This wasn't supposed to be the Oklahoma City Storm's year.
The stars who had led the Storm to last season's homeschool national championship game — along with the help of a couple valuable seniors — were gone.
Before the season, sophomore guard Allonzo Trier left for Tulsa NOAH, and 6-foot-9 forward Jacob Hammond, an Oklahoma commit, headed to Sunrise Christian in Wichita, Kan.
Both were regarded as top 100 players nationally in their respective recruiting classes, so it seemed impossible that the Storm could withstand the losses.
But with balance and depth and a highly motivated, young roster, the Storm found itself back in the title game last Saturday night.
And with all the team had overcome just to get there, a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit to Houston HCYA — which had won six national titles in the last nine years and was led by North Carolina commit Justin Jackson — didn't seem like much.
With the added motivation of the HCYA fan base breaking into the “I believe that we will win!” chant a little too soon, the Storm rallied for a 72-62 win, thanks to 21 fourth-quarter points from junior guard Chauncey Collins.
“He made shots, got to the free-throw line, made some steals,” said coach Kurt Talbott. “When the pressure got on them, our boys all stepped up. All year, we talked about putting somebody away. We took it to them.”
Collins finished with 39 for the game and won the Maravich Award for the tournament's most valuable player. Collins averaged 23.4 points per game for the year to help the Storm to its first championship since the Taylor Griffin-led team of 2002, before Griffin moved to Oklahoma Christian for his final two years of high school.
“There was a lot of talk that with the loss of Allonzo and Jacob, that we wouldn't have a chance to be back,” said sophomore Kole Talbott. “We wanted to get back, and prove people wrong. That's what we used as motivation this season.”
The Storm wasn't a one-man show. Four players regularly scored in double-figures — but you never knew which four it would be.
Players like Talbott, Mark Malone, Wyett Dressler and Neaven Morgan, among others, showed the ability to step into the prime scoring role on any night, with the balanced attack playing a key role in the team's success.
“Every game, somebody different would step up,” said Malone, a sophomore. “Chauncey got everybody involved, and get us in good spots to score.”
Morgan, a senior in his first season with the Storm, came over from Mount St. Mary and saw the team gel from the start.
“We played twice as many games as the high school teams in the state, and that helped us — being on the road, being around each other more than normal teams,” Morgan said. “That helped us come together, and everybody fulfilled their role.”
The Storm only lost three times after Christmas, all to nationally ranked teams: Class 6A Midwest City, Prime Prep of Dallas, and Sunrise Christian.
The playoffs included a 52-50 regional final win over Trier and Tulsa NOAH, which added a spark to the postseason run.
“We wanted to win that game so bad,” Malone said.
With only two seniors on the roster, the Storm already has high expectations for next season.
“I'm anxious to get back out there and play now,” Collins said. “It feels good to say you're a national champ, but the season's over. We're ready to get back out there.”