Sunday, January 31, 2010

A tough home loss to Sioux Falls ... what happened?

Reggie Williams from the Sioux Falls Skyforce came up and was looking over my shoulder at the final box score. I told him he'd played a good game and really tore it up in the fourth quarter. He just shook his head.

"I can't believe I fouled out," Williams said. "I think that's the first time I've ever fouled out of a game."

Williams had to look hard to find a blemish on his performance on Sunday afternoon after he and Raymond Sykes carried the Skyforce in the fourth quarter on their way to a 113-106 win. It was a big win for Sioux Falls, who came into the game 1-10 on the road and losers of their last seven away from South Dakota, and there were two big reasons for their win.

1. The run. With Tulsa holding a one-point lead late in the third quarter, Sioux Falls put together a 15-3 run to seize control. Tulsa would never get back within three points the rest of the way, thanks in large part to Sykes and Williams. Tulsa couldn't keep Sykes off the boards as he had 12 points and six rebounds in the fourth quarter. Williams, meanwhile, did what he always does ... score. He finished with a game-high 25 points, including 11 in the final period. Put Williams and Sykes together and they combined to hit 23 of the Skyforce's 35 points in the fourth quarter.

2. Free throws. Looking for a stat that jumps out? How about Sioux Falls shooting 44 free throws (making 34) and Tulsa shooting just 24 (making 18)? That's a 16-point difference at the charity stripe.

"They were aggressive throughout the game and they were rewarded for it," Tulsa head coach Nate Tibbetts said.

Sioux Falls was also aggressive on the boards, outrebounding Tulsa 45-37. How about the Skyforce's Greg Stiemsma's line on the night? Eight points, 10 rebounds, four blocks, and four assists ... a nice set of stats for the big man.

Now it's off to the road for the 66ers, starting with a pair of games against the Utah Flash. Tulsa is 2-1 against Utah this year.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Looking back at Iowa and ahead to Sioux Falls

While talking to Tulsa head coach Nate Tibbetts earlier today, I asked him if Tulsa's 111-87 win over Iowa on Friday night was a measuring stick type of win for him and his team. When you beat the best team in the league (only the sixth time all year they had been beaten) and hand them their worst loss of the season, it's an appopriate time to see exactly where your team is, correct?

"From a player's standpoint, I think it showed once again that we can play with anyone in the league, including the premier teams," Tibbetts told me. "We have to come out, compete, and give ourselves a chance to win. When we do that, our team is moving in the right direction."

Tulsa will try to keep moving in the right direction against a Sioux Falls team that they have beaten three out of four meetings this season, including a 2-0 mark at the Tulsa Convention Center. Those two road losses to open 2010 are just part of a 1-10 road record amassed by the Skyforce this season.

Keeping Sioux Falls struggling on the road will mean that the 66ers will have to try to contain forward Reggie Williams, who comes to Tulsa as the D-League's fifth-leading scorer at 25.8 points per game. Williams has been tough on Tulsa this season, scoring 31 points in each of the two games in Tulsa and exploding for 43 points in an overtime loss to Tulsa at Sioux Falls.

DeVon Hardin is back in the lineup for the 66ers after an injury and will make a difference down low against Williams and D-League shot blocking sensation Greg Stiemsma.

"We have to bring DeVon along slowly," Tibbetts said. "His presence in the paint is huge for us."

Speaking of the paint, Latavious Williams is becoming more and more of a force on the glass. His 18-point, 18-rebound effort in Thursday night's loss had the league buzzing, and he added nine more boards in Friday night's win.

"He's worked hard in practice all year, but he has really ramped it up lately," Tibbetts told me. "It's good to see him have that success because he's worked hard for it. It's all about learning how to be a pro basketball player, and Tay is learning more and more every day."

One more note about Sunday's game ... it is Tulsa's last one at home for a while and marks the beginning of a stretch when the 66ers will only play twice in Tulsa in February (single games against Maine and Springfield). Home court has to be an advantage for Tulsa on Sunday, even if the ice and snow keep the majority of fans from making the game.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Things to watch tonight in Sioux Falls

As the Tulsa 66ers look to move to 4-0 on the season against Sioux Falls tonight in South Dakota, here are three keys to the game.

1. The inside play. Chris Richard looked better last night, grabbing a game-high 13 rebounds for Tulsa. However, there were some troubling signs. Sioux Falls outscored Tulsa 66-48 in the paint and outdid Tulsa in blocked shots 7-4 (with Greg Stiemsma having five blocks for the Skyforce). Tulsa and Sioux Falls were even in terms of rebounds last night, and it was Richard grabbing the inside boards and Mustafa Shakur harnessing the long rebounds (he had eight) that paced the 66ers.

Make no mistake that Sioux Falls will look to pound the ball inside to Stiemsma and Keith Brumbaugh tonight.

2. Shakur's play. Tulsa's point guard carried his team when they needed it most last night, including scoring eight of his season-high 32 points in overtime. Will Shakur be able to keep up the pace or will his shoulders be tired tonight? If he can drive and score, then dish off when covered, Tulsa will find success. He is the catalyst of this team and is currently Tulsa's best shot to be a D-League All-Star.

3. Quality minutes. With only eight players going last night for the 66ers, there can be no weak links. Everyone stepped up last night, contributing at different times and in different ways. It's going to take that kind of mentality to pull off another win tonight in Sioux Falls. The old saying, "a chain is only as strong as its weakest link" is very appropriate for Tulsa right now.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Inclement weather makes a change in the schedule

After Tulsa's big overtime win on Friday night, the 66ers didn't expect the Skyforce to have another shot at them so soon ... but Mother Nature had other plans.

Due to inclement weather in the Dakotas, the Tulsa 66ers will remain in Sioux Falls and play the Skyforce tomorrow night at 7 p.m., rather than travel to Bismarck and face the Dakota Wizards. The Los Angeles D-Fenders will remain in Bismarck this weekend and will play the Dakota Wizards on Sunday at noon.

More thoughts on this later, but if folks who observe the D-League don't know how valuable Mustafa Shakur is to the 66ers, they need to take up another sport. Shakur carried a team (with only nine players) who desperately needed a win tonight on his back. Nice job Mustafa.

D-League All-Star voters ... put him in the All-Star game!

Thoughts heading into Sioux Falls tonight

Head coach Nate Tibbetts returns to South Dakota tonight as the 66ers begin an important two-game swing through the Dakotas. Tibbetts spend the last four seasons with the Sioux Falls Skyforce, including two as their head coach, so there will be plenty of familiar faces tonight when the 66ers match up with Sioux Falls. However nice the homecoming might be, I'm sure Tibbetts is much more concerned about seeing his Tulsa team get back on track than shaking a few hands and talking about the good old days.

Sioux Falls has a bit of revenge in mind as Tulsa won two games at the Convention Center to start the year, but this is a different 66ers team than the Skyforce saw when they came to Oklahoma ... and Sioux Falls has a missing piece back in its puzzle as well. Greg Stiemsma was injured and did not play in either game for Sioux Falls, and Tulsa heads north without D.J. White in the middle. In addition, Tulsa is only traveling nine to the Dakotas with Zabian Dowdell no longer on the Tulsa roster. Nothing official has come from the 66ers yet, but plenty of social media sites are reporting that Dowdell has left the 66ers to join Unicaja in Spain, part of an exodus of D-Leaguers heading overseas in the last couple of weeks.

Can Tulsa win on the road with nine players this weekend against what should be a stronger Sioux Falls team? Absolutely, but it's going to take the 66ers rediscovering their chemistry (see my previous post) and Chris Richard returning to his old form in the middle.

Stay tuned...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Five things Tulsa has to work on this week before heading to the Dakotas

Tulsa 66ers head coach Nate Tibbetts told me after Sunday afternoon’s loss to Erie that his team needed to return to the gym this week and find their chemistry. The 66ers did look to be in a bit of a funk this weekend, which certainly didn’t help as a tough Erie team came to town for a double-header. Erie left town with two wins in two games and Tulsa was left scratching its collective head to figure out exactly what happened.

In my opinion, five things contributed to the two losses this weekend … and they are things that Tulsa will need to correct before heading to the Dakotas for a pair of games this weekend.

1. Chemistry. Coach Tibbetts is right … the team just didn’t seem like the team that won six games in eight outings heading into the Erie series. The home games against Austin and Erie were the first time all season that Tulsa had played without an Oklahoma City Thunder assignee, and it certainly appeared that the team missed the presence of D.J. White (and/or Byron Mullens) this weekend. Chris Richard was signed on Thursday and thrust into action, but he has some more work to do to become the Chris Richard who was an All-Star game selection for Tulsa last season before his injury. Whether it’s learning the Thunder offense or blending in with almost completely different players from last year, Richard needs to be more of a force this weekend in the Dakotas. A Tulsa team with a strong inside presence is a better Tulsa team.

2. Injuries. Tulsa played Sunday afternoon’s game against Erie with just seven players. With big men DeVon Hardin and Steven Hill unavailable (actually Hill is not currently on the roster, but you sense he could be brought back any time), Erie certainly seemed to have its way on the boards at critical moments. Also, Cecil Brown’s groin injury on Saturday night was huge. Brown is one of Tulsa’s best clutch shooters, and he and his 13.5 points per game average was certainly missed. Zabian Dowdell was dressed and sat the bench on Sunday for unspecified reasons, taking away another 66ers playmaker.

3. Shooting. There will be times that shots just won’t fall, and that’s what happened this weekend. Credit a strong Erie defense for an all-around solid game on both days, but Tulsa had its chances both days to come away with a victory. The shots just wouldn’t drop in the end, even though Mustafa Shakur and Larry Owens both had good looks at the basket for game-tying 3-pointers on Sunday.

4. The killer instinct. Both games this weekend, Tulsa took a fourth-quarter lead and had a chance to deliver a knockout punch, but couldn’t hit the shot, get the rebound, or make the pass when it had to do it. It’s the first time this season that Tulsa had been out of synch when it had the opportunity to take the game away from the opposition. The 66ers have to rediscover how to make the critical plays in critical situations this weekend. Some of it comes from confidence, and a frustrated Tulsa team seemed to have its confidence shaken at times this weekend.

5. Individual defense. The 66ers and the parent Thunder are emphatic about defense, and there were times that it just wasn’t there this weekend. Tulsa needs to rediscover its defensive intensity and play the solid man defense that has been lacking at times in the last four games dating back to the Utah win at the D-League Showcase in Boise. I have a feeling Coach Tibbetts will remind his players of that this week in practice.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A pretty simple formula equals a Tulsa loss

When the ball doesn't go in the hole, you're not going to win a lot of games. For Tulsa, Saturday night was the first time in eight games that the 66ers hadn't hit 50 percent or better from the field. It was an uphill battle from the start as Tulsa missed 16 of its first 22 shots. The end result? A 97-91 victory by visiting Erie.

Tulsa finished hitting just 40.8 percent from the field ... but that's a marked improvement in the second half from the 30 percent the 66ers were shooting at intermission.

Let's face it ... teams have games when they're going to shoot poorly, and this was one of those for the 66ers. It happens. It's a fact of basketball that it will happen. However, don't overlook the early injury to Cecil Brown as a big factor in Tulsa's shooting woes. Brown, who Tulsa head coach Nate Tibbetts says always hits a big shot in every game, appeared to pull his groin less than four minutes into the game and never returned. He didn't score in the contest, and his 13.5 points per contest were sorely missed by Tulsa on Saturday night.

Despite the cold shooting night, Tulsa battled back from a 14-point deficit to take an 87-86 lead on Deron Washington’s follow dunk with 3:35 to play. Erie, however, would finish the game on an 11-4 run, including hitting five of six free throws in the game’s final minute, to ice the victory.

"I can't fault our effort, especially in the second half," Tibbetts told me after the game. "We gave ourselves a chance, but we didn’t make the plays that we needed to make if we were going to win the game."

Basketball memories in the D-League are very shortlived with back-to-back scheduling. Tulsa will need to erase Saturday night quickly if they're going to earn a split with a streaking Erie team that has won five of their last six games.

Tulsa-Erie preview

I was glad to be able to chat via e-mail with Erie's Matt Hubert from Blog Talk BayHawk to size up this weekend's double-header between Tulsa and Erie at the Convention Center. You can read my thoughts on the 66ers and on the weekend's series by clicking below.

click here to read the entry from Blog Talk BayHawk

Friday, January 15, 2010

Looking back at Austin and ahead to Erie

With a schedule that features just two home games in the month of February, there's no question that the Tulsa 66ers have to take care of business at home in January. That's exactly what they did last night against Austin, posting a 103-95 decision over the Toros.

Four thoughts about last night's game...

1. Despite being outsized, Tulsa held its own in the paint, barely being outrebounded by Austin 43-40. Coach Nate Tibbetts and his staff has stressed the importance of rebounding all week and you could tell that the players have listened. It's also not such a bad thing to have a smaller lineup as Tulsa's guards were able to grab rebounds and push the ball up the court last night against the Toros.

2. Mustafa Shakur saved the best for last. Struggling through three periods, Shakur had 14 of his team-high 22 points in the fourth quarter, including six big free throws in the game's final 62 seconds. Shakur also scored 14 of Tulsa's 27 points in the final period. Despite a relatively forgettable night, Shakur controlled things down the stretch for the 66ers and looked solid when the team needed a leader.

3. Deron Washington made a difference. Tibbetts called him a spark after the game, and the description is a good one as Washington paced Tulsa's aggressive tone in the second half with several drives to the bucket. He just missed on a fourth-quarter reverse dunk that would've sent the crowd into a frenzy.

4. Speaking of the crowd, it was a season-high 4,298 inside the Convention Center last night. You could tell the Tulsa players and coaches appreciated the crowd as they stayed around after the game to exchange high-fives and chat with fans. Tibbetts told me afterwards how much the loud crowd meant to the team.

Four thoughts about Erie, who comes to Tulsa for games on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

1. Tulsa has to keep John Bryant away from the basket. Bryant is a 6-foot-11, 300-pound center who has used his size to do plenty of damage in the paint this season. Bryant is averaging 13.9 points and 10.7 rebounds per contest, good enough for fifth in the league.

“Erie is a well-coached, hard-nosed team and they have a great big guy in John Bryant,” Tibbetts told me. “We have to meet him in the lane early, because once he gets under the basket, you really can’t move him out of there.”

2. Shakur and Dowdell have to keep an eye on Cedric Jackson. Jackson is coming off a 31-point performance in a win over Fort Wayne.

“Jackson is playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Tibbetts agreed. “Overall, Erie has a lot of good young players. I think we’re in for a pair of grind-them-out, tough games.”

3. Will the three-guard starting lineup make another appearance? Looks like it's a very real possibility. With a smaller lineup, Tibbetts tweaked his starters before Thursday’s game against Austin, starting three guards. Dowdell and Cecil Brown started alongside Shakur, with Larry Owens and Chris Richard manning the blocks.

“I was very happy with the way our lineup played against Austin,” Tibbetts said. “I thought Larry really set the tone for us in the first half. He was playing the four position instead of his normal three, but he’s a versatile player and that’s one of the things that makes him such a good player.”

Tibbetts told me the new lineup isn't a knock against Moses Ehambe (who had started every game for Tulsa prior to Thursday) or Latavious Williams. It's just a chance to get some guys off the bench some starts.

4. Williams continues to impress when he's in. Six rebounds and a blocked shot in 12 minutes last night? A typical stat line for Williams, who isn't get a ton of playing time, but is making a difference when he's in there.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thoughts at halftime

A few random thoughts as I peruse the box score...

1. Austin has 19 free throw attempts while Tulsa has just two in the first half. Luckily for the 66ers, Austin has only hit 9-of-19 from the line.

2. To paraphrase Dennis Green, Dwayne Jones is who we thought he was. His nine points and 10 rebounds in the first half show he's as good as advertised.

3. Malik Hairston definitely makes this a better team. Coach Nate Tibbetts told me yesterday that he thought Hairston was one of the best wing players in the league, and he's flashed that brilliance at times in the first half.

4. It may take some time for Chris Richard to get back in the flow. He's just taken one shot and has just three rebounds.

5. Marcus Lewis is playing and making a difference, with three boards in eight-plus minutes.

6. Latavious Williams still has some crazy rebounds-per-minute averages, with a team-high five boards in just under nine minutes in the first half.

Why Marcus Lewis may be the X-factor tonight

Before the 66ers resigned Chris Richard earlier today, the biggest question heading into tonight's West Conference showdown was ... How would the 66ers slow down the rebounding machine known as Dwayne Jones, who is averaging a league-high 15.1 boards per game for the Austin Toros?

On the surface, Jones' trip into Tulsa tonight seems to come at a bad time for the 66ers. Oklahoma City has recalled both Byron Mullens and D.J. White (both big men who were averaging double digits in rebounds) so the two biggest Tulsa guns are now in Oklahoma City.

After practice yesterday, I sat down with Tulsa head coach Nate Tibbetts and asked him how he planned to account for Jones. He mentioned two names ... Steven Hill and Marcus Lewis. Now granted, things have changed dramatically since yesterday. Richard was signed and Hill has been released because of an injury, but Lewis is still there ... and an enigma in some ways.

The rookie out of Oral Roberts hasn't seen much playing time lately. At the D-League Showcase, Lewis didn't play against Utah and saw just three minutes of court time against Albuquerque (where he posted no points and one rebound). He played a combined 22 minutes in the two wins to start the calendar year against Sioux Falls, meaning he's averaging a little more than six minutes per game in 2010. Yet, on Wednesday, Tibbetts spoke very highly of Lewis and his chances to make a difference against Austin.

"He's prepared himself for games like this by working hard in practice," Tibbetts said. "He's a tough guy and he works hard every day to get better. Sometimes rookies don't get a lot of playing time in this league, but he's one of the guys who'll be given a chance to step up against Austin."

Lewis, Richard, and Latavious Williams will have their hands full against Jones, who has a knack for getting on the boards. If Lewis can help to neutralize Jones or at least control him, it'll be his biggest contribution of the season thus far.

66ers re-acquire former NBA D-League all-star Chris Richard

With Austin coming to town tonight, the big question has been who would be putting a body on Dwayne Jones, the league's leading rebounder. The answer may have just come when the 66ers re-acquired Chris Richard.

The number one overall selection in the 2008 NBA D-League Draft, Richard (6-9, 255) played in 20 games for the 66ers during the 2008-09 season, averaging 12.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 1.3 assists. Richard was selected to the NBA D-League All-Star Game last season, but did not play due to injury.

Richard played in six preseason games for the Chicago Bulls earlier this season, averaging 3.5 points and 5.3 rebounds.

The University of Florida product won two national championships while in college.

To make room on the roster, the 66ers released center Steven Hill due to injury. Richard will wear jersey number 32 and will be in uniform for tonight’s home game against Austin at 7 p.m. CST.

More thoughts on the Austin game tonight coming later...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Five things we learned in Boise

Shortly after the Tulsa 66ers dropped a 101-97 decision to Albuquerque on Thursday afternoon, head coach Nate Tibbetts was still upbeat.

"When you have good effort, you're pleased. For two games here at the Showcase, we played hard."

It was a simple statement, but shows in a way how far the 66ers have come this season. Last year, Tulsa dropped numerous close games and each one seemed to deflate the 66ers a little more. This year, Tibbetts and his crew can point to positives and look ahead.

At 10-7, Tulsa is in the thick of things in the West Conference standings. With a week off to rest before Austin comes to town for what could be a key game, Tibbetts and his squad will look to work on the ever-present "little things" to make the team better.

So what are the main takeaways from Boise?

1. Tulsa is better. It's an obvious statement, but it's also a sentiment that is being shared around the league. One scout sitting next to me told me there's no question Tulsa is the most improved team in the league. The players are more active on both ends of the court and the concept of teamwork has been grasped.

2. Latavious gathered plenty of attention. Overhearing so many scouts and reading so many blogs and Twitter updates, Latavious Williams was one of the stars that everyone had to see in Boise. One even said that seeing Williams was worth the trip to Boise. An interesting comment, considering Williams was absent the entire fourth quarter against Albuquerque and also sat the bench during crunch time in Tuesday's win against Utah. Still, despite the late disappearance, Williams grabbed 11 rebounds on Thursday, tying a season high. "He's quite a specimen," one scout told me. "And he has so much room for improvement."

3. Cecil Brown is clutch. He hit the big shots against Utah, and started the fourth quarter against Albuquerque with a 3. "Cecil always seems to hit a big shot or two for us during a game," Tibbetts said.

4. Defense wins ... or at least impresses. When Tulsa put the clamps on Albuquerque's Carlos Powell, holding him to four points in a 34-minute stretch, it was a manifestation of Tulsa's improvement. Defense is a priority for the 66ers and the parent Oklahoma City Thunder, and Deron Washington's defense (as well as others who rotated through) on Powell was impressive.

5. Mustafa Shakur is the real deal. Tulsa's point guard drew praise for his big fourth-quarter play and 24 points in the Utah win, and had plenty of scouts scribbling notes about him on Thursday. A 17-point, five-assist game was nice, but he missed all three field goal attempts in the fourth quarter and didn't score in the period. That will happen, and for Shakur, it's a rarity when he falls off the scoring radar. There's no doubt he raised his stock this week in Boise.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Winning, even when not playing

There's no question that Tulsa is one of the hottest teams in the NBA D-League, winning six of their last seven games to pull within 1.5 games of West Conference front-runner Rio Grande Valley. A win tomorrow over Albuquerque would not only add to Tulsa's win total, but would also allow Tulsa to finish 2-0 at the Showcase, a feat that only one other West Conference team (the host Idaho Stampede) could claim (provided Idaho beats Ft. Wayne tonight). RGV lost in the opening game of the Showcase to Albuquerque in an upset and now finds Idaho and Tulsa breathing down their necks for the conference lead.

Of course, Idaho will now have to make up for the loss of Sundiata Gaines, who was called up to the Utah Jazz on Tuesday, so it will be interesting to see what affect (if any) the loss of the league's seventh-leading scorer will have on the Stampede.

Also, Tulsa will get some national love on March 13 when they face Rio Grande Valley on the road. The VERSUS Network is scheduled to cover the game live at 11 pm ET. Considering it could be a critical game in the West standings, good call by VERSUS to have this as the D-League nationally televised game of the week. It's the only time Tulsa will appear on VERSUS during the regular season ... but the network will be televising the postseason as well.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sitting down with Sam Presti

I had the pleasure of chatting with Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti after Tulsa secured a 99-96 win over the Utah Flash at the D-League Showcase on Tuesday. Here's our conversation...

Q: The 66ers have vastly improved this year. The Thunder has vastly improved as well. Are the two related?
Presti: We're pleased that we're making progress with both teams. Both teams still have a long ways to go, and we're going to continue to look for ways to improve both teams. We think our efforts makes these teams an even more valuable item to the fans in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

Q: Defense seems to be one of the keys to both teams' improvement, correct?
Presti: We wanted to focus on defense in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. It's important for us to continue to grow defensively as an organization, and Tulsa is a part of that organization. We try to duplicate all of our processes at the D-League level, and it will take time and persistence for that to pay off.

Q: How important is it to have Tulsa and OKC so close and have such a close working relationship between the two?
Presti: It's a tremendous advantage for us. The ability to assign a player to Tulsa and watch him continue to develop is critical. The coaching staff that's present in Tulsa was with us during the summer and Tulsa is running a system that is identical to the one we're running in Oklahoma City. It's great to have the opporutnity to not only have up-and-coming players in Tulsa, but up-and-coming coaches as well.

We feel like we're much further ahead in terms of synergy than we were last year, and we've put more energy and focus into building that synergy. We're committed to continuing to build that synergy. The players and coaches in Tulsa are part of the Thunder family.

Q: D.J. White is currently assigned to the 66ers. Talk about his progress.
Presti: D.J. did a tremendous job this summer and we're very pleased with his progress. He’s a hard-working, humble, team-first player and those are qualities that provide a great platform for a player on the NBA level.

Q: The Thunder seems to gravitate toward players you just described, right?
Presti: We're not the judge and jury on people as people. We try to identify people who can best fit into our system. We try to find players who are professional, have a strong work ethic, and will be strong citizens.

Q: You recently recalled Byron Mullens from Tulsa. What are some of the things you saw him improve while he was in Tulsa?
Presti: One of the things we wanted was for him to develop a better rhythm on the court. The development staff in Oklahoma City had specific goals for him while he was in Tulsa. It wasn't about how many points he could score. There are more finer points in learning our system than just scoring. He had to be on the floor to be able to learn that, and Tulsa provided the perfect place for that to happen.

Q: Oklahoma City is a young team. Tulsa is a young team. Youth seems to be an important thing to your organization, correct?
Presti: We want to develop young guys. We want to get to know them and work with them. If they go on to do bigger and better things with other teams, we'll know that the Thunder had a hand in their development.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Catching up with Keith Clark

Yes, the "Moose" is alive and well and enjoying his time in L.A. Visiting with the former Tulsa 66er after his team lost a 113-111 contest to the Maine Red Claws, Clark was just as personable and bubbly as ever. Here's our conversation...

So were you surprised when you were told you'd been traded?
Clark: Oh man. That was one of the most shocking calls I've ever had in my life. Coach called me and said they had made a trade and I was involved. I never thought I'd be leaving Tulsa that early. After I was told I'd been traded, I had to pack up my stuff and get on the road so I could get to L.A. in time for their next game.

And how has the reception been for you in L.A.?
Clark: It's been great. The guys have taken me in and they're talking to me, helping me out with the plays and offense. They're being like brothers to me.

Speaking of the offense, what is it like learning the triangle offense?
Clark (laughing): Learning the triangle has been one of the hardest things I've ever gone through mentally. It's hard to know where to go and where you're supposed to be, but I am getting used to it and my teammates are helping me with it as well.

How are you liking L.A. overall?
Clark: The weather's nice. I've been just trying to fit in and get a feel for everyone. It's been great. I'm happy.

Talking to Joey Dorsey of Rio Grande Valley...

Tulsa has faced no team more this season than Rio Grande Valley, so I thought I'd take a few minutes here in Boise to talk to Joey Dorsey of the Vipers (assignee of the Houston Rockets) about the season so far and his views on the art of rebounding. I caught up with him shortly after the Vipers dropped a 101-84 decision to Albuquerque.

On the team chemistry so far this season..."The last few games we've really played together as a team. We've been passing the ball well and everyone has been playing their roles. We don't have any excuses for losing today. We got a little selfish and weren't playing any defense."

On his health..."I've been battling some knee problems and tried to come back against L.A. (on Sunday). On the flight here, it started bothering me again and I had some fluid on my knee. Because of that, I wasn't able to help my team as much as I wanted today."

On his philosophy of rebounding..."I just try to beat my guy out. Position is everything. I've watched a lot of Dennis Rodman and Ben Wallace and some of the undersized guys who are great rebounders. It's trying to find the ball and where it's going to go off the rim. You have to be active, and you have to be more active than the other guy."

On being the leader in the West Conference..."If you don't like the pressure, why are you playing basketball? I want to be a leader. We need to keep playing together and keep improving our team chemistry."

Sunday, January 3, 2010

What I learned about the 66ers this weekend

After an impressive two-game sweep of the Sioux Falls Skyforce, here are just a few thoughts about what I saw from Tulsa this weekend.

1. Teamwork. Moses Ehambe told me that the presence of "team" was one of the big differences between this year's 66ers and last year's, and that team concept showed itself this weekend. Mustafa Shakur and Zabian Dowdell personify the point guard position with their abilities to drive and dish. Shakur had seven assists and Dowdell added five on Sunday night, totaling 12 between them versus just four turnovers.

But it isn't just from the point guard position that you can see how the 66ers are sharing the ball more this year. The team seems to be making that one extra pass this year that wasn't being made last year, and it's paying off with some wide-open looks.

2. Shooting. Right now, the 66ers are on fire from the field. The 66ers never trailed in either of their weekend wins, shooting a combined 58.9 percent from the floor in their two victories. Ehambe showed his shooting skills on Sunday, hitting 5-of-6 shots overall and 3-of-3 from 3-point range.

Why the sudden heat? Watching the 66ers practice over the holidays, it's easy to see that practice is making pretty good (can't say perfect there) right now. The drills are not only making a difference, but so is the extra time the players put in after practice on their own. As Coach Nate Tibbetts is fond of saying, it's the little things that are making a difference right now.

3. Latavious Williams. In some ways, you have to feel a bit for Williams, a guy who can't legally drink yet and is learning NBA-style basketball on the fly. Yes, there's pressure. Yes, there are a lot of eyeballs watching to see how Williams does this year in the D-League. Yes, this was his choice to pursue the D-League road. Still ... it's a play that is being enacted in front of a big audience.

This weekend, Williams started both games and looked solid on Sunday afternoon. He hit two medium-range jumpers and scrapped for rebounds. His final numbers? 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting, 11 rebounds, and 3 steals. Sunday was his first career double-double, and you get the feeling it's the first of many coming his way.

4. D.J. makes a difference. D.J. White is an animal on the boards. His 17 rebounds, including 12 on the defensive glass, tied a team season high. With Steven Hill and DeVon Hardin both nursing injuries, White played in the middle for both games against Sioux Falls and did a good job controlling the paint.

These are some thoughts. There will be plenty more from Boise. I leave for Idaho in the morning and will give more opinions from Qwest Arena...

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A look inside Saturday night's Tulsa-Sioux Falls boxscore

What layoff? Sure, Tulsa had played just two games in 12 days, but you couldn't tell there was any rust on the 66ers on Saturday night after watching them post a 126-110 victory over Sioux Falls.

On the surface, there was plenty to notice. The 126 points tied for the fourth-highest total in franchise history, and Tulsa PR man Ryan Williams will probably be up most of the night rewriting the season highs page in the media advisories handed out before each game. You just knew it was going to be that kind of night when Tulsa broke its previous season highs in scoring for the first and second quarter (and of course, first half).

Here are some of the things that stood out to me about Saturday night's scoring outburst ... and yeah, the 66ers' eighth win of the season.

1. The shooting percentage. Tulsa hit 60.2 percent of its shots, including 56.5 percent from 3-point range. Cecil Brown, who led Tulsa with 24 points, hit 8 of his 11 shots and 4 of 5 from behind the arc.

Oh, and as a side note, Sioux Falls shot 50.6 percent from the field. It's not often you'll lose a game by 16 points when you make more than half of your shots.

2. Assists to turnovers. Head coach Nate Tibbetts pointed it out before I could ask him about it -- Tulsa point guards Mustafa Shakur and Zabian Dowdell combined for 16 points and just two turnovers. In all, Tulsa had 24 assists on the night, paced by Dowdell's 10.

Tibbetts told me after the game he liked how his team shared the ball on Saturday night, and it is a mark of this year's 66ers squads versus years past. This team plays as a team, and that was evident on Saturday night.

3. Balanced scoring for the 66ers. Seven of the nine 66ers players who saw game action on Saturday night finished in double figures. Larry Owens continues to impress, logging 20 points and nine rebounds on Saturday. There's something about Owens in recent games that seems to indicate he's ready to take the scoring role on his shoulders when needed.

One of the players who didn't finish in double figures was Latavious Williams, who is still learning how to play in the D-League. There's no question he has talent, but there's also no question that there's still a learning curve ahead of the 20-year-old. Williams and Sioux Falls center Keith Brumbaugh had a heated exchange toward the end of the game, and the flagrant foul called on Williams with 1:53 to play was part of the reason why he fouled out of the contest. It'll be interesting to see if there's any carryover between the two on Sunday afternoon.

4. The missing big men. Tulsa's Steven Hill and DeVon Hardin each missed the game with injury, and Greg Stiemsma of Sioux Falls also sat out with a foot injury. The missing big men forced Tulsa's D.J. White and Sioux Falls' Brumbaugh to man the middle, and both did a nice job. I was impressed with Brumbaugh, especially his touch from long range. He hit 4-of-6 from 3-point range and had 10 of his 30 points in the third quarter when the Skyforce narrowed Tulsa's lead to as little as five points.

White, assigned to Tulsa from Oklahoma City, had a quiet, productive game, totaling 17 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, including three on the offensive end. He was also 7-of-10 from the floor.

Tulsa and Sioux Falls meet again at 4 p.m. CT on Sunday.

Tulsa-Sioux Falls preview

My article from the Tulsa World, discussing the history of Tulsa 66ers head coach Nate Tibbetts with Sioux Falls.

Click here to read the article on