Oklahoma Baptist lost three starters, five seniors and 60 percent of its scoring from last year’s national championship run, so a sequel to last year’s dramatic, four come-from-behind wins en route to the title may be more than a year in production.

Oklahoma Baptist lost three starters, five seniors and 60 percent of its scoring from last year’s national championship run, so a sequel to last year’s dramatic, four come-from-behind wins en route to the title may be more than a year in production.
Gone are NAIA Player of the Year and NAIA Tournament MVP Nate Brumfield, representing the team leadership in scoring, rebounds, assists and steals. The reliable all-around game of A.J. Hawkins is a part of Bison history. Gone, too, is the solid three-point shooting of Garrett Steinmetz, the grit of Tyler Parker and mountainous Mirko Vojinovic.
But it isn’t an all-new cast this season and with the addition of some star-power recruits, the Bison are hopeful of another march in March. All-NAIA-Tournament forward Kevin Swinton returns, as do point guard Tim Bowman, key reserves Emmanuel Wilson and Heath McKay, as well as Hayden Blessing.
For the most part, however, it will be a group of players whose ring fingers aren’t reminding them of their 2010 accomplishments.
“It may actually be a blessing that we don’t have a whole bunch of guys back,” said OBU Coach Doug Tolin. “This is a whole new team and a group of guys and it’s going to be a process. I hope we go back to work.
“We’re going to try to be a good team. We hope we can get back to Kansas City. And if we can get there, we’re certainly going to give it everything we’ve got to stick around.”
But March takes preparation and this year’s schedule is March-like as early as November. The Bison play NAIA Tournament regulars LSU-Shreveport and MidAmerica Nazarene in addition to exhibitions with Southeastern and East Central and the meat-grinder Sooner Athletic Conference schedule.
“This schedule, without a doubt, is the toughest we’ve played since I’ve been here,” said Tolin. “There are going to be some tough days in the process. Now, I hope we win and learn things. You don’t always have to lose to learn things. But these are going to be tough games.”
OBU will have its floor leaders with Swinton leading the front court. The 6-8 senior averaged 13.8 points and 6.2 rebounds last season.
“Kevin played his best basketball of the year in the postseason,” said Tolin. “With the illness and time he missed, he was in mid-season form in March and he’s done a good job of building on that. He has improved over the summer.”
Joining Swinton in the paint will be newcomers David Jefferson, Derick Echols, Dennis Toliver and Winston Edwards.
Jefferson, a 6-8 junior from Virginia Beach, spent last year learning the Bison style on the bench. Tolliver is a 6-9 sophomore from South Mountain College, Edwards is a 6-8 junior from South Georgia Tech and Echols is a 6-5 junior from Paris Junior College.
“David has a lot of ability and he can present a lot of problems for defenses because he can shoot it outside and score inside,” Tolin said. “Winston hasn’t practiced yet. He had knee surgery and we’re not sure yet what he’ll be able to do. Dennis had shoulder surgery and he’s just recently gotten his medical release so he’s still catching up from the summer. We’re really lucky to have Derick. He can do a lot of different thing. Every good team needs a guy like Derick.”
The back court is loaded with talent and championship experience. In addition to Bowman, Wilson, McKay and Blessing, the Bison have added Nicholls State transfer Maurice Foster, Ohio University transfer Allen Hester, Seminole State transfer Jacobi Isham, freshmen Cale Jackson and Jayson Scroggins and promoted Matt Sehorn from the junior varsity.
Bowman averaged 8.6 points per game last season, Wilson averaged 6.5 and McKay was Bowman’s backup and played in all 36 games last season.
“We may need Tim to score more this year,” said Tolin, “and he ’ll probably draw the toughest defensive assignment this year. That was A.J.’s responsibility last year, but there were a couple of time at the national tournament that Tim stepped up and took that job for us.
“E-man was playing really well last year before he got hurt and he didn’t quite get back to 100 percent,” Tolin said. “Our expectations are high for him this year and he’s been preparing for that. Heath started a couple of games last year and played well. He’s becoming the type of player that you really want to have on the floor more. Hayden has improved a lot since his freshman year.”
Keeping fresh legs at the guard spot shouldn’t be a difficulty with Foster, Hester and Isham leading the newcomers.
“Maurice is a strong athlete,” Tolin said. “I don’t want to compare him to A.J., but he does a lot of good things. He can shoot it and he can get to the basket. Allen is quick, athletic and he is a good shooter. He has a good chance to help us. Jacobi is solid and will really help us at the defensive end. He’s versatile and he makes the teams he’s on better.”
Jackson and Scroggins will make a bid for playing time as true freshmen. Jackson comes from Bethel High School and Scroggins from Hirschi High School in Wichita Falls, Texas. Sehorn has paid his dues at the junior varsity level.
Tolin kept the coaching staff in place from last year with son Kyle Tolin as associate head coach and Justin Williams back as the graduate assistant. Volunteer assistant Trey Hendon has joined the staff.
The Bison begin the season Nov. 1, hosting Central Bible College.