POSTED ON FEBRUARY 25, 2009:
Woolpert and players see positive things to come for Oklahoma basketball
As one of five NBA fans in the city of Tulsa, I feel it is my obligation to provide professional basketball coverage to the masses. College basketball fans who do not enjoy the NBA fall into one of two categories: They simply do not understand the professional game. Or my personal favorite: the old "get off my lawn" curmudgeon who yells at the neighborhood kids while his bathrobe flaps in the wind.
If you fall into either category, count your losses and move on to another section of this fine paper. We have great writers covering fantastic aspects of Tulsa. Go enjoy. But if you like round ball action...
Great! You're still reading. This makes six NBA fans in the city of Tulsa. Basketball has evolved during the past few years. When Oklahoma City robbed Seattle of its pro basketball team, it was great for Tulsa as well. Now the Tulsa 66ers are owned by the Thunder.
The 66ers have called Tulsa home for four years. (Technically they play in Bixby now but we'll give them a pass.) Besides, who can blame them? Have you seen the SpiritBank Event Center? It's a stellar example of a small town arena built with a purpose.
The team digs the new venue; the old location failed. "It was kind of dusty... had horses out there," laughed point guard Jeremy Kelly. Kelly is the lone holdover from last year's squad. In fact, this is his third season with the 66ers. He's watched the progression with a courtside view. Although the team's record may not reflect it, he thinks the squad is ready to hit its stride.
"It's been a journey. It's had its ups and downs just like life does," said the energetic Kelly.
The team practiced hard. They laughed it up. When the whistle blew signaling the end of practice, they hung around and launched shots from all angles. Camaraderie at it's finest. It did not look like a team in disarray. Losing can take its toll on the weak minded. This team continues to fight.
"Whether we're winning or losing, the guys are positive, the coaching staff is positive. [The organization] knew it would be a process and a journey. They're putting 100 percent behind us and all we can do is go out and play 100 percent," said Kelly.
The team is beset by injuries. Top draft pick Chris Richard is out for the year. Arkansas product and athletic big man Steven Hill should be close to coming back after missing a month of action.
Excuses are easy. Life's hard. Roster changes and players being shuffled in and out of the lineup due to injury hinder the chemistry.
The team failed to reach the playoffs the past three years. Poor previous results and new leadership meant a change in coaching staffs was inevitable.
The previous head coach learned from his father, a well-known coach on the collegiate level.
New head coach Paul Woolpert learned the same way. His father coached Bill Russell and K.C. Jones at the University of San Francisco. I mean... wow. If you're still reading, I know you're impressed with this tidbit.
Woolpert encourages a more hectic pace compared to his meticulous predecessor Joey Meyer. Meyer preached the half court game while Woolpert lets the guys play. "He wants us up and down (the court)," said Kelly.
The new coach also wants to instill professionalism in the young men. "It's no longer a pastime. It's your job now," explained Woolpert.
He coached in the CBA last season. Basketball is basketball. Getting the best out of players is a common theme at all levels.
"There are probably hundreds of thousands of guys who would love to be in their position on the Tulsa 66ers. They are working in the gym everyday to get better and be here. You have to understand it's a privilege to be here and come to the gym everyday and get better and make your teammates better," said Woolpert.
The Oklahoma City Thunder is making noise across the NBA landscape. Kevin Durant's name is being mentioned along side LeBron, Kobe and CP3. It was laughable at the start of the season. Now, NBA enthusiasts nod their head in agreement.
The 66ers hope the positive strides being made down the turnpike trickle this way. "They are having great crowds and winning a lot more games now. Great things are happening in Oklahoma City and we're just a part of that. Hopefully we will provide them with some quality players," said Woolpert of the feeder system the NBA has in place.
The plan is to develop the players. As long as they end up on a NBA roster or overseas making a good living, the journey will be successful.
"We play to win but the most important thing to us is to make these guys better. Winning will hopefully be a byproduct of the fact that they are improving individually," said coach.
The team features some fascinating players. Moses Ehambe led ORU to several NCAA berths. Former Sooner Keith Clark finished second in the D-League Dunk Contest. Ryan Humphrey's basketball career started at Tulsa's Booker T. Washington.
They are a likeable bunch. They love their jobs. And at the end of the day, isn't it more fun to root for the underdog?
"We're hoping and believing we can turn this thing around and staying positive," said Kelly.
Visit www.tulsa66ers.com for schedule and ticket information. Also, you can link to Keith Clark's competition dunks.
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