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.”

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OU Notebook: Addition on defense?

By Michael Kinney

Even though Oklahoma had a bye last week, there was still news coming out of the Sooner’s camp. Most of it has to do with former stars in the program.

Oklahoma announced the unveiling of several new statues to honor former award winners. They include Heisman statues for Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray.

Mayfield’s statue is expected to be unveiled in the spring of 2020 while Murray’s will be hoisted up in the spring of 2021.

Mayfield and Murray will join the previous winners Billy Vessels, Steve Owens, Billy Sims, Jason White and Sam Bradford in Heisman Park.

Oklahoma also announced they will be paying tribute to the Selmon Brothers. Lee Roy, Lucious and Dewey are expected to have their statue put up in the fall of 2021.

Early starts

When Oklahoma hosts Texas Tech Saturday, it will be the start of Big 12 Conference play. Unfortunately for fans, it will also be the beginning of a string of early morning wakeup calls.

The Sooners and Red Raiders will face off at 11 a.m. at Memorial Stadium. Then on Oct. 5, OU will travel to Kansas to face the Jayhawks for another 11 a.m. kick-off.

As usual, OU and Texas will meet in Dallas Oct. 12 for the Red River Rivalry, which also features an 11 a.m. start time. And don’t be surprised if the Oct. 19th matchup with West Virginia in Norman is also scheduled for 11 a.m.

Position change?

One of the top recruits in the 2019 class was Trejan Bridges. Coming out of Texas, he was considered on the elite receivers in the country.

However, because of the depth at the position, he has been unable to see much action in his first three games with the Sooners.

During the bye week, the OU coaches began working him out at safety on defense, which was a position he played in high school as well.

However, coach Lincoln Riley has tried to downplay any thought of a permanent move.

“If we ever move somebody to a permanent position, I’m going to tell you guys and we haven’t done that,” Riley said. ““We haven’t made any moves. And I think that just about covers it.”

At 6-foot-1, 183 pounds, Bridges could bring some nice size to the Sooners defensive backfield, which in the past has been picked on by bigger wideouts.

“That was something that was brought up by him, something to take a look at and kind of go from there,” defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “Verdict’s still out. Obviously, he’s a quality player, quality kid. He’ll ultimately be a high-level player at Oklahoma in one capacity or another.”

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OU heads into bye week still not content

(Photo by Michael Kinney)

By Michael Kinney

NORMAN –  Coming off its convincing 48-14 victory over UCLA, No. 5 Oklahoma heads into its bye week feeling pretty good. In three games, they have rolled through the competition with ease.

However, the Sooners are not about to let their early-season success and headlines go to their head. They have bigger plans

“What we’ve done hasn’t been enough,” OU linebacker Kenneth Murray said. “It hasn’t been up to the standard we want to be at. The standard we want to be at is national championship level. We want to play in the national championship, we want to win a national championship.”

However, it’s hard to overlook what the Sooners have done so far. OU has gained at least 600 total yards, rushed for at least 300 yards and passed for at least 300 yards in all three games this season.

Against the Bruins, quarterback Jalen Hurts was 15 of 20 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns and rushed 14 times for 150 yards and a score. Hurts has thrown nine passing TDs and rushed for four more through three games.

Among all players with at least 38 carries, Hurts leads the nation with his 9.8 yards per rush. He also leads the NCAA with a 250.2 passer rating and a 14.4 yards per pass attempt.

Yet, Hurts refused to acknowledge how well he’s has been playing.

“There’s always room for improvement,” Hurts said. “I think we’ve got to be more crisp. I sound like a broken record, but it’s the truth.”

Lincoln Riley was just as staunch in his lack of adjectives when it comes to Hurts.

“He’s doing well,” Riley said. “Making some good decisions, making some explosive plays. There is still a long, long way to go. A lot to grow on. He sees that, I see that, we all see that. The production there, but the competition changes, things evolve. Either you get better or people beat you.”

Yet, Riley was a little more willing to talk about how well the defense has looked in defensive coordinator Alex Grinch.

“We played good team football early in games. We’ve gotten stops, defensively,” Riley said. “We are playing good team football. It has been steps, steps in the right direction. We did some good things, but we are still so far away from where we could be.”

Defensive back Justin Broiles said the defense still had its lapses, which they are working on.  But there is one area he is defiantly seeing an improvement.

“One thing you can’t coach is effort,” Broiles said. “And I feel like that’s what we are putting on tape.”

Brendan Radley-Hiles echoed those sentiments.

“There are a few areas we can improve upon,” Radley-Hiles said. “But overall I think that was a better-finished game. I feel as the first two games we really didn’t finish well.”

With a week off before the Sooners face Texas Tech at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 28 at home, the players will practice a few days this week before having a couple of days off. Then they will get back and get ready for the start of Big 12 Conference action.

“I think it gives us an opportunity to be aggressive with the week,” Riley said. “It’s not going be about freshening them up. Again what I’ve been telling you, it’s not lip service. We got to get better and we got to get better now and this week that’s goal number one.”

Maybe then, the Sooners will pull out the elusive complete game they have been searching for this season.

“It will look completer than what ya’ll have seen,” Hurts said. “What ya’ll have seen, the stuff we’ve displayed is not complete football. It’s not what we want to do. We can be better.”

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Yukon unable to slow down Lions

By Michael Kinney

MOORE— Yukon traveled to Moore Thursday night looking to pick up its first win of the season. After a bad loss to rival Mustang the week before, they had plenty of incentive to play a much cleaner game.

However, for the second week in a row, the Millers mistakes hurt their chances of pulling out a victory as they fell 49-35 to the Lions at Moore Stadium.

“It’s a little bit frustrating,” coach Jeremy Reed said. “I liked the effort in the second half. Gave up eight points in the second half. Kind of shot ourselves in the foot. A lot.”

With less than two minutes left in the game, Yukon was once again knocking on Moore’s door. Trailing by two touchdowns, they drove deep into MHS territory and were looking to make it a one score game.

From the six-yard line Caden Hernandez took a pitch from quarterback Levi Davis. Hernandez bullied his way down to the one-yard line giving the Millers a chance to score on the next play.

However, as the Lions were getting off Hernandez, he kicked at one of the MHS players, who fell over screaming as he held his groin. Yukon was assessed a personal foul and pushed back 15 yards.

“Until we decide to grow up and be mature, we’re going to continue to get beat because of our undisciplined,” Reed said. “I don’t know what to say other than that is a selfish act.

The next play, Davis just missed hitting Colton Phinny in the endzone for a touchdown. Two plays later, the Millers fumbled and the Lions recovered the loose ball before running out the clock.

Yukon finished the day with 498 total yards of offense. That included 463 yards on the ground.

Cameron Farmer led the charge with 128 yards on 14 carries. Hernandez added 101 yards while Landon Donoho rushed for 90.

However, the YHS defense gave up 575 total yards. MHS had a balanced attack of 267 yards on the ground and 297 through the air.

Moore quarterback Daniel Hishaw accounted for 297 yards on 10-of-15 passing. He also ran for another 91 yards. Wideout Brandon Girard caught 5 passes for 245 yards and two scores. Jayce Gardner tacked on 186 yards rushing on eight carries.

The start of the game was nearly a blur as both teams traded scores in the first quarter. Makari Slaughter who ran through a defender at the goalline to start the second quarter gave Yukon a 14-12 lead.

The Yukon defense couldn’t slow down the Moore offense in the first half. They picked up two more touchdowns and the Millers found themselves trailing 26-14 with six minutes left I the half.

It looked like the Lions were on the verge of going up by three touchdowns late in the half, but Nate Hahn came up with an interception in the endzone to end the threat.

Unfortunately for the Millers, that wasn’t the end of the scoring. Instead of just taking a knee and running out the clock, Yukon attempted to run its offense deep in their own territory. With under 10 seconds left Donoho fumbled for the second time. This time Moore was able to snag it out of the air and return it for a score. MHS held a 41-21 halftime advantage.

Yukon took the opening possession of the second half and drove 80 yards in 13 plays before Slaughter scored off the right side. The deficit was closed to 41-28.

After the Yukon defense forced Moore to punt, the Millers got the ball back on their own 3-yard line.

During the ensuing drive, Slaughter was gang tackled and laid motionless on the ground for more than 20 minutes.  He was put on a stretcher then carted off the field to an awaiting ambulance.

Without Slaughter, the Millers had to find others to step up. That included Isaiah Butler who caught the Miller’s first pass of the night two plays later.

Donoho finished the drive off with a short TD run and cut the to 41-35 with 7:15 left in the game.

“We had a chance,” Reed said. “But we have a long way to go.”

Moore v Yukon football

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Sooners lock up Coyotes

By Michael Kinney

NORMAN –  After forcing only 11 turnovers in 2018, first-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch talked about making that an emphasis this season for Oklahoma.  During the Sooners 70-14 won over South Dakota Saturday, it showed as they came away with three takeaways on the night.

“It was the No. 1 thing we talked about all week defensively,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “They were challenged every way possible and we responded.”

The beneficiary of the two was sophomore nickelback Brendan Radley-Hiles. He recovered a fumble and picked off an interception, which he returned for a touchdown.

“It just makes us hungrier. You get one you have to make sure you get another one the next game,” Radley-Hiles said. “I feel as if Coach Grinch emphasized it a lot this week in practice so we went out and made sure we got that for him.”

Despite the lopsided score, the Sooners were not completely happy with their performance. Quarterback Jalen Hurts, who seems to only settle for perfection, said the team still has work to do.

Yet, Oklahoma was still able to rack up 733 total yards. That includes 310 coming on the ground behind Rhamondre Stevenson (104), Kennedy Brooks (69), Trey Sermon (58 and Hurts (57).

“We did some really good things out there tonight and then there are some things that we really need to approve on,” Hurts said.

On the Sooners second possession, they drove 80 yards for the first points of the game. The drive included Hurts throwing to Lamb three times, including a 3-yard touchdown catch in the middle of the endzone.

It was Jeremiah Hall who reached the endzone on the Sooner’s next possession when he grabbed an 8- yard TD pass from Hurts.

Oklahoma didn’t allow the Coyotes’ offense to cross midfield until early in the second quarter. They made their way down to the Sooner’s 23 yard on their first successful drive of the game.

But Neville Gallimore forced a fumble and Radley-Hiles recovered it at the 13 to stop South Dakota’s momentum cold.

Touchdowns from Brooks and Charleston Rambo put OU ahead 28-0 at halftime.

Radley-Hiles started the second half with an interception, which he returned 30 yards for a touchdown.

“Everybody feels good for him, especially because he knows we all know he had a tough year last year,” DaShaun White said of Radley-Hiles. “Just how much he’s put into it this offseason, just seeing him get his chance and make big plays, it makes us all feel good.”

On the next possession, Trey Sermon scored and the Sooners led 42-0 with 11:03 left in the third quarter.

The rest of the night was just about Oklahoma getting in its younger, inexperienced players. Wideout Jaden Haselwood caught his first career touchdown while Stevenson broke open for a 75 TD run. Quarterback Spencer Rattler, wideouts Theo Wease and Trejan Bridges and guard Brey Walker also saw some time.

“I was like a proud father,” Lamb said. “I was watching and screaming all across the sidelines. they did a great job today. Obviously, they all touched the end zone when they needed to.”

Rattler, who was the top-ranked quarterback in the 2019 class didn’t disappoint. He was 4-for-4 for 50 yards and a touchdown pass.

“I was excited when I heard he was going out there,” Lamb said. “I actually gave him a talk. ‘Go do what you do.’ For him to go out there and showcase his potential – the sky’s the limit … All the hype he had going into college is true – he’s above that.”

Hurts finished the night with 259 yards and three touchdowns on 14-of-18 passing. Lamb caught six passes for 144 yards and a score.

Oklahoma (2-0) travels to UCLA next week as they look to improve to 3-0.

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Hurts is on a mission

By Michael Kinney

NORMAN –  Late Sunday night, Jalen Hurts strode to the podium for his first-ever post-game press conference at Oklahoma. Wearing a grey suit vest, a purple and blue striped tie and a crisp white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, he looked like a CEO ready for a hostile takeover.

After being pushed to the bench last season at Alabama, Hurts came to Oklahoma on a mission.  In his first game with the Sooners, he helped engineer a 49-31 victory over Houston while breaking several offensive records in the process.

“I was in a situation or position where I am back to where I am supposed to be,” Hurts said. “I can’t say that I haven’t done it before maybe with a little rust on. But being out there with this team, this group, is very exciting and I enjoyed it a lot.”

Hurts threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns on 20-of-23 passing. He also added another 176 yards rushing and three rushing scores. He became the first Sooner to ever pass for at least 300 yards and rush for at least 150 yards in a game.

Hurt’s 508 yards of total offense were the most by a player in an OU debut. The old record was held by Baker Mayfield, who had 396 yards against Akron in 2015.

“He played good. He played good. Several things he could do better,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “I thought he handled the moment good. You could tell out there that he’d been in it, certainly. I’m sure he had some nerves, but he did a good job managing them. I thought he made good, sound decisions and managed the game well.”

OU totaled 686 yards of offense (354 rushing, 332 passing), the most in program history in a season opener. The Sooners also rushed for 300 yards and passed for 300 yards for the 12th time in program history

Hurts first drive a member of the Sooners couldn’t have gone any better. The entire drive took 70 and ended with him throwing a TD pass to fullback Jeremiah Hall.

Two possessions later, Hurts completed an 89-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. He then connected with CeeDee Lamb for a 45-yard touchdown strike to go up 21-0.

“I actually lost him. When I turned around, I didn’t know where he was, I just saw the ball in the air,” Lamb said. “He told me when we got to the sideline that he had to scoot into the pocket, and then that’s when I lost him, because I didn’t know where that was. He did a great job throwing the ball in the run and getting the ball where it needs to be.”

As impressive as Oklahoma’s offense looked, it was the defense that was turning heads. The Sooners didn’t give the Cougars any room to breathe as they attacked from all points on the field.

But that changed midway through the second quarter when Houston quarterback D’Eriq King started to rack up yards with his legs. That set up a pair of scores and OU led 21-10 at halftime.

If not for two missed field goals from sophomore Calum Sutherland, the Oklahoma lead could have been more.

The Sooners started the second half with a 56-yard touchdown catch by a speedy Charleston Rambo and another Hurts TD run to push the lead to 35-10.

That essentially put the game away. Houston was able to tack on three more touchdowns and cut the lead down to 12, but Oklahoma was never in any danger of giving the game away.

Houston racked up 408 total yards, with 255 of those coming after halftime.

“The biggest takeaway that I had from tonight is that we have to be more consistent. We did a lot of great things but, there’s definitely a lot of improvement that we need to do,” said Kenneth Murray, who had 13 tackles. I am excited to get back to work so that we can get all those things reworked and put on a great show.”

The Sooners will host South Dakota Saturday.

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Sooners set to open season vs Cougs

Photo by Michael Kinney

By Michael Kinney

The wait is over for the Oklahoma football team. With fall camp behind them, the Sooners have now turned their sights toward their season opener which will take place Sunday when they host Houston at Gaylor Stadium.

It will be the first time in Oklahoma’s history that they will play a Sunday night game. For Lincoln Riley, the chance to make history seems to be as good of a reason to do anything.

“It was a decision that Joe Castiglione and I looked at and it made sense,” Riley said. “It was totally our choice. It was either going to be an 11 a.m. Saturday kick or a night kickoff with the eyes of the nation on us.”

Game time is set for 6:30 p.m.

The opportunity to have the entire college football landscape all to themselves wasn’t lost on the players as well. Despite playing big regular-season games and making it to the college football playoffs three out of the past four seasons, the Sooners still get excited about a unique season opener.

“I’ve never played a game on Sunday night,” OU tight end Grant Calcaterra said. “It will be different, approaching that game, going through this week. I’m excited. I love playing at night. Sunday night is like a primetime game for football, obviously when the NFL plays. The whole team is excited. So we’re all really looking forward to it.”

Despite the fact that OU lost its starting quarterback, four starting offensive linemen, a No. 1 receiver and changed defensive coordinators, they will enter the game with a preseason ranking of No. 4 in both national polls.

Oklahoma still has the expectations of reaching the playoffs for a third straight year and have taken steps to go even further.

“Our goal every year is to make the college football championship and win it,” OU center Creed Humphrey said. “We have had to do some sort of adjustments this offseason to get to that next step. And I feel like we have done a big part of that.”

Part of that may be having a quarterback under center who has not only played in a title game, but won the championship. Graduate transfer Jalen Hurts was named the starter last week and he brings with him a wealth of experience, leadership and intangibles.

However, there are many who do not believe Hurts has the arm talent to play effectively in a Lincoln Riley Offense.

When Hurts was asked how much he has improved passing the ball since he arrived in Norman, he had a simple answer.

“We will see Sept. 1.”

Fan Friendly

For those coming to Sunday’s season opener, Oklahoma has attempted to make the experience more fan-friendly. That includes bringing WI-FI to Gaylord Stadium so for the first time, fans will be able to access the internet via Wi-Fi during home football games.

“This is an exciting upgrade for our stadium and one that we’ve had on the drawing board for several years,” said Joe Castiglione, vice president and director of athletics at OU. “We are rolling it out at an optimum time as we have been able to secure the latest technology, which will make this system viable for several years.”

Like many of the top college football programs in the nation, Oklahoma has strived to improve the game-day experience.

“Fan experience is a high priority for us,” Castiglione said. “The on-field performance and pageantry of OU football are the best in the nation. Now, we are adding other pieces to the fan experience that make a trip to our stadium even more special and convenient.

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The consummate showman

Photo by Torrey Purvey

By Michael Kinney

The Yukon Review

It is easy for an artist to perform when things are going great. When the sound system is perfect, fans are into the show and nothing goes wrong, almost any good singer can put on a magnificent show.

But the truly great performers can do it when their surroundings have turned to chaos and the have no control over it. That is when the true showman steps up and performs.

That is what Oklahoma City fans got to see Monday night at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. Despite thunderstorms, tornado warnings and flash floods rolling through the city, Chris Brown didn’t let the fans down on this leg of his INDIGOAT Tour.

Twice during Brown’s near two-hour performance, the power went out in the Chesapeake as a thunderstorm raged outside.  The power outage caused Brown’s microphone to go out along with some of the lights and video background on stage.

The first time it happened, Brown and his dancers left the stage for about five minutes before returning. Almost 20 minutes later, the same thing happened again. But this time, it took place during the middle of Brown singing “With You.”

But before he could respond the fans picked up where Brown left off and continued to sing the lyrics as Brown danced on stage. For many, that was the highlight of the evening to hear an entire arena perform one of Brown’s biggest hits.

“awwww, this filled my heart when the crowd started singing,” said one fan on Twitter.

That moment seemed to energize Brown for the rest of the night. Even as he roamed around on stage talking to the crowd as the fixed the power problem, it was evident he was ready to get back and put on a show.

I have been to several shows where singers have walked off stage and left when things go bad. To see Brown continue to perform on a Monday night in Oklahoma City in front of just a few thousand fans was impressive.

The one time Brown did leave the stage for an extended period was during the intermission. But that is when the concert-goers showed how much they were really enjoying the show They danced in the aisles and in their seats to the songs being played by the DJ.

The energy carried over into the second half of the show as Brown worked even harder. When he went down memory lane and performed small samples of some of his old classics, the fans once again joined in the singing along with him.

All around it was a good show. But what made it go up another level was how Brown responded to adversity. If this had been L.A. New York or Dallas and the arena would have been packed with 30 to 50 thousand fans, it would be understandable why he stayed and performed. But to do it in what many consider a fly-0ver city on a Monday night, that sets him apart as an elite performer.

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider