As recently as four years ago, Skiatook graduate Will Jones never expected to win a state basketball championship as a coach.
Jones’ coaching career appeared to be over after he moved into administrative roles. But in the summer of 2017 when Garber’s basketball coaching job opened, Jones filled that with himself due to the lateness of the vacancy, adding to his duties as the district superintendent. And he also committed to at least four years as coach to provide stability for the program that had frequent coaching turnover since winning its first state title in 2010.
On March 7, Jones coached Garber to a 53-51 double-overtime victory over Arapaho-Butler in the Class A boys state title game at Oklahoma City’s State Fair Arena.
“It’s a dream come true,” Jones said Tuesday. “It’s hard to believe it happened.
“My dream came true because I have really good players, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Jones coached Pawhuska to a state tournament berth in his first season there in 2002. After three years as Enid’s coach, he left in 2009 to become athletic director at Grove. Except for filling in as coach there in the 2010-11 season, he was out of coaching until 2017. Garber lost in the quarterfinals in 2019 — its first state berth in nine years.
TJ Bennett, a 5-foot-10 junior guard, was Garber’s most valuable player in this year’s tournament and another standout was 6-3 sophomore guard Taye Sullivan. Other starters were Sha Martin, Daegan Vandiver and Ty Chester.
Garber (26-4) entered the postseason ranked No. 4 in Class A. The Wolverines’ ranking might have been higher if they had not gone 0-3 in the Tournament of Champions at Mabee Center. The losses to 5A No. 1 Del City, 3A No. 1 Oklahoma City Millwood and 2A No. 10 Okemah were all very competitive. After the TofC, the Wolverines won their final 18 games — the closest of those going into the state tournament was nine points. All of the other winning margins were by at least 16 points.
“I truly believe if we had only one loss and had not played in the Tournament of Champions, that we don’t win the state tournament,” Jones said. “That tournament was so good for us. We were much better off for coming to that tournament.”
Jones is grateful the Class A tournament was completed five days before sports were shut down by COVID-19, which resulted in the postponement of the state tournaments in Classes 6A through 2A. He has several coaching friends, including Booker T. Washington’s Conley Phipps and Cashion’s John Hardaway, whose state tournament openers were postponed only a few hours before tipoff last Thursday.
“I feel so bad for them and their kids,” Jones said. “I know the OSSAA will try to everything it can to play the tournaments and I will support whatever their decision is. I know they will do what is best.
“I feel terrible for those teams and their seniors. I know after all the work they’ve put in, it’s got to be devastating, there is no closure for them. Even if they had lost, there at least would be closure. We have that closure.”
And a 2020 gold ball.
Some notable high school sports figures from the 1960s and ‘70s have died recently.
Harry Red Eagle, who coached Skiatook to its only football state title in 1974, died on Feb. 20. He was 76.
Red Eagle compiled a 67-40-1 record as Skiatook’s coach from 1969-78. He was an assistant on Jenks’ second state football championship team in 1982 and was Hale’s head coach in ‘83. He later was a superintendent at Hominy, Sperry and Skiatook.
In 1960, Red Eagle was an All-State football player at Hominy as he rushed for 1,817 yards and 20 touchdowns to lead the Bucks to an 11-2 record and the state semifinals. He also was a standout cornerback/linebacker and averaged 44.1 yards as a punter. Hominy was 41-4-4 in his four varsity seasons as a player.
Sylvester Berry, an All-State quarterback for Booker T. Washington’s 1971 state title team, died March 3. He was 65.
Berry completed 49-of-78 passes for 867 yards and 10 TDs in BTW’s wishbone-style offense as the Hornets went 10-0-1 for their fourth state title in five years. In the ‘72 All-State Game, he threw a TD pass to Okmulgee’s Dewey McClain (who later played in the NFL) before 30,000 fans at Skelly Stadium.
In college, Berry was a starting cornerback at Tulsa and Oklahoma State before serving in the U.S. Air Force. He is the father of Sand Springs girls basketball coach Josh Berry.
Art Ruby, an All-State football player at Central, died March 11. He was 70. Ruby was the Tulsa Tribune’s lineman of the year in 1967 and went on to become a starting center for Northeastern State.
Ted Cox, who died March 11 at age 65, was a standout baseball player at Midwest City High School before being a Boston Red Sox first-round draft choice in 1973. Four years later, he set a major league record with hits in his first six at-bats for Boston. During five seasons in the majors, he also played for the Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays.
Gatorade’s state boys basketball player of the year announcement, originally set for last week, has been postponed until March 24.
Bixby’ Zach Baird signed to play soccer at Oklahoma Wesleyan.
Tulsa-area basketball coaches who have not received All World/All-State nomination forms are encouraged to contact Barry Lewis (boys) at email@example.com or Mike Brown (girls) at firstname.lastname@example.org. Basketball coaches outside the Tulsa area who have not received World All-State forms are urged to contact Barry Lewis (boys) or Mike Brown (girls). Swimming and wrestling coaches also will soon by e-mailed or contacted about All World nominations.