Siloam Springs, Ark. (October 22, 2007) - It seems as though the Sooner Athletic Conference men’s basketball coaches had a no-brainer in selecting the preseason favorite to win the league – Oklahoma City in a runaway.
In a poll in which coaches do not rank their own teams, Oklahoma City took 11 of 12 first place votes for the closest thing to a unanimous decision the poll offers.
Southern Nazarene got the lone remaining first place vote and finished second, followed by Oklahoma Baptist, Northwestern Oklahoma State, Rogers State, Wayland Baptist, John Brown and Lubbock Christian, Oklahoma Christian, USAO, Mid-America Christian and St. Gregory’s.
“You’re going to be challenged every night,” said OCU coach Ray Harper. “You have to prepare yourself for it. There can’t be a better schedule in the NAIA. No one has 22 conference games like us.”
Harper also knows his team wasn’t ranked No. 1 by the SAC coaches, Street & Smith, Basketball Times and Victory Sports Network without reason.
“This group is good,” Harper said. “They’ve worked hard. We have guys who can play. I’m not afraid to play any of them. We have guys who are versatile at different positions. We may play big or small. This year we have more options than last year.”
The Stars have NAIA Tournament MVP Kameron Gray for the second half of the season and also return All-American Willie Irick. OCU also brought in transfers Ollie Bailey (Rutgers), Na’Vonta Kentle (Western Illinois) and Alvin Lewis (Kentucky Wesleyan).
Southern Nazarene returns two starters, including Milorad Damjanac and Brent Kimmel, who led the SAC in three-point accuracy last season. Harold Edwards was brought in from North Texas, Kraig Bradley from Temple College and Tyree Scott from Redlands Community College to offset the loss of Mildon Ambres and the electrifying Leroy Dawson.
Oklahoma Baptist will have to replace five starters, but has done a nice job in recruiting former junior college All-American Brian Hill from NCAA Division I Texas State, along with quick point guard Brent Jones from Grayson County and Charles Carter who led the California junior colleges in blocked shots for West Hills.
Northwestern Oklahoma State made it to the quarterfinals last season and returns three starters. Among them are Freshman of the Year Brandon Brown an double-digit scorer Shane Hansen. The Rangers added junior college transfers Da Waun Johnson (Jefferson Davis), Shaun Buckingham (Mount San Jacinto) and Termaine Snyder (South Plains). NWOSU is now under first year head coach Andrew Brown.
Big things are expected from first-year program Rogers State after coach Wren Baker landed six NCAA Division I transfers. The list includes Sylvester Spicer (Oral Roberts), Bryson Krueger (Arizona State) and Texas-San Antonio transfers Aldric Reynolds, Eric Young, Roderick Rogers and Abram Donlon.
Wayland Baptist brings back three starters including 2007 SAC rebounding champion Danny Storey. The Pioneers also added Hill JC transfer Josh Love, Idaho State transfer Tony Jones and Clarendon JC transfer Jason Griffin.
John Brown, under new head coach Clark Sheehy, has four starters back from his father’s 2006-07 squad, led by Joel Tesis (13.9 ppg) and Cody Page (12.3 ppg). Added to that are four freshmen that could benefit the team in the long run – Matt Haney (Dardanelle, Ark.), Ryland Allen (Everman, Texas), Andrius Mkutis (Silale, Lithuania) and Francisco Rodriguez (Saltillo, Mexico).
Lubbock Christian will get leadership from four seniors, including Munir Shakir, who averaged 8.5 points last season. The Chaparrals added Clarendon College transfers Nick Hatcher and Tommy Lane, along with Collin County transfer Jacob Klockenga and North Mesquite High School freshman Kenny Hewitt.
Oklahoma Christian rebuilds from just one starter returning this season. But the Eagles picked up a soli d freshman guard in Jeff Crocker and big-man transfers Jon Johnson (Seminole State) and Lionel Saban (Cowley).
USAO’s Thomas Woods (12.4 ppg) is the lone starter back, but the Drovers brought in five talented transfers, including South Carolina-Aiken newcomers Aaron Brown and Darren Pore.
Mid-America Christian is new to the league, but will benefit from the coaching experience of Willie Holley and four returning starters – three of whom average more than 13 points. Stevan Thomas, a NCCAA All-American, leads that group at 17.1 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. Arkansas transfer Preston Cranford tops the list of newcomers.
St. Gregory’s returns all five starters from last season, including All-Conference forward Patrick Jones, who averaged 15.8 points per game. SGU also added Seminole State’s Josh Coulter, Adedokun Olanrewaju from West Hills and Dwonne Wilburn from John Marshall High School.
The SAC has had teams in the national championship game for each of the last three seasons, winning it all in 2005 (John Brown) and 2007 (Oklahoma City). SAC teams have been in the NAIA finals 13 times since 1991, capturing the crown seven times.
The annual SAC media day is set for 10:30 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 24, at Bricktown Brewery in Oklahoma City.