By Brandon Speck
BALDWYN – Baldwyn got the state championship monkey off its back, but the Bearcats are right back on the horse, ready to ride again.
Coach Jason McKay says the championship was last season. This team is a different animal.
“You don’t want to talk too much about last year,” McKay said. “If you do, you live in the past. But I think at the same time, you’ve got to find that line where you do talk about what you did, so it’s motivation.”
Baldwyn has made state finals trips in three of the last four seasons.
“There’s an expectation level within our program, not only to win basketball games, but win them deep into the playoffs and do it the right way,” McKay said. “And we’re comfortable that we’ve got an opportunity to do that again.”
Baldwyn won its first state title since McKay’s playing days in 1986-87 and finished 32-3.
Three starters return, including senior guard Martel Brown. Brown transferred from Atlanta and developed into a prominent role. He is joined by Romaro Crump and sophomore forward Duke Upshaw. Point guard Conner McKay emerged as a freshman and some newcomers will be asked to carry some of the load, including freshman guard Felix Hayes.
Brown, a senior rim attacker with plenty of chances to play at the next level, and Upshaw are among the players still on the football field.
McKay prides Baldwyn on defense. The graduation of Mason Penson is a big loss on that end, but McKay isn’t shy about saying he expects just as much a defense-first team.
“It better be,” he said. “Because I don’t think we can win it without it. Our measuring stick is to hold people to 55.”
Graduates Penson, Tevin Lindsey and Dee Gates are all playing college basketball. Gates was Baldwyn’s starting point guard until he was lost for the season in December.
“It taught us that no matter what comes our way, we still have to play basketball,” Brown said. “We have to play together, no matter what happens.”