found some rhythm.”

It was the exact opposite for Utah. After being on fire in the first half, they cooled off considerably in the second. And when Rudy Gobert went out of the game in foul trouble, they could no longer defend the paint and Oklahoma City took advantage.

“I got in foul trouble early in the game,” Gobert said. “Had a few stupid fouls that were on me. The fourth foul was too easy for them and that is on me. I’ve got to be smarter and avoid those first three fouls. Don’t put my team in this position.”

In the second half, the Thunder shot 52 percent from the field and 63 percent from behind the 3-point line. So even when Gobert came back into the game and Utah started to hit some shots in the fourth quarter, it was too late.

“Just being competitive, play until there’s nothing on the clock,” George said. “I think you guys have seen that on a nightly basis with one of the best to do that in Russ. It’s just being a competitor. You play until there’s no more time on the clock.”

Westbrook was in full attack mode and no one was going to slow him down. Over the final 20:30 of the game, Westbrook outscored the Jazz 33-28.

“Just staying aggressive, man. Just trying to pick my spots,” Westbrook said. “Same shots I have been getting, I just have to concentrate on making them. We got shots when we needed to. I thought our team did a good job of staying together through it all.”

Westbrook ended the night with 45 points on 17 of 39 shooting. He also had 15 rebounds and seven assists.

George threw in 34 points, eight rebounds and two steals. No other [player reached double figures.

“I think tonight with the magnitude of the game and the excitement to come back we played off each other very well,” Westbrook said of him and George. “We made big plays. Paul made big plays down the stretch and stayed in attack mode. It was good tonight.”

Jae Crowder paced the Jazz with 27 points. However, he scored only 12 after the first quarter.

Rookie Donovan Mitchell posted 23 points on 9 of 22 shooting. Joe Ingles added 16 points in the defeat.

“We stopped playing defense. We stopped getting back. Offense got stagnant,” Mitchell said. “They made adjustments and we didn’t make the right adjustments back. We will watch the film and figure out what went wrong, but my analysis right after the game is we stopped getting back in transition and they just fed off of that.”

With the win, Oklahoma City forced a Game 6 in Utah Friday. Once again their playoffs lives will be on the line in a win or go home for good situation.

“We just know it’s one game at a time,” Westbrook said. “In the playoffs, you have to be able to win on the road if you want to win the series. We know what we have to do. Go there and take care of business.”

According to coach Billy Donovan, he doesn’t believe in momentum carrying over game to game. The bad traits that got them down by 25 points in the first place have to be eliminated.

“Once tomorrow starts, like this is over with. You’ve got a whole different set of things, so I don’t look at it like we’re carrying any momentum,” Donovan said. “We’ve got to go in there and we’ve got to play and play better. This is a team that had us down by 25 points. Now, I’m obviously thrilled with the comeback and it was a great job, but you get down 25 points on the road, that’s hard to overcome, and we were fortunate, our crowd got behind us and we made some shots, but I don’t look it at like, okay, we’re riding some momentum wave.”

Donovan had every right to try and stomp the brakes on the celebration. He has watched this team look great at times only to come back the next game and resemble a squad in preseason form.

“We’ve got to come back and do it again,” Donovan said. “And this has been this team’s greatest challenge is the consistency to be able to come back the next game and do it again over and over and over, and that’s what’s going to be required to continue to advance the series.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer

Barnett has sights set on record books

By Michael Kinney

Bennett Barnett wants to leave his mark. The Mount Saint Mary senior distance runner wants to make sure when his time is up his name will be etched in the record books.

In order to do that, Barnett knows he has to do something special. For him, that means breaking a record that has stood since 2014.

“My main goal is to break the 3A state record in the 3200, which is 9:36.37 for 3A,” Barnett said. “That’s my main goal. So I have a little bit more to get down, but I think I can do it.”

The 3A record is currently held by Colton Green of Henryetta. He set it at the 2014 State track and Field Championships. The overall state record, regardless of class, is held by Ben Barrett of Norman North. He ran a 8:59.97, which he set in 2015.

Barnett’s top time this year is 9:54. He set it April 19 at the Piedmont Invitational. But he thinks he could have done even better.

“I think I went out a little too hard. I think I went out in about a 68, which is definitely a little too fast,” Barnett said. “I could’ve run it a little smarter, a little even with the laps, and I think maybe done a little bit better. But I’m pretty happy. This is my first win of the year. My first time breaking 10:00 in outdoor. And yeah, I’m just happy to go away with a win.”

Yet, Barnett is still a few seconds off his personal best.

“It’s my second best time. I ran 9:51 at the Pittsburgh State meet,” Barnett said. “It was an indoor race. And I didn’t come out with a win on that one. I got pulled to a pretty fast time, and I was happy with that, too.”

No other runner in class 3A has gotten below 10 minutes this season. The second best time belongs to Marietta’s Preston Whisenhunt at 10:04.

While Barnett is still just over 18 seconds away from breaking the state record, he is confident it can be done if the conditions are right.

“It’s just going to take a good day, a little wind, good race, couple guys around me,” Barnett said. “And just a lot of guts.”

Mount Saint Mary’s track coach, Frezer Legesse, agrees.

“It’s going to take conditions first, because we’ve done everything that we can from a training aspect, and he’s there with it. It’s just conditions,” Legesse said. “And then obviously today’s race (Piedmont), he led from the gun. So just kind of having a little competition in there and being able to kind of have someone help out in the front. I think those are the kind of things that it will take. But I think he’s definitely there for it.”

Legesse is in his first full year as the MSM head coach. The former University of Oklahoma runner and Under Armour sponsor already has a state cross country championship under his belt from last fall

Barnett led Mount Saint Mary to the cross country championship after finishing third overall in the race for the individual title.

Now, Barnett wants to end his career with another state championship and a record.

“I think going into state, I think fitness-wise he’s there about sub 9:40, in the 9:30s,” Legesse said. “But of course, we’re in Oklahoma, and we’ve been facing a lot of tough wind and just tough conditions with a lot of the stuff that’s going on outside of track and field. So it’s been hard to kind of get those races in. But I think going forward, I think his fitness is there. He’s just got to be able … if everything comes together, I think he’s definitely in the 9:30s shape for sure.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with EyeAmTruth.com

 

Big 3 struggle closing out Game 2

(Photo by TorreyPurvey.com)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — The main focus of Utah after their Game 1 loss to Oklahoma City was physical play. From Coach Quinn Snyder on down, the Jazz said they Allowed the Thunder to push them around.

Making sure that didn’t happen again in Game 2 was a top priority list for the Jazz. And this time, it was the Thunder who didn’t have an answer Utah defeated Oklahoma City 102-95 Wednesday to even the first-round series at 1-1.

“Yeah, we felt this one,” Utah’s Jae Crowder said. “We’ve been talking all week, and when watched the film it woke us up to see how easy and free the game is. In the playoffs it shouldn’t be that easy, it should be tough. They made it tough for us game one, but I think we hit first in game two and we kept hitting even when it got tough and they went on runs. We kept going.”

Donovan Mitchell led all scorers with 28 points for the Jazz. Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors scored 22 and 20 points, respectively.

Russell Westbrook led the Thunder with 19 points, nine rebounds and 13 assists. Paul George added 18 points and 10 boards while Carmelo Anthony chipped in with 17 points and nine rebounds.

However, the trio combined to score only 2 points in the fourth quarter on 0-14 shooting.

“I don’t know. We missed them,” Anthony said. “We all missed. I don’t really have an answer to what happened or an excuse on why we didn’t make shots. We just didn’t make shots in that fourth quarter. We worked so hard in the third quarter to get the lead back and played too well to get back to go up seven or eight in that third quarter. [In the] fourth quarter, we didn’t shoot the ball well.”

With 2:53 left in the game, Steven Adams fouled out trying to stop a Rudy Gobert layup. He stomped off the court as Gobert pointed toward the exit for him.

Gobert put the Jazz up 95-91. Two possessions later, Westbrook hit a pair of free throws to close the gap to two with a pair of free throws.

Mitchell was fouled by Anthony and he knocked down both free throw attempts.

Grant missed a three-pointer from the corner and the Jazz got the board. That led to a Mitchell spinning layup to put Utah up 99-93.

However, Oklahoma City’s Jerami Grant came back with a layup of his own. The Thunder then forced the Jazz into back to back empty possessions. However, Anthony missed a pair of 3-pointers and Oklahoma City was unable to capitalize.

Gobert hit two more free throws and Utah led 101-95 with 21 seconds left. That was enough to close out the night.

“We’ve just got to be aggressive, miss and make shots,” Westbrook said about the fourth quarter. “Shots are going to fall. Those guys are unbelievable scorers and we trust in those guys all season long and we will continue to do that.”

Oklahoma City was also outrebounded 56-46, which was a part of Utah’s plan.

“They rebounded the ball offensively really well tonight [and] Ricky Rubio, he played great,” Oklahoma City’s Cory Brewer said. “He made shots, [Derrick] Favors played great, [Donovan] Mitchell played great. You know we’ve got to figure it out and come out and stop them next game.”

The first half was exactly the type of game the Jazz wanted. They were able to slow the pace down and turn it into a halfcourt grind on almost every possession.

Oklahoma City was held to four fast-break points in the half to go along with nine turnovers as Utah held a 53-46 halftime advantage.

“I mean it is playoffs. It is playoffs,” George said. “I think it’s a base level, period, when it comes to playoffs. You have to raise that physicality level. That’s all where it stems from. I’m going to let them know it’s not going to be easy out there.”

With Mitchell slowed by a poor shooting night, it was Favors who picked up the slack. After being held to just 7 total points Sunday, who shredded the Thunder interior defense in Game 2.

Midway through the third quarter, the Jazz led by 9.

However, that was short-lived. Oklahoma City came screaming back behind some timely 3-point shooting. Westbrook, Anthony and George all drained shots from long distance.

But more importantly for the Thunder, they began to clamp down on defense. They took away the easy looks they had been allowing and forced Utah into some tough shots.

The Thunder went on a 19-0 run to take a 10-point lead before Utah closed the deficit to 79-74 heading into the fourth quarter.

“The game is about runs. We had a big run and they had a run,” Anthony said. “They started off the game aggressive, getting us out of the flow of the offense early. We sustained that and got ourselves back into the game to end that third quarter. They sustained throughout the fourth quarter. Us not making shots in the fourth quarter played into their hands. They did a good job or making plays, offensive rebounds, 50/50 basketballs out there, loose balls out there and they beat us at the punch in the little things tonight. They ran away with this game.”

Game 3 is Saturday night in Utah.

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Playoff P arrives just in time for the Thunder

Photo by TorreyPurvey.com

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY –Russell Westbrook and Carmelo hadn’t heard it before. Even though thyey had been teammates with Paul George for the entire regular season, the nickname Playoff P came as a surprise to them.

However, after the performance George put on Sunday in Game 1 of their first-round series at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, they didn’t try and deny it fit.

“When he’s aggressive, it changes the game for us, as you saw tonight,” Westbrook said of Playoff P. “Like Melo said, he got it going. Our job is to make sure we find him and make it easy for him. As long as he stays aggressive, miss or make, we’re a better team.”

In his first playoff game with Oklahoma City George scored a game-high 36 points on 13 of 20 shooting to lead the Thunder to a 116-108 victory over the Utah Jazz.

George hit eight of the 11 three-pointers he attempted to set a new Thunder playoff record for made 3s in a game. He also tacked on seven rebounds in 38 minutes of action. George was taken out the game with a minute left due to a hip injury.

“I am going to bring it to that level on a nightly basis,” George said. “Obviously, I was hot tonight but that is the level I am going to bring it every night.”

George wasn’t alone in dismantling the Jazz. Russell Westbrook added 29 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. Carmelo Anthony scored 15 points and grabbed 7 boards.

Rookie Donovan Mitchell paced the Jazz with 27 points on 11 of 22 shooting. He also posted 10 rebounds in his first playoff game.

“I think it is what I expected, at least for myself,” Mitchell said. “You know the physicality was there, playing through certain things, fighting for rebounds, and just being more aggressive. I think the last Portland game that we had really kind of gave us a test to what playoff basketball was going to be like, and I think as a team we were all ready.”

Utah had six other players score in double figures. Rudy Gobert led them with 14 points and seven boards.

The night didn’t start out very strong for the Thunder. After Westbrook threw down a monster dunk for the game’s first points, the Jazz went on a 14-2 run.

It looked like Oklahoma City was about to be in some serious trouble before they calmed the waters and had tied the game at 25-25 at the end of the quarter.

“We just calmed down. We had to play our game, you know,” Corey Brewer said. “They kind of came out and hit us in the mouth you could say, but we calmed down and came out and played the way we should play the whole game.”

Oklahoma City’s big three carried the bulk of the offensive load in the first half. Westbrook, George and Anthony combined for 43 points to give the Thunder a 54-48 halftime lead.

Mitchell was the only member of the Jazz to cause the Thunder fits in the first half. He got some help in the third quarter from Ricky Rubio, Joe Ingles and Jae Crowder.

However, Utah took a huge hit when Gobert picked up his fourth foul with 5 minutes left in the third quarter.

But none of that really mattered. The third quarter was all about George, who scored 11 points in the quarter, including a dagger as the buzzer sounded to give the Thunder had a 9 point advantage heading into the fourth quarter.

“You know I thought throughout the course of the game, I just took what they gave me,” George said. “Kind of what I talked about coming into this is not being indecisive. They are going to give me perimeter shots or midrange shots and just take them and just be decisive on setting it up and looking for those opportunities.”

With Mitchell on the bench, Utah was unable to find any consistent scoring. George and the Thunder bench took advantage as they pushed their lead to 15.

By the time Mitchell returned, it was too late. Oklahoma City was on a roll and there was nothing the Jazz could do to slow them down.

“Yeah, he hurt his foot. He had some soreness in his foot. They went back and X-rayed him, and they said he’s okay. Doctors cleared him,” Utah coach Quinn Snyder said. “So I put him back in the game, and then when I saw him, it looked to me like he was feeling a little bit, and we just wanted to make sure, so I took him out and kind of confirmed it, and then he went back in, and then at that point we felt like it was going to be difficult for us to win the game, and we subbed again, subbed a number of guys.

The Thunder led 109-91 and the contests seemed over. But the Jazz went on a 17-6 run to cut the lead down to 115-108 with 23 seconds left.

But it was too little too late as Oklahoma City made just enough free throws down the stretch to fend off Utah.

Utah came into the postseason with many believing they had the top defensive unit. But Oklahoma City showed what they can do when they are hitting on all cylinders. But they know they must continue to improve in Game 2 Wednesday.

“We had a slow start and got to dribbling and rushed shots. They started off hot, and I thought we responded very well for the rest of the game being physical and executing our game plan,” Westbrook said. “That’s all we have to do moving forward. This game is done. We didn’t do anything special. We won a game at home. That is what you’re supposed to do and then get ready for the next one.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with EyeAmTruth.com

OU preparing for big weekend

By Michael Kinney

Caleb Kelly is a veteran of the Oklahoma Spring game. Before the junior linebacker even became a member of the Sooners he had attended three of the annual events as one OU’s prized recruits.

Despite that, even Kelly has to admit this weekend’s festivities will be a special time for the large group of recruits converging on Norman for the Red and White Spring Game Saturday at Memorial Field.

“They are definitely pumping it up this year,” Kelly said. “Back when I was coming, there wasn’t an actual a difference between white and red team and how it is split up this year. There weren’t different guys coming back from the league as guest coaches. It’s just way cooler I feel like this year. Now it’s like a big, big day for all the recruiting. I was kind of one of the only recruits who came to the spring game back then. They named off all the guys who had recruits and there is like 30 or 40 kids. It’s blown up for sure.”

– While much of what is going to take place will seem like it is geared toward the current members of the Sooners and the fans, in actuality, the people Oklahoma want to impress the most are the recruits.

According to defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, this weekend is more than just getting to spend time around some of the top high school players in the country. It’s laying the groundwork for what the coaches hope will become something bigger.

“We have a lot of players coming in. It’s going to be fun,” Stoops said. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s a chance at a great start at building a relationship with kids and being able to articulate with you on what they see, players they meet. Just builds a stronger connection as you move forward. We will see how it works. I don’t think anybody knows how it’s going to play out. But we’re awfully excited about the players we have coming in. We’re trying to build those relationships as quickly as possible.”

– It’s not just the coaches who will be playing a big part in trying to convince the recruits that Oklahoma is the school for them. The current Sooners will carry the large brunt of that duty.

Sophomore linebacker Kenneth Murray is taking that job rather seriously.

“I just try and let guys know just how it is here from my perspective,” Murray said. “They hear what the coaches tell them and all the other recruiting stuff that you hear all over the country. I just try and tell them the coaches here are genuine and they mean what they say. Everything that they are preaching to you, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. And there’s not one coach on this staff that’s not going to care about you. I believe that with all my heart and I just try and preach that to the guys just from a player’s perspective, so they can know that somebody like me, that’s playing here, has the same view.”

– While there is excitement surrounding the game and hosting the recruits, the Oklahoma coaches are curious to see how it will play out. With the new early signing days and early recruiting visits, this is a whole new ball game for them.

“This is different,” Stoops said. “You’re going to have three different types. You’ll have prospects you signed, prospects you haven’t signed and prospects who are here on official visits. So, it’s going to be busy. But you’re here doing this anyhow. It will just make more interaction. So you just blend them together and hopefully they hit it off with each other.”

Michael Kinney is aFreelance Content Writer with EyeAmTruth.com

Overseeing the rise of a team and a city

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – When Mick Cornett went to watch the Oklahoma City Thunder take on the Golden State Warriors April 3rd, he sat in his normal spot. The first seat on the back row in suite 31 on the second level of the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

The space belongs to Oklahoma City, which in turn means the Mayor and City Council members make use of it. Since the arena became the official home of the Thunder, that has been Cornett’s vantage point for the majority of games he has attended.

So, it made sense that at the final Thunder home game of his four terms as Mayor of Oklahoma City, he would be in attendance overlooking the world he had helped create. It allowed him to reflect on just how far Oklahoma City has come since his first days in office and just what bringing the Thunder to his hometown has meant to the state.

“Well, I spent a lot of time changing the perception. I just wanted people to be thinking positively about us,” Cornett said in an interview while watching the Thunder play. “And, one thing the Thunder’s done is made us culturally relevant. So, no matter where you are, Oklahoma City’s basketball team is playing teams like Chicago and Las Angeles, and tonight, Golden State. You know, we’re on the same page of the scoreboard with them. There’s kind of a superficial level of equality that comes with having that pro sports team. And, maybe you didn’t deserve it in any other metric. But, you’re there. That’s important to us.”

While Cornett has left the mayoral office, he is not done with politics. He has thrown his hat into the race for Governor and will be one of the Republican candidates vying for the office during the primaries later this year.

At his final game as mayor, Cornett once again saw a sold-out crowd as his Thunder were playing on national TV with millions of people watching. It was a contest between teams with the sixth largest media market in the country (Oakland) against one with the 41st (Oklahoma City).

But, at the same time, Cornett’s mind was in other places.

“I think of all the memories. You know, where Oklahoma City was in 2004, when I became mayor and where we are today, and just to watch how far the city has come,” Cornett said. “Nearly 100,000 jobs have been created. Nearly 10,000 new business. And, I’ve been around to welcome in a lot of people in the town … Dell Computers, Boeing, and a lot of technology companies. And, you know, we’re in a sense just kind of building off the generation that came before us. They did a lot of the heavy lifting, and we’ve been there for a lot of the really good times.”

Cornett’s final day as Mayor was April 9. The transition from him to the newly elected David Holt was low key.

However, low key was not what Cornett was thinking when the idea of bringing a professional sports franchise to Oklahoma City first popped into his mind.

“You know, I wanted to bring an NBA team or an NHL team to Oklahoma City, but even I knew it was a long shot, and I was the most optimistic person in town,” Cornett said. “But, to see the way that unfolded and to see the way the city responded when we had a chance to prove ourselves with the Hornets … you know, we sold out every seat, and our business community leads the league in sponsorships in that first year. And, of course, that set the table for everything that Clay Bennett brought to us with the Thunder.”

Cornett gives most of the credit to the people of Oklahoma City. They were the ones who voted in favor of the Maps 3 initiative that allowed the city to transform itself. And it continues even through today.

“We’re about to break ground on a new convention center,” Cornett said. “We’re in construction on a new streetcar, and the new park is under construction. And, those … all three … individually each one of those projects should be amazing and have all three of them here unfolding at once is pretty dramatic. We think a lot about what Oklahoma City’s done the last 10 or 15 years, but based on where I sit, the next 10 or 15 are going to be even more dramatic than the last 10 or 15. We’re set up to succeed in a lot of different ways.”

For Cornett, the epicenter of Oklahoma City’s transformation began on one of the most devastating day’s in American history. The April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City by terrorists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols was an event the entire state was still feeling the effects of nine years later when Cornett won his first election for Mayor.

Cornett knew something had to change or that act of terrorism would be the only thing Oklahoma City was going to be known for.

“I think we had a wounded brand when I became mayor. As I was going around the country trying to talk about us, I could see that people were thinking about the bombing from 1995, and you can’t build an economy on sympathy,” Cornett said. “It’s nice that people felt sorry for us, but I knew we had to do something about the brand, and I figured a sports team would be the fastest way to do that. So, I started working on the NBA and NHL aspect of that. And, I think just how well-known the city is now, mostly because of the Thunder, but from a lot of other things, too … you know, now, when you’re traveling around the country and you say, ‘Oklahoma City’, people probably think about something positive instead of that awful day in 1995.”

As someone who grew up in and around Oklahoma City, Cornett knew his town and state was more than just about tragedy. From his days as a sportscaster for KOCO, he was able to travel the state and saw the spirt of his fellow Oklahomans.  As Mayor he wanted to find a way to get those outside of the state to find out just how special his home was.

“I grew up in Oklahoma City, and you know, I thought it was a good place to live and a good place to raise a family and all those things,” Cornett said. “But, we weren’t a great place to visit. We knew people weren’t traveling across the country to come see us. But, you know, now, people do. There’s a lot to do in Bricktown and six million people a year now come to downtown Oklahoma City. The river has water in it. How cool is that?”

Oklahoma City’s growth under Cornett’s administration was expansive and stunning. From the Oklahoma River to Midtown, to the Plaza District to the Paseo, most sectors around the city felt the effects.

But nothing tells the story of the turnaround like bringing the NBA to Oklahoma. And once again, it was another tragedy that lay as a foundation for the revival of Oklahoma City. This one hundreds of miles away in New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina.

Even today Cornett is still amazed how it has all played out.

“Commissioner (David) Stern really enjoyed my passion for what I was trying to do. He told me that he just didn’t have a team for me, and was willing to help me try and get a hockey team,” Cornett said. “And, that’s kind of where it was left when hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans (2005). Suddenly, through this bizarre series of circumstances, we realized there’s an NBA team with no place to play. I mean, that’s never happened, and we just happened to be right there with an arena with 35 open dates. You could see that it made all the sense in the world, but I just couldn’t believe it was happening, you know? So, I mean, to a certain extent, that’s how it happened. Knocking on doors, and then all of a sudden the opportunity presents itself, and we take advantage of it. Like I say, the fans bought every ticket. You can’t get much better than that. They bought every ticket there was.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

 

Sooners turning spring game into an event

By Michael Kinney

Lincoln Riley is getting everyone ready. The Oklahoma football coach is giving everyone fair warning that this year’s spring football game will be unlike any that have come before it.

With concerts, celebrity coaches and contents involving fans, Riley is looking to raise the level of the soring game to more than just a glorified practice.

“It’s created a little buzz throughout the building,” Riley said. “They are starting to talk smack back and forth. They definitely want to win. So, they are pretty excited about the competitive nature of it. It will be exciting for our fans. It’s not a complicated scoring system for our fans. They can follow it just like they would in a game. Get some of the exciting situations and competitive situations that you want.”

Riley has brought a little star power to this year’s spring game, which is at 1:15 p.m. Saturday, by having a couple of Oklahoma legends taking over on the sideline. Free Agent  tailback Adrian Peterson will be coaching the White team while Washington Redskins tackle Trent Williams is taking over the Red squad.

There’s such a great and strong tradition of excellent players here,” Riley said. “Our former players are so gracious about coming back that we wanted to include them in the game. We came up with this idea, pitched it to a few of our NFL guys and they were probably even more excited about it than we were. I think it will be fun for our players, our fans, the NFL guys, everybody.”

Their assistant coaches include Super Bowl champion from the Philadelphia Eagles Lane Johnson and Baltimore’s Tony Jefferson. This has got the current Sooners even more excited about getting on the field Saturday afternoon.

“It’s great, honestly,” Wideout CeeDee Lamb said. “I get to meet all the legends who have been through here before me. It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s my first spring game and actually playing in it. I was here last year, but it’s going to be better to be in it.”

Riley said they would have loved to have had a draft, but because of the new limited hours rule “you can’t do fun stuff like that, which stinks.” The coaches did their best to separate the teams evenly.

Lamb is part of Team Williams. His quarterbacks include Austin Kendall and Tanner Schafer.

Also on Team Williams is Charleston Rambo, Rodney Anderson, Mark Jackson, Bobby Evans, Neville Gallimore and Jalen Redmond.

Team Peterson consists of players such as Kyler Murray, Amani Bledsoe, Marquise Brown, Parnell Motley, Marquise Overton and Dru Samia and Ronnie Perkins.

“It’s not an easy process,” Riley said, “Not only do you have to consider offense and defense, you also have to consider being able to do what we want to do on special teams and being able to get into our different packages. We may have a few guys who will have to play on both teams. The injury situation also factored in just a little bit. Other than that, we just tried to make it as competitive and as even as possible.”

Other highlights of the day include the Bob Stoops statue dedication, students attempting to kick field goals to have their tuition paid for by Riley, a pre-game concert with country music star Trace Adkins and Brown taking on fans in the 50-yard dash, with a 10-yard head start.

Even though Brown has become a fan favorite, don’t expect him to take it easy on anyone who steps up to the line to challenge him.

“I think it’s going to be fun,” Evans said. “It’s going to be electric.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with EyeAmTruth Media

Blazing his own path

By Michael Kinney

Jesse Porter thought his future was going to be on the basketball court. For years, the Oklahoma City native believed the round ball was going to be his ticket to getting a scholarship to a major college, which is something no one in his family had ever accomplished.

However, two years ago, Porter saw that path was probably not going to open up for him, so he decided to try and blaze another path for himself on the asphalt.

Porter has become one of the dominant sprinters in Oklahoma, and he is hoping that will translate to him obtaining his ultimate goal.

“Just trying to work on helping myself get a scholarship,” Porter said. “My first sport is basketball, then I switched up to track, so now it’s like a new sport that I have to adapt to. So now I’m just kind of working on sticking with the sport and trying to be the best runner I can be.”

It would seem Porter has adapted pretty well so far. As a junior last year, with his focus fully on running track, he came out of nowhere to win a state title in the 100-meter dash with a time of 10.66.

This season Porter has picked up where he left off. He has the top time in class 6A in the 100-meters at 10.55. He also has the second best 200-meter dash time at 21.55. Only Leondre Woods of Jenks is ahead of him with a time of 21.47.

“The 200, I didn’t really like last year,” Porter said. “But running it this year, I think I adapted pretty well to it. I’d say my curve could be better, but it’s a new sport, I’ve adapted a lot to it. The 100 and the 200, it’s pretty fun.”

But it’s the work Porter has been putting in with the relay teams that have really propelled the team. Running the final leg of the 4×100 and 4×200 has made the Patriots a contending team every week and showed his versatility in the process.

By the time the season ends, Porter sees big things for his Putnam City West squad and himself.

“I think I see myself ending the year with a state record,” Porter said. “Every day on the weekends, I’m not taking no (sic) days off. I let my body rest, but I still do, I still work on some biomechanics I need to work on. Start of the week I get back to work, just stuff like that. Try putting as much work as I can a day, and I see me later in the year challenging the state record, hopefully, if I can.”

The state record in the 100-meter dash is 10.37. It is currently shared by Marcus Pugh (2004) of Jenks and Brock Appiah (2017) of Edmond North.

If Porter is able to add his name to the top of the list, it would be an incredible moment for him.

“That’d be really special, especially since I’ve only been doing sprints for the past three years,” Porter said. “Started as a hurdler, turned into a sprinter, and for the past three years I was able to make that big of a jump. Going from a 12 to a slowly 11 to a 10.5 and it’s still going to go down. I’ll be pretty happy if I progress and am able to break the record. And hopefully get farther and get national exposure, be nationally recognized.”

The only thing that would make Porter happier is to have a college offer him a scholarship. It’s a desire that he carries with him every time he gets on the track for competition or practice.

“Every day I see that. I see that not only in practice, not only in meets but in his own time,” Putnam City West coach John Miller said. “He comes out, and he works at his own time. I really can’t get into personal stuff, but he’s going through some growth things in his own life, and dealing with some family issues and you know, our team and our school has got behind him to support him and help him get stronger. You can just see the power in him when he runs that he’s running for his future.”

While the current trend among many groups is to downplay the value of a scholarship as the debate rages over whether college athletes should be paid, Porter sees the true value in it for his family and him.

“It’d be very big for me because financially-wise, me and my family we’re not able to afford one,” Porter said. “I don’t try to take it for granted, no matter how big or small it will be. My brother and sister went to college, but they went to small colleges, so for me to go to a big, a school that was looking at me, that’d be really great. I’d probably be one of the first in the family that’s actually graduating out of college, because I know if I go to college I want to graduate from it. I’m not going to quit while I start, I’m going finish what I started. Whatever college I go to I’m going graduate from it. Most likely. So, yeah, it’d be really great for my family, especially my mom and my sister have been pushing me most of the way. They’ve been my biggest idols and supporters, would be those two.”

According to his teachers and coaches, Porter is quiet kid who can go unnoticed in large groups or class setting. He doesn’t get into trouble and can usually be found with his head in his school work.

But when he is out on the track, trying to create his future, that is when Porter’s fire and intensity come out.

“I got to make sure I come out here, I got to run hard because I not only run for my teammates, and my school and my people that believe in me, but I’m also running to get a scholarship and stuff like that. Every time I’m running out here, I know that I have to come out here and be focused, be locked on the track, look down my spikes, and make sure that every step I take I got to be 100 percent focused. I can’t be no pacing, no holding back, got to take it all, so hopefully, I get noticed and get some scholarships.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamtruth.com