By Jeff Harrison
In a matter of weeks, the Midwest City boys basketball team went from favorites to underdogs.
And they don’t mind.
“We love being underdogs and want to shock people,” said senior Josh Rivers.
The Bombers lost two of their top senior players earlier this year. Keyshawn Embery, who signed to play at the University of Arkansas, moved to Florida to attend IMG Academy just before the start of the school year. Fellow senior Jalen Redmond, who committed to play football at the University Oklahoma, recently announced he will graduate early and attend college this spring.
“Everyone started doubting us as soon as one guy left and then found out the other wasn’t playing,” said senior DJ Walter. “We’ll play with an edge to prove people wrong.”
Midwest City coach Dewayne Bradley said his team has charged on this preseason, despite the loss of Embery and Redmond. The Bombers have shined in scrimmages against the Edmond schools, El Reno, Westmoore and Norman North.
“These guys play with an edge,” he said. “They play really well together and they really support each other.”
That tough mentality reminds Bradley of some of his most successful teams. The Bombers reached the state finals in 2010, 2011 and 2013, without any highly recruited players.
“That’s how our guys played several years ago when we were playing back-to-back state championship games,” Bradley said. “They played with an edge because no one thought they were really good and they weren’t being recruited by anyone. I don’t feel like we’ve had that edge the last couple years. And I like coaching these guys a lot.”
Walter, Rivers and Juwan Walker will anchor a guard-heavy lineup. The three seniors have started or played significant varsity minutes since they were freshmen.
Walter is the team’s top returning scorer and recently signed with Oklahoma Christian University. The 6-foot-5 senior is a strong scorer and will play inside defensively.
Walker is a tremendous athlete who has started at point guard since he was a freshman and was one of the top players on the Bomber football team.
Rivers gives the Bombers strong outside shooting and scoring. He averaged 7.4 points per game and hit 40 percent from behind the arc as a junior.
Senior Marquise Smith and Aaron Batdorf will also help this season. Smith missed all of last year with injury and will likely start in the backcourt. Batdorf will help at forward.
Juniors JD Ray and Jerome Brown will also vie for a starting spot. The 6-foot Brown can play inside despite being undersized. Ray will miss the early part of the season with an injury. He averaged 7.8 points and 4.1 assists.
“JD was probably our most valuable player in the gym right now because of his ball handling, his shooting, his scoring and his instincts,” Bradley said. “So for us to do what we’ve done in the preseason, even without him, is pretty good.”
Sophomores Jacobi Johnson and Christian Cook and freshmen Makale Smith and LJ Gurley will also see varsity minutes.
Midwest City should be a contender in the Big 10 Conference and an open Class 6A boys field. Putnam City North is the top-ranked school after a state semifinal run in 2017. Broken Arrow, Edmond Santa Fe and Westmoore figure to be contenders.
The Bombers host Putnam City tonight in the season opener. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m., following the girls game.