1-6. The Piedmont Wildcat boys basketball team went 21-6 and reached the state tournament last season. Much of last season’s success came from the experience of four senior starters, and next year’s team has a lot of work to do to keep up that level of success.
“We’re in a reloading mode, having lost four seniors,” assistant coach Jason Esau said. “A lot of what we’ve been doing is just seeing what we have. There have been some struggles with chemistry, but that will come with playing together. When you have four new starters, it’s a whole different world.”
Last year’s group of seniors had been playing as a unit for a long time, and that experience isn’t something that can be replaced overnight.
“We’re trying to get our chemistry,” Collin Bricker said. Bricker will be the lone returning starter from last season. “We’re trying to learn how to play together. We’re playing hard, and just focused on building that chemistry.”
Piedmont has had three teams competing in summer leagues over the past few weeks; varsity, junior varsity and freshman. The leagues have given coaches a chance to evaluate who will be a Wildcat uniform next season.
“The varsity has been playing in the Edmond Memorial league, the junior varsity has been in the Edmond Santa Fe league and the freshmen have been playing at Bishop McGuinness,” Esau said. “The varsity team lost their first three, then won four and split their last two (last week). The varsity is definitely a process, right now, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised at our junior varsity and freshman teams. We have a lot of good kids coming up who will help us in the future.”
Esau said that having three teams able to go to camps and attend summer leagues is a real sign of the success of Piedmont’s basketball program.
“Making state last year was a great thing,” Esau said, “but having kids come out, in the numbers they are, is one of the biggest signs of our success. When we started six years ago, we had one team that was able to go to a team camp.”
This year, the team went to the Oral Roberts University team camp in Tulsa. The team spent Thursday through Saturday in Tulsa and each of the three teams played seven games. The schedule was against many schools from Classes 6A, 5A and 4A.
“Team camp gives us a chance to get away and bond as a team,” Esau said. “The kids get to make memories, and the coaching staff gets a chance to evaluate our personnel. When we walk away on Saturday, Ryan (Wagner) and I will have a better idea of what way we will go next season.”
Piedmont’s three teams played a total of 21 games over the course of three days. The varsity and junior varsity teams went undefeated at the camp and the freshman team only lost one game. The varsity squad beat two state qualifiers from last year; Verdigris and Victory Christian. Victory Christian handed the Wildcats their first loss of last season, and getting revenge on the Conquerors home court made the camp that much sweeter.
Piedmont’s games started as early as 9 a.m. and ran as late as 9 p.m.
“We are really excited and encouraged by the progress our kids have made this summer,” Coach Ryan Wagner said. “We brought 32 kids with us, and the great thing was that they all performed. We have a lot of inexperienced guys on our teams right now, but they are finding where they fit. I could definitely see the benefits of our labor from the last month (at summer league).”
Wagner said that Bricker averaged a double-double at the ORU camp and has been ‘the guy’ for the team. Hunter Kirton and Christian Foster have taken over the guard positions and Wagner says they have done a great job in running the Wildcats’ system. Wagner said that Blake Robinson showed a lot in the paint over the three day camp.
“Things are going pretty good right now,” Kirton said. Kirton saw court time last season at the point guard position behind Jimmy Guerra. “Our hard work now is going to pay off during the season. We lost a lot of talent last year, and we’re going to have to hustle and work a lot harder. Replacing the shooting and scoring off of last year’s team is going to be tough.”