With the very experienced back court and five new players, the 2011-12 Oklahoma Baptist University basketball team hopes to live up to its high preseason billing.

With the very experienced back court and five new players, the 2011-12 Oklahoma Baptist University basketball team hopes to live up to its high preseason billing.

The Bison are ranked seventh in the NAIA and picked to win the Sooner Athletic Conference. They’ll rely on fifth-year seniors Emmanuel Wilson and Heath McKay to provide leadership and the perimeter scoring threat.

“There’s no doubt those guys are better players than when they showed up here five years ago,” said OBU Coach Doug Tolin.

“E-man has improved a bunch since last season. He, Heath and Jacobi Isham all stayed here last year and worked hard and have made big improvements. People are going to be surprised to see how much Emmanuel has improved.”

“Heath has really turned into a team leader and a good point guard,” Tolin said. “I don’t know if he’s a Brent Jones-type that will play 35 minutes every night, but we’ll see.”

Tolin said the team is debating on Isham to either split time with McKay or redshirt this season and be the projected starter for next season.

“We have to decide pretty quickly on that,” Tolin said. “Redshirting will help Jacobi, but what does it do to the team? We’ve got to figure that out. If he does play, we’ve got a lot of depth at the point.”

Cale Jackson, a redshirt freshman from Bethel, will be the back-up point guard if Isham sits out the season, Tolin said.

“Red-shirting Cale was absolutely the right decision last year,” Tolin said. “He’s made a lot of progress. He’s a good shooter and he’s going to be a good point guard for us.”

Wilson averaged 10.8 points per game last season, starting 31 of 33 games as the Bison went 24-9 and won its second straight SAC title. McKay played in every game and averaged five points. Both shot 40 percent or better from three-point range and both shot better than 80 percent at the free throw line.

Also returning is Derick Echols, who averaged 6.9 points last year and is ready to help the team again this season.

“Derick is a solid player and he worked hard this summer, also,” said Tolin. “Nobody in the league is going to work harder than Derick or give as much effort. His motor will run and he’s a team guy. He’s going to do the things no one else wants to do.”

Hayden Blessing, Matt Sehorn and Jayson Scroggins also return this season, though Sehorn and Scroggins are dealing with injuries that have slowed their progress.

The newcomers all expect to contribute to the team.

Deangelo McIntosh, a 6-6 senior transfer from Arkansas-Monticello, Marques Anderson, a 6-7 transfer from Grayson College and Kene Obi, a 7-1 transfer from DePaul, will give OBU a presence inside while Desmond

Griffin, a 6-4 Paris Junior College transfer and David Johnson, a 6-1 transfer from Waubonsee Community College, add to the talent pool from the guard end.

“Marques is one of those Grayson guys “He wants to be coached and he’s going to be a huge part of our plans,” Tolin said. He’s got good size in the post.”

“Deangelo is someone we’re going to count on this year,” said Tolin. “He’s a very versatile player. He can put the ball on the floor, shoot, score inside. He’s going to be a good player for us.”

Also in the post will be the 7-1 presence of Obi.

“There are going to be nights where he makes a difference,” said Tolin. “He makes people shoot over him and he’s got some skill under the basket.”

The new guards are Griffin and Johnson.

“Desmond is a really versatile player,” Tolin said. “He can do a lot of good things, but there are some things he needs to improve on. Fortunately, he’s very coachable. David Johnson is going to play and contribute and we really need him. These two guys are going to be really important to us, especially if Jacobi redshirts.”

The Bison will compete in the Sooner Athletic Conference, a league that will have major changes over the next few years. Southern Nazarene and Northwestern will be playing in the league for the last time. The league will be as strong as ever, Tolin said.

“There are six — and maybe more — legitimate national tournament teams in the league,” said Tolin. “It’s hard to win the league and go to the national tournament. That’s what our guys want to do, but it’s going to take a lot of work and they understand that. This group works hard.”

The season of work begins Tuesday Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. with a home date against Central Bible College.