Well, that ended quickly. Oklahoma State's one-and-done showing in the NCAA Tournament, in a tough 92-91 loss to Michigan in the opening round Friday, brought the number of state teams in the Big Dance to zero.
Sure, the Oklahoma women were invited to the women's version of March Madness, but is anybody intrigued by a tournament that features a team with 107 straight wins? Seriously, just skip the preliminaries and ship the trophy now to Storrs, Conn., and crown UConn the champs already.
But fret not, area hoops fans. Your postseason is not over.
Your hometown Northern Oklahoma College Enid Jets tip-off Monday in their first-ever appearance in the NJCAA Division I national tournament and they certainly have earned a share of the spotlight.
It is hard to believe, as successful as NOC Enid has been since it arrived on the scene in Enid, this marks its first appearance in junior college basketball's big event in Hutchinson, Kan. Since coming to Enid now 16 years ago, the team, under the only head coach it ever has known, Greg Shamburg, has compiled a cumulative record of 312-183. That's a winning percentage of .630.
The Jets, 20-9 this season and seeded No. 23 for the tournament, will be considerable underdogs Monday when they take on JUCO tournament regular, No. 10-seed Southern Idaho (27-6). A win against the Golden Eagles would have the Jets taking on JUCO powerhouse Vincennes, Ind., which finished the season 27-1.
So, it's a tall order and an extraordinary challenge, but one the coaches and team have embraced and should likewise be embraced by Enid fans.
The community has warmed up to the program gradually over the years. Gone, at long last, it appears, is the misplaced resentment that was at one time directed toward NOC Enid after the closing of beloved Phillips University, the campus of which NOC Enid now occupies and it should be added, has helped to keep thriving.
The quality of basketball, dare it be said, is actually at a much higher level than anything Phillips, even its hey-day, would have had a tough time matching. As other observers, far more knowledgeable on the subject than this scribe, have pointed out, Phillips competed at the NAIA level, several notches below NCAA Division 1. The Jets, as with other successful D1 JUCO programs, have a roster frequently populated by players that will transition into Division 1 players.
This year's team includes its share of players that will continue their collegiate careers at the next level, such as Ty Lazenby, the Region 2 Player of the Year. Lazenby averaged 22.8 points per game and is getting D1 offers.
The Jets have also been able to avoid the negative connotations that frequently surround junior college programs and that's due in large part to the focus of Shamburg in looking to recruit not just good players, but good people. It's something Shamburg referenced a couple of seasons back when I spoke to him about NOC Enid's success on and off the court.
“We are definitely going to look at character first,” he said. "We don’t have an outlaw program. Our president wouldn’t want that, and our athletic director wouldn’t accept that. It’s not what we are about.”
The entire athletic program has embraced this philosophy and it has served it well, and not just in basketball.
When the first regular-season national baseball rankings came out last week, the Jets were ranked No. 12 and the Lady Jets' softball team, in only its second year, is ranked No. 20 in the nation.
NOC Enid has put its stamp on Enid, and now takes the next step in men's hoops. Whether the Jets advance with an upset win, it already has earned its way into acceptance and the spotlight, for all the right reasons.
Ruthenberg is sports editor at the Enid News & Eagle. Contact him at email@example.com.