By Shawn Tiemann
The RSU men’s program is coming off back-to-back runs to the Elite 8 at the national tournament in Kansas City. As you might imagine, the preseason hype machine is grinding its gears again. The ‘Cats have been picked to finish 2nd preseason in the SAC, and likely will be in the Top 10 national preseason rankings.
RSU might just have the best guards of any roster in the country, with all-SAC returners Donald Williams (Ole Miss transfer) and Kendrell Thompson (Sam Houston State transfer). Those two had memorable moments in conference games in their first seasons wearing the red and blue.
Two other guards are back that will continue to impact games, senior Alex Ewings from Jenks and senior Justynn Hammond out of Seattle and Paris Junior College (TX). Ewings continued to elevate his game to a whole new level last season, hitting big shots off the bench and playing frenetic defense to boot. Hammond is a solid athlete at 6-5 who can play multiple positions, including point guard. He could be called upon to rebound more and play a point forward depending on how much depth is developed with a lack of size up front.
A key acquisition on a one-year shot is ORU transfer and former Tulsa East Central standout Ken Holdman. Holdman was one of the better defenders in the Summit League in his time at ORU, and was also better than expected at point guard for Scott Sutton’s Golden Eagles. Again, you might not find a collection of guards any better than what’s been assembled in Claremore.
Up front, RSU should be bolstered by the return of Brian Gibson, a 6-8 bruiser who fought through injuries last year to become a major contributor at nationals. Gibson, a Baton Rouge native, is the tallest player on the roster.
The ‘Cats will definitely need younger and less experienced guys to fill voids at the forward spots. That could come in the form of two-time state champion at Booker T. in Tulsa, 6-6 sophomore C.J. Hyslop, or 6-7 sophomore Trevar Mayon from Houston. It’ll be interesting to see if the rebounding improves, which will depend heavily on the bigger RSU guards.
Two true freshman may see some playing time right away, J.C. Hartzler of Union (Tulsa World Player of the Year), and Edison standout Ehron Ponds. Both guards had exceptional high school careers.
The Hillcat men have set the bar so high in the first five seasons, that anything short of another trip to Kansas City will be viewed as a disappointment by outside observers. I do believe this team can win a ton of games, but it will need to be achieved with stellar shooting, kick-you-in-the-teeth defense, and a determined effort on the glass on both ends.
By far, this year’s schedule is the most treacherous ever assembled. Kudos to Coach Justin Barkley for going out of his way to toughen up the ‘Cats before the shorter league schedule takes hold. Difficult non-conference foes include Northwestern Okla. State, Mid-America Nazarene, and Our Lady of the Lake. Remember, the SAC is down to just nine teams, so that means 16 conference games instead of 22. The fun all starts October 30th at home in the season opener against Central Baptist of Arkansas.
Shawn Tiemann is the play-by-play voice of the Rogers State Hillcats. He also works full time as a producer and on air talent on 97.1 FM – The Sports Animal in Tulsa.