Nicholas Burnett was a sixth-grader in the middle school at Centennial when it opened its doors in 2007.
Junior-high basketball was a blast. Probably his favorite activity. But he didn't sit around thinking about one day playing for state championships in high school.
He wasn't at a school like Millwood or Tulsa Washington, where gold ball trophies and state championship banners outnumber players in the gym.
There was no basketball history at Centennial before 2007, because there was no school, but the Bison are quickly making their own tradition.
This season, top-ranked Centennial will try to win its third Class 3A state championship in only its sixth season of basketball.
“There's a lot of pride now in playing for Centennial,” Burnett said. “We look back at what we've accomplished so far. We look at moments we've had, and players that we had, and how they executed roles that we're trying to get players on our team to execute now.”
The Bison only graduated two players from last year's team, and just one starter in point guard Da'Sean Carolina. His younger brother, Malcolm Mitchell, will fill that role, with athletic 6-foot-7 junior Austin Garner once again anchoring the middle.
With others like Burnett, Malik Foxx, Terry Davis and a slew of athletic young players, coach Scott Raper is focused on blending the mix of experience, youth and talent.
“The area where we're youngest is leadership,” Raper said. “The loss of Da'Sean Carolina — he was there for three years, and these guys were all able to follow him. Now, they're having to step into that role.”
Foxx sees a team that might be lacking the veteran leadership of last season, but doesn't believe it has to hold the Bison back.
“We're a little younger, so we have to gain maturity as a team,” he said. “But overall, I think we're a better ballclub.”
Added Mitchell: “We're faster than we've ever been. We don't have a lot of tall guys, but we've got speed.”
Playing in the All-City Conference, Centennial will take some losses, but Raper keeps his players focused on the future — this season and beyond.
Building on their recent success has become important to the current players. They recognize the responsibility that comes with being a state champion, and the importance of continuing the program they've helped build.
“They work out with the middle-school kids, and they explain to those kids, ‘This is what we expect of you. This is what we've done,'” Raper said. “We don't have the tradition that other schools have. Our tradition is what these guys have built.
“They're teaching those younger players that this is how we do things, and that really helps us grow.”