Basketball fever. Are you catching it? As Tulsa readies for the NCAA Madness at the BOK Center, let's not forget the real winner in our backyard.
The Tulsa 66ers is owned by the Oklahoma City Thunder. The management down the turnpike keeps in close contact. This would explain why the 66ers have gone from a train wreck to a true commodity for T-Town.
The D-League team cruised to a 14-game winning streak earlier this season. And unlike the city of Tulsa and TU, they are not begging for spectators.
Would a full arena be nice? Absolutely. However, that is not the main goal these days in the Tulsa Convention Center, 100 Civic Center.
"There is a plan and process in place for everything," said second year Head Coach Nate Tibbetts. His squad sits atop the West Conference of the D-League standings. Then again, who is counting?
"Our goal is to try to get better every day," Tibbetts said. "We do not talk a lot about standings and playoffs and what games we have this week. We want these guys to come and work every single day at practice in order to get better individually and as a team."
So is it a coincidence that team oriented goals have translated to team success?
The 66ers have morphed over the years. We have certainly seen NBA-caliber assignees on the roster in the past. You could always spot them on the court. Gunning for numbers and high minutes showed the way.
Now the Thunder utilizes the 66ers the way David Stern envisioned when the NBDL was developed. Current Thunder back-up Cole Aldrich played 19 games for the 66ers this year.
A few days ago, after the All Star break, Aldrich suited up and played 11 solid minutes for the Thunder. Now Coach Tibbetts and his assistant coaches have Byron Mullens assigned to their care. They will mold him into a serviceable big man for the Thunder.
"They have a lot of confidence in what we are trying to do here," Tibbetts said about the Thunder front office. "They come up with a plan. Cole is part of their future just like Byron Mullens is.
"From what I heard last night, when I as at the game, is that Cole had been doing a really good job in practice and they wanted to reward him with an opportunity to play and he did a really good job."
Only the San Antonio Spurs can match the Thunder as far as having a direct ownership of a D-League team. Other NBA teams are affiliated with D-League squads but that is where the relationship ends.
The 66ers have a niche. The Thunder
fully supports the team. NBA franchises
understand what is going on in Tulsa is
special. Do you?
FILE PHOTO/GAVIN ELLIOTT
Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks may ask Tibbetts crew to work a little extra on a certain part of a player's game. Maybe have the assigned player watch extra video.
"It's not about me, it's about our guys," said Tibbetts in deflecting praise to his players. "They've done a good job of buying into our system and playing well together.
"We pride ourselves in doing things the right way and sharing the basketball, coming to work every day, being a good teammate, being a pro. These guys have really done that and it's a credit to them and the type of character guys that the Thunder have brought in here."
Make no mistake about it; players on the 66ers roster are approved by the OKC front office. When Coach Tibbetts explains how to play the game, he is backed by an NBA franchise. That carries clout with players aspiring to get the call-up.
"The Thunder is extremely involved in what players we have here," he said. "They want to see what kind of guys they are. If guys aren't good guys, they are not going to be here very long. That's nice to know as a coach."
One of the guys called up to the NBA recently was Larry Owens. You might remember Owens from his days energizing the team and crowd at Oral Roberts. He has since spent time with several NBA clubs as well as overseas.
The Spurs signed Owens to a 10-day contract. He has since returned to the 66ers but you get the feeling it is only a matter of time before he makes his way back up.
Owens was sought after for his leadership. He is the most experienced player on the team. Not just for the rah-rah speech, but for his professional work rate and guidance by example.
His playing time and stats are down but the NBA's best team recognized his intangibles.
"NBA people understand what it's about," Tibbetts said. "These guys are not getting called up to score a ton of baskets. They are getting called up to be a good teammate and play defense and understand the system. That is what we are trying to preach to them. Larry Owens has done a good job of buying into that."
The 66ers have a niche. The Thunder fully supports the team. NBA franchises understand what is going on in Tulsa is special. Do you?
Visit tulsa66ers.com for upcoming home dates and schedule information. Or maybe you just want to check out the lovely 66ers Dance Team. Either way, check it out.
Share this article: