Verdigris coach Upshaw finally in Oklahoma's Tournament of Champions
BY BARRY LEWIS World Sports Writer
Thursday, December 27, 2012
12/27/12 at 6:34 AM
Verdigris boys basketball coach Randy Upshaw celebrated his 500th victory two weeks ago and has led teams to nine state tournaments. This week, Upshaw will finally achieve a longtime dream by participating in Oklahoma's Tournament of Champions.
"If you've grown up in Tulsa or around Tulsa as I have, you've always heard about the Tournament of Champions," Upshaw said. "You always wanted to go. I remember watching the games there (as a spectator) at Memorial when it was so crowded we had to stand on the baseline and watch."
The 48th annual high school basketball showcase is scheduled Thursday through Saturday at Oral Roberts University's Mabee Center.
Upshaw's Cardinals, ranked No. 3 in Class 3A with an 8-1 record, will face 4A co-No. 1 Roland (5-0) at 8:30 p.m. in the quarterfinals' final game.
The boys' bracket opens with defending Class 6A and TofC champion Union facing Class A No. 1 Weleetka at 10:30 a.m. Thursday. Other boys matchups are 6A Booker T. Washington against 2A Dale at 1:30 p.m. and 5A Edison meeting Class B Arnett at 5:30 p.m.
In the girls' bracket, Verdigris plays Jenks at 9 a.m., two-time defending champion 5A East Central meets Class A Dewar at noon, 4A Cushing faces Class B Erick at 4 p.m. and 4A Anadarko plays 2A Colbert at 7 p.m.
So how did Upshaw, who led seven state tournament teams in 18 years at Mannford and two at Verdigris in the past four seasons, not get invited to the Tournament of Champions previously?
"Teams are invited based on what you have returning, and a lot of those state tournament teams weren't expected to do well," Upshaw said.
Upshaw has fond memories of watching his brother, Steve, play for Cleveland in the 1984 TofC and seeing Cleveland's Conley Phipps produce one of the event's top-10 scoring performances. And Upshaw has always wanted to share the TofC experience with his players throughout the years.
"At Mannford we tried to take our teams every year to watch," Upshaw said, "Like most coaches, we tried to schedule our practices in the morning over Christmas and then take the team to the Tournament of Champions. In this area, it's just part of what you do during Christmas break. And the first day is always the best day to go when you see the large schools go against the smaller schools."
That has always been a part of the tournament's charm and in the inspiration for its launching in 1966. The Union-Weleetka matchup is a classic example of what makes the tournament special. Weleetka and other smaller schools can be inspired by what Class B Forgan did last year when it finished third in the boys bracket and had a victory over 5A state champion Oklahoma City McGuinness.
Weleetka coach Brett Thomas believes his team will be helped by having played in the state tournament last year at Oklahoma City's State Fair Arena.
"They've shot and played a big game in open space before," Thomas said. "Everybody in Weleetka is excited about playing in this tournament."
The TofC includes 2011 boys state player of the year Juwan Parker of Booker T. Washington and 2012 metro girls player of the year Jessica Washington of Jenks. In the girls' bracket, East Central will try to become the first team to win the event in three consecutive years.
Games start at 9 a.m. each day of the tournament, with the final game starting at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $7 for each session that includes four games.
Original Print Headline: Verdigris' Upshaw finally in TofC
Barry Lewis 918-581-8393
Randy Upshaw: Verdigris coach will participate in Oklahoma's Tournament of Champions for the first time this week.