Bison navigating nicely through wacky college basketball world
The ramifications of COVID-19, the transfer portal and a granted extra year of eligibility for student-athletes due to the pandemic have made the college basketball world a wacky and unpredictable scenario.
For Oklahoma Baptist University and head coach Jason Eaker, few negatives have come out of the situation. In fact, the Bison have appeared to come out ahead.
Eaker, who was named GAC Coach of the Year last season, has led OBU to back-to-back NCAA Division II Tournament appearances, but ironically was unable to coach in any games. His Bison qualified during the 2019-20 season, but the tournament was canceled due to the pandemic. OBU also qualified last season (2020-21) but Eaker was unable to coach because of testing positive for COVID-19 as the Bison beat Arkansas-Monticello before losing to Lubbock Christian in the tournament.
Now, Eaker sets his sights on getting the Bison to qualify for their third straight national tournament in hopes of finally getting to coach the team in a game there for the first time.
OBU, 16-6 and Great American Conference regular season champion for 2020-21, will welcome back all three of its team captains – 6-4 guard Brantly Thompson, 6-7 forward Harrison Stoddart and 6-4 guard Jaquan Simms – as second-year seniors due to the NCAA's granting of a year of eligibility because of COVID-19.
Thompson, who was named to the 2020-21 National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) South Central All-District Second Team and was a First Team All-GAC, averaged 13.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists for the Bison as they qualified for the NCAA Division II Tournament for the second straight season.
Stoddart, an All-GAC Second Team honoree, averaged 13.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.6 assists and Simms averaged 10.5 points, 4.1 boards and 3.0 assists.
Also back is 6-2 junior guard Trey Green, who started 19 of the team's 22 games last season. Green sported averages of 4.7 (points), 3.1 (rebounds) and 1.5 (assists).
OBU will also return the services of 6-5 forward Nigel Wilcox, who was impactful off the bench in 2020-21, averaging 8.5 points and 8.8 rebounds.
Jordan Thompson, a 6-0 guard, owned scoring and assist averages of 7.7 and 2.5 as a freshman. He is expected to make an impact in 2021-22 as a second-year freshman.
The only regular/starter not returning is 6-3 guard and All-GAC First Team pick Jarius Hicklen, who led the team last season with a 16.2 scoring average to go with 3.9 boards and 1.5 assists. Hicklen is transferring to NCAA Division I North Florida. He is expected to have at least two years of eligibility there and has already graduated from OBU with a degree.
Eaker and his coaching staff have signed three players – 6-6 D.J. Freeman, 6-8 big man D'Michael Bellfield and 6-4 Tyce Baldwin.
Freeman had a massive senior season at Casady High School in Oklahoma City where he sported scoring and rebounding averages of 28 points and 17 rebounds to go along with 2.7 blocks per game.
“We are really, really excited about having him,” said Eaker. “He's the best athlete in his class in the state of Oklahoma. There's not even a debate.”
Freeman played with Team Griffin EYBL and H&H Elite in AAU basketball.
Bellfield is transferring in from Weatherford Junior College in Texas.
“He's physical, has really good hands and has good (shooting) touch. He also has a good understanding of the game,” Eaker said. “He will have three years of eligibility left. It will take a lot for him to beat Nigel out, but we're really excited to have him.”
Bellfield comes from the same junior college which produced former OBU NAIA All-American Eric Cardenas and former Bison star Lamont Ford. Bellfield played for longtime Weatherford College coach Mark Osina as did Cardenas and Ford.
Baldwin averaged 16.9 points and 3.5 rebounds at Fossil Ridge High School in Fort Collins, Colo. Baldwin's father was a basketball standout at Marquette University.
“It might take a couple of years but he has ton of potential,” said Eaker. “He's a very well-spoken kid. I don't know if he'll help us right away, but if he does that will be a bonus.”
Eaker likes who is returning and who is coming in.
“It's a blessing to have Brantly, Harrison and Jaquan back and to have D.J. and Tyce as freshmen coming in,” Eaker said. “It's a great mixture of young kids and older kids.”
Eaker says the 2021 recruiting process is not finished.
“We're going to sign one or two transfers. Hopefully we can add one more dynamic guard,” said Eaker.