As the Connors State Cowboys get ready to start the 2021-22 basketball season, there's a renewed sense of optimism on the Warner campus mixed with a wary eye to the future.
"I think the big difference is we'll hopefully start the season on time with practice in October and the first games in November," said head coach Bill Muse who begins his 30th season at the Cowboy helm as he zeros in on win number 700 (685-246). "We'll be back to a full 30 game schedule, and we'll have more of a chance to work on individual conditioning, weightlifting and workouts."
Time will tell whether the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic is behind us but despite having to battle through that last season, there is a silver lining for the Cowboys. Because of the pandemic, college basketball granted athletes an extra year of eligibility if the school and the player agreed and as a result, Connors will welcome back standout guard Jahcoree Ealy who averaged 18.3 points per game last year. Ealy was runner-up for the district player of the year in 2021 and the decision to return should benefit both Connors and Ealy.
"You know with Covid last year, coaches couldn't get out and scout the junior colleges and with this new rule there aren't as many openings at the larger schools as usual," said Muse. "Coree had a couple of classes to finish up to graduate and felt he could enhance his recruiting profile if he played here another year. So hopefully this is a win-win for everyone."
Also returning for the Cowboys is 6-8 forward Mason Alexander from Tulsa Edison who averaged 6.5 points and 4.6 rebounds a game before getting hurt late in the season. Another scorer returning to Warner is Jordan Tillmon, a 6-2 guard from Pine Bluff, Arkansas who averaged just over 14 points a game. The Cowboys are also counting on improved play this year from 6-9 inside man Sammy Mike.
"Sammy made a lot of improvement during the offseason and worked a lot with (assistant coach) Bill (Muse Jr.) and I'm expecting him to make a big jump from last year," stated the head Cowboy.
New faces on the court for the Cowboys this season will include 6-10 center D.J. Basey who played last year at The University of Central Oklahoma.
"DJ is a big strong guy who will help us inside and has a chance to be a really, really good inside player," said Muse.
Muse is also proud of a junior college transfer that the Cowboys snagged in the off-season.
"Greg Johnson comes to us from Seward Junior College in Kansas. I recruited him a little out of high school in Little Rock. He had a good freshman year but was hurt most of last season but since he did graduate, the new rule gives him an extra year of playing time. He had foot surgery in May so he may not be back until second semester."
The Cowboys will also have a couple of X-men on the court this year. No, not those sci-fi guys. Xavier Brown from Muskogee and Xavier Glenn from Bixby will be in-coming freshmen. Both were All-Staters and played in the Texas-Oklahoma Faith Seven games as did freshman Marquel Sutton from Tulsa Rogers.
Muse used his extensive college connections to go to the east coast for freshman Jhamyl Fricas.
"He played at highly-regarded Worcester Prep near Boston, but his team only played four games last year due to Covid, so he was under-recruited, and I think we got a bit of a steal with him," said Muse.
Rounding out the recruiting class are Checotah sophomore Brenden Dan who played at Rogers State last year and Makyi Boyce out of Marion, Arkansas who is also rehabbing from a foot injury but will hopefully be ready to go when the season tips off.
The Cowboys schedule will feature some challenging non-conference games including a home-and-home against Paris Junior College, always a strong power in Texas, as well as road games against Independence and Neosho Community Colleges in Kansas.
Always keeping a wary eye on Covid, the season is scheduled to tip off with consecutive home games November 1-3.