ADA — As a sideline, Scott Lowrance should open a lemonade stand.

In his first month as Ada High’s boys basketball coach, Lowrance watched his club lose three of four December games, and he will begin the 2006 portion of one of Class 5A’s toughest schedules adjusting to life without his starting center (and leading scorer), who was seriously injured in a holiday traffic accident.

But Lowrance — whose club will face Sand Springs at 9 p.m. Thursday in the opening round of the East Central Oklahoma Basketball Classic at the Cougar Activity Center — refuses to see lemons when he looks at the hand he’s been dealt early this season.

“Coming into Christmas, we knew we were on the verge of having something really special,” Lowrance said.  “We’ve had two good weeks of practice (since closing 2005 with a loss to Broken Bow — ranked No. 4 in Class 4A — on Dec. 16), and we expect to play our best basketball in the second half of the season.  I think we’re a small step from being a really good team.

“The people who see our 1-3 record aren’t seeing what I’m seeing on a daily basis,” he continued. “I think we’re on to something.”

Lowrance’s optimism is remarkable, considering his young club (which has only one senior on the roster) not only lost a lot of potential firepower but also got a good deal smaller when 6-4 junior Billy Long suffered two broken collarbones and a broken arm in a Dec. 23 accident in Oklahoma City that left a passenger in Long’s car dead. Long is lost for this season, and, as the alleged driver of a car that was reportedly drag racing down Interstate 40 when the accident occurred, he could still face criminal charges. 

“I won’t say the loss of Billy won’t hurt us,” Lowrance said of Long, who was averaging 12.3 points per game when he was injured and who scored a career-high 25 points and pulled down 12 rebounds in the Cougars’ second of two losses last month to Wewoka (ranked No. 3 in Class 2A).  “He has a great outside shot and great touch for a big man. But some other kids have stepped up.

“We become smaller without (Long), but we become quicker, too,” Lowrance added. 

With Long sidelined, Lowrance will turn to 6-2 freshman Colton Richardson, 6-7 sophomore Aaron Robinson and 6-1 sophomore Steffan Jones to play the post this week and for the remainder of the season.

“More than likely, Colton will start for us Thursday,” Lowrance said. “He’s had a couple of good scrimmages (since the Cougars’ last game). Aaron has done some good things for us this season and played some good minutes, and Steffan is big enough and a good enough athlete that he can step in.”

With almost three weeks (since the Cougars’ last game) to prepare for Sand Springs but less than 10 days to adjust to the loss of Long, Lowrance said readying his center-by-committee for the final two months of the regular season was a focus of his post-Christmas practices.

“We’ve had to work a little more on post defense,” he explained.  “(Richardson) is going to have guard bigger people than he did when he was playing a forward.” 

With Long sidelined, sophomores Michael Roberts and Chaz Daniels — who form one of the state’s youngest but most athletic backcourts — will be asked to take up some of the scoring slack. Roberts is the only remaining Cougar averaging in double figures (11 points per game and a season-high 17 in the first loss to Wewoka) for the season, while Daniels has scored nine points a contest as Ada’s point guard. 

“The beauty of this team is that different guys are stepping up at different times,” Lowrance noted. “If one guy has a bad night, somebody else plays well and picks him up.

“Teams can’t focus on one player — we can do a lot of different things,” he added.  (Senior) Patrick (Maloy, the only returning starter off last year’s club), Michael, Colton and Chaz can all guard bigger players. They’re doing what I ask them to do. They’re playing hard and executing the game plan.”

Lowrance said his team’s rugged pre-holiday schedule should help lay the foundation for a successful 2006 portion of the season and added that coming back with three games in three days in the East Central tournament and three more games next week is a good way to start the new year.

“It’s good, because you get a chance to get your legs under you and play some games right away,” he explained.  “Playing three games in three days, you can make adjustments on the fly.

“I think we can find our direction and get this thing going the right way.”

If the Cougars can get by a struggling Sand Springs club that has lost to 6A powers Jenks (ranked No. 2) and Bartlesville (No. 13) already this season, they will face either Capitol Hill (No. 7 in Class 5A) or Choctaw (Lowrance’s former team) in a semifinal contest at 9 p.m. Friday.  A loss will send Ada into a loser’s bracket contest against the Capitol Hill-Choctaw loser at 3 p.m.

“I’ve talked to a couple of coaches about Sand Springs, but I don’t know a lot about them,” Lowrance said.  “They’re in our situation.  They’ve played a lot of teams tough, but their record isn’t as good as they would like.

“We can’t look past Sand Springs,” he added. “We have to focus on them and worry about Choctaw or Capitol Hill Friday morning.”

Next week, Ada has games at Hugo Tuesday, at home against McAlester (which handed Broken Bow its only loss of the season last month) Friday and at Ardmore Saturday, and Lowrance said he and his staff will concentrate on making the Cougars better defensively over the next six games.

“Our defense has to improve for us to get where we want to be,” he admitted.  “Offensively, we’re putting in a new system, and the kids are learning every game.  As long as we’re getting better every game, that’s all I can ask.

“No coach is happy to be 1-3, but I think we’re one of the best one-win teams around — I really consider us to be pretty good,” Lowrance said.  “We have all the attributes to become a good team.”