As time begins to pass us by more quickly, you’ll often hear people say that certain seasons “seem to come earlier each year”.
But if it feels early to already be time for larger high schools to be playing basketball games, there’s a simple reason for that: it is.
Many teams in Class A and Class B have been playing for nearly two weeks, while most schools, especially those in the Class 4A and above, won’t start play in Dec. 3.
But due to unusual circumstances, the Eisenhower basketball season begins on Saturday, as the Eagles host Enid. The girls game will start 5 p.m., followed by the boys.
Initially, the games were set to be played on Nov. 30. However, due to logistical issues raised by hosting an on-campus event during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, the game was moved to the weekend before.
Both the boys and girls basketball programs at Eisenhower have been perennial contenders, with the boys making it to the state tournament six consecutive years and seven of the past eight, while the girls have gone to state three years in a row. But for each program, the 2019-20 season, at least on the surface, appears to be one defined by uncertainty and unknowns. Both teams must deal with losing a Division 1 talent. Each team is younger than Ike has been in years. And in the boys’ case, it’s the first year under a new coach, though it’s something the Eagles went through just three years ago.
Wallace eager to begin 1st season at Ike
It was a shocking decision for many.
Back in May, just two months after his team’s season ended in the state quarterfinals, Eisenhower boys basketball coach Todd Millwee announced he was leaving to take over the same position at Westmoore. In just three years, Millwee had continued to build the Ike program and despite not winning a state championship, he had successfully kept the Eagles among the most feared teams in Class 5A.
Obviously, such great achievements come with great expectations. The standards at Eisenhower are not low. But that didn’t scare away Wade Wallace, who was hired over the summer to replace Millwee. After 12 years at Harding Prep in Oklahoma City, Wallace saw a great opportunity to be at a program he had admired.
“The history of it, being able to be part of a program like that, a program I consider to be one of the top 10-15 programs in the entire state, that’s what drew me,” Wallace said.
With the departures of stalwarts Antonio Gordon and Mark Berry, the offense will need to find a new go-to scorer. And by losing the 6-8 Gordon and 6-6 Berry, the Eagles will need to find ways to win even when they aren’t able to control the boards the same way they have in the past.
“We lost our height, but the guys we have are really quick, we’re very guard-heavy,” Wallace said. “I hope to use our speed to push the tempo and spread the floor.”
Shawn Williams is the only returning player who saw fair amounts of varsity action a year ago, but Wallace has high hopes for underclassmen like sophomore Cory McClelland and freshman Zaire Walton.
And while he’s liked what he’s seen in practice, Saturday night will be the true litmus test.
“For me personally, I’m just trying to get a better understanding of how my kids react in a game situation, when the lights are on,” Wallace said. “It’s just about taking it day-by-day, game-by-game, quarter-by-quarter.”
Wall excited about team’s energy, athleticism
In just four years under the watch of coach Daniel Wall, the Ike girls basketball team has gone from a Class 5A also-ran to a regular participant in the state tournament.
But yesterday’s accomplishments do not guarantee success tomorrow. That’s why, despite three straight trips to the state tournament, Wall knows he and his girls must continue to apply themselves. And they must also replace prolific scorer Ginger Reece and quick point guard Hallie Horton. On the whole, the team will be young. However, Wall’s willingness to play young players the past couple of years means the Eagles bring back four of the five players who started the state semifinal against El Reno. Kelvianna Sanders and Olivia Choney return after starting as freshmen, while Mikaela Hall and Naomi Smith have two years of experience under their belts.
While some of Wall’s more recent teams were extremely talented but might have needed some prodding along the way, the opposite may be true this year as Wall inherits a group that is inexperienced, but diligent.
“They’re by far the hardest-working group and most coachable I’ve ever had,” Wall said. “Hopefully, that’ll pay dividends.
Wall added the might also be the quickest group he’s had. Hoping to build his team around a strong defense, Wall hopes to use the raw athleticism his team possesses and go from there.
“Once they get some experience under their belt, I think the sky’s the limit,” Wall said.