Leader of the pack

Stratford junior Dalen Qualls averaged 33.6 points per game this season and led the Bulldogs in nearly every statistical category. He was named the Ada Evening News All-Area Boys Player of the Year for the third straight time.

Photo by Richard R. Barron
Ada Evening News

STRATFORD — Dalen Qualls hadn’t been home an hour after he and his Stratford Bulldog teammates had dropped a pair of tough games at a Class A District baseball tournament in Bokchito.

Although disappointed with the pair of baseball setbacks and tired from what had already been a long day, Qualls changed his clothes and headed for the gym.

“It was within 30 minutes of being home that he left and went to the gym to start shooting,” Stratford baseball and basketball head coach Mark Qualls said of his talented son. “Of course, he wanted to keep playing baseball as long as possible, but he knows life goes on and wanted to get back to work.”

It’s that kind of dedication to go with his natural talent that helped Dalen Qualls score 33.6 points and average 10.1 rebounds per game during an incredible junior campaign. After such a strong season, Dalen Qualls was named the 2010 Ada Evening News All-Area Boys Player of the Year for the third straight time — also winning the prestigious award after strong freshmen and sophomore years. Qualls became the first three-time winner in the history of the award.

Some wondered what Qualls would do for encore after scoring 29.1 points per game during a sensational freshman campaign and upping the ante to 35.5 points per outing a year ago. The answer was simple. Keep getting better.

“I think he’s just gotten better every year. He’s done more with his game.  His rebounding increased, his assists have increased and he took better care of the basketball,” Mark Qualls said. “I just think he’s improved all around. He’s gotten stronger and quicker.”

With a talent pool in the area as deep as it’s ever been, Qualls refused to relinquish his hold on the All-Area Player of the Year award.

Although quite impressive, it’s not the gaudy double-double Dalen Qualls averaged that his father and coach Mark Qualls points to that shows the improvement his son has made. Dad feels like Dalen’s 200 assists (8.3 per game) that paints the big picture. Never mind that he also finished with 60 steals, hit 40 percent (80-of-200) from beyond the 3-point line and made 83.7 percent of his free throws (190-of-227).

“He led all of Class A in assists. That tells you something about what he does for our team,” Mark Qualls said. “He’s improved in everything, and he had a really good season.”

And while Dalen Qualls’ numbers kept going up, the Bulldogs failed to make a return trip to the state tournament despite being one of the favorites to contend for the gold ball before the season even began. That’s something that will stick with Qualls until the 2010-11 season tips off.

“He’s going to be judged on what the team does. It was naturally disappointing how we finished,” Mark Qualls said. “He’s a team player and there’s only one thing that would totally please him, and that’s a state championship. He really just wants to win.”

When examining Dalen Qualls game, it’s hard for many to find a weakness. But Qualls himself knows he has to step up his game as a senior.

“I have to improve my ball-handling. That’s the biggest thing. If I wanna do what I want to do — and that’s play major college basketball — that needs to be better,” Dalen said.

“He knows he has room to improve, and that’s part of what makes him the player he is,” Mark Qualls added.

As he has done in years past, Qualls saved one of the best games of his career for last. In a disheartening 70-66 loss to Stuart in a Class A Area Tournament elimination game, Qualls torched the Hornets for a game-high 46 points to go with eight rebounds and seven assists. He hit five 3-pointers in the game and went 13-of-15 from the line.

“He really came ready to play. He game out hitting on all cylinders. He was driving to the hole and scoring, hitting jump shots and 3-pointers,” Mark Qualls recalled. “He has a tremendous will to win. He had a sub-par game before that (in a loss to Fort Towson). When he has a bad game or a game below his standards, you better watch out for the next one. He usually plays really well. That (against Stuart) was one of his better games. It just wasn’t meant to be.”

Dalen Qualls is likely to finish his career as one of the Top 5 scorers in Oklahoma basketball history. After three seasons, he is sitting at 2,457 points and needs just over 400 to crack the Top 10.

“He even amazes ME that he can put up the numbers he does when he’s the focal point of our opponents’ defense night after night,” Mark Qualls said.

Dalen Qualls is much more than a good athlete. According to dear ol’ dad, he gets good grades, stays out of trouble and would help an old lady cross the road if needed.

“We’d be just as proud of him for the type of kid he is whether or not he played basketball,” Mark Qualls said. “It’s not just because he can put a ball through a hoop.”

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