Norman basketball: Neal to Sooners just the first of many moves to come

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Clay Horning, The Norman Transcript, Okla.
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Apr. 22—Near as I can tell, if the birthday on his Wikipedia page is accurate, Kellen McCoy was 9 years old when I showed up in Norman, turning 10 in April 1997, about five weeks after I moved in from Ardmore in March.

Fun fact, the first Norman High boys basketball game I ever covered, the Tigers were at Midwest City, the Bombers led by a freshman center, Shelden Williams.

Though he would play professionally elsewhere a little longer, Williams finished up a six-season NBA career in 2012.

On the rare occasion it behooves me to make the case that I'm in fact quite old, I invoke Shelden Williams.

When I want to feel young, I tee it up from the blue tees, run up some stairs or listen to Bob Uecker call the Brewers.

These days, however, it's McCoy's turn to feel old, for he's now the longest tenured varsity basketball coach of any public school, high school or college, in Norman.

He's only 34, just turned it, and his tenure as Norman North's boys basketball coach is just three seasons.

But that's three more seasons than the next North girls coach and Norman High boys and girls coaches will have under their belts, whoever they are, when the next high school season begins.

For the record, Al Beal should get the North girls job, replacing Rory Hamilton, should he want it.

They guy's been the sage, wise assistant to so many coaches, the players love him and, though it would indeed be a new and different role and there are no guarantees it will work because there are no guarantees anything will work, there's lots of reasons to believe it might.

Also, Michael Neal now on Jennie Barancyk's staff at Oklahoma — a move that makes all the sense in the world and could pay off big, on the court and in the seats, given the talent that might follow him there — going outside the staff he left behind with the Tigers to find the next coach would be the wrong move.

Neal was originally hired as interim coach, then maintained the job, then flourished. He has his players to thank for flourishing, but they had to want to play for him, had to feel comfortable in the program, had to feel fine and free to buy in to what he was asking of them.

The case for hiring a proven winner, a head coach with experience, to fill Neal's old job, while defendable, is not nearly as compelling as the argument for maintaining, or trying to, the same mojo that's had the Tigers on top of Class 6A for three consecutive seasons.

Where the NHS boys are concerned, I wish I had a recommendation, but nobody's really won there since Doug Tolin and nobody's really over-performed since Jeff McCullough — who happens to not be coaching these days, far as I can tell, having stepped down from the Allen, Texas, job after winning the 2018 state championship in Texas' largest class.

Bringing McCullough back to Norman would be a home run, though would he consider it having already been to the prep mountaintop at Allen.

Who knows.

Actually, I know, reaching him in the middle of writing this thing, he says he's retired.

What's clear is it's a new day.

Norman Public Schools athletic director T.D. O'Hara is adamant that no hire is in the books until approved by the district's board, so unless things leak, if there's any thing to leak, we're unlikely to know who the next round of high school coaches are in this town any sooner than May 10, the date the board is next scheduled to meet.

They'd be doing everybody a favor to convene a special meeting and get it done sooner, for May 10 is the Monday of the final week of the high school sports calendar and your hometown sports department may be busy chasing other things.

Want to make a splash?

Move it up.

Other splashes could occur, too.

Momentarily, no NHS girls are verbally committed to play their college basketball at Oklahoma. Some are committed elsewhere and others are not committed.

Seems that could change.

Perhaps, soon, if the right hires take place, if things fall into place after those hires are made, everybody will be winning in this town.

Sounds like fun.

Trying to figure out who the next names might be?

Also fun.

Stay tuned.

Clay Horning

405 366-3526

Follow me @clayhorning