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Witnessing basketball history, Part III

April 07, 2021 - 00:00
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The 2019 Kingfisher High School basketball team was ridiculously loaded.

On top of a lockdown defender and a solid 3-point shooter in Reece Lafferty, the team had what turned out to be two Division I and two Division II signees in the starting lineup.

It’s no wonder the group went 28-1 and won the Class 4A championship by absolutely demolishing the souls of the state tournament field.

The team had a 2,000-point scorer in Jett Sternberger, a would-have-been 2,000-point scorer in Trey Green had he not suffered a broken hand during his sophomore season and then a couple of youngsters named Bijan Cortes and Matthew Stone.

The latter two were freshmen starters on the 2018 squad that gave KHS its first-ever undefeated regular season and came within just a couple of plays of winning the state title.

Here’s the great thing about the 2019 team.

Sternberger and Green, two of the greatest scorers to ever don a Yellowjacket uniform, took fewer shots and scored fewer points as seniors than they did as juniors.

And they did it on purpose.

They knew that if Kingfisher was to reach its potential, the two youngsters needed to become bigger parts of the offense.

Such a task is easy to talk about…much harder to put into action.

But Sternberger and Green did it.

The two – who were the only main links between the 2017 and 2019 titles – laid the groundwork for the 2021 crown.

The mentality of being leaders - yet unselfish ones - carried over to Cortes and Stone.

When those two took on even larger roles as juniors, they delivered.

Cortes put his complete offensive skillset on display. It turned into 22 points and 6 assists a game.

Stone averaged nearly 18 points and 10 rebounds.

Kingfisher had its second undefeated regular season and extended a win streak started the year before to 47 games.

State tournament glory was never realized as COVID-19 forced its cancellation.

Logic would say Cortes and Stone upped their numbers even more in 2021.

But if Kingfisher has done anything the last five seasons, it’s defy logic.

Like their predecessors, the duo combined to take fewer shots and score fewer points than in their junior seasons.

That allowed guys like Jarret Birdwell and especially Maverick Ridenour to take on bigger offensive roles.

That made Kingfisher more dangerous.

It made the Yellowjackets champions again.

What made Kingfisher so good?

Other than the 10,000 gushing words we’ve written on the coaches, what else is it?



Did you see how long the Jackets were on the court?

No wonder nobody could score.

When they ran onto a court, you said: That’s a basketball team.

Ian Daugherty - all 6-foot-2 of him, was the shortest starter.

Basketball is a combination of things you can teach and coach.

Size is one that has to be God-given.

These Jackets didn’t have anyone with true size, but they had exceptional length.

You try to make the extra pass, dribble by or get off a decent shot in the lane against eight arms longer than your legs.

OK, so one last coaching story before we move onto the players and their roles of actually going out there and winning those games.

I don’t think enough credit is given to Jason Sterberger for making the hire he did when he plucked Jared Reese from his hometown of Blackwell in the spring of 2013.

I say that because although Reese was well thought-of, he wasn’t one of - if not THE - hottest coaching names in Oklahoma high school boys basketball at the time.

He’s certainly that now.

But, when Craig Patterson retired after a decade-plus of hall of fame coaching here, it was Sternberger’s task to find the guy who would not only lead KHS boys basketball, but also coach his own sons.

Reese sat at Blackwell with a 43-56 record over four years as a head coach.

He was 2-22 his first year.

His teams were improving each year (they won 19 games in his final season), but the Maroons were - at most - a threat to win the Wheat Capital title, but not a state championship.

But it was at the Wheat Capital where Reese first caught Sternberger’s eye.

“I watched him for two years at the Wheat Capital and noticed that, against teams that may have more talent than his teams, he always had his kids prepared mentally and physically,” Sternberger said.

“Blackwell was always competitive and in the ball game.”

And all those sets I’ve talked about? Sternberger noticed, too.

“His ability to call inbound plays that always seemed to work impressed me and both of those factors have definitely been the case here.”

He’s right.

Since Reese landed on the KHS sideline, the Jackets have lost 23 games (and won 196) in eight seasons.

So give credit where it’s due: Sternberger might have surprised some when he tabbed Reese as Patterson’s successor (Patterson spoke highly of him, too), but the results speak for themselves.

(Ed. note: Ok, we promise next week to get to more of how the players have contributed to this success.)