One of the best collection of teams in recent history will converge on Durant starting Thursday with the 28th edition of the Durant Lion Classic.
The tournament field has been greatly improved with several first-time entrants along with a few that have become regulars in the annual event. Names like perennial 6A power Tulsa Union, defending 5A state champ Tulsa Memorial, 6A Norman North along with 5A Carl Albert and 4A Anadarko for the girls.
With that also comes several marque players that have already signed or are considering some of the top Division I programs in this part of the country.
Obviously leading the way in the girls’ bracket will be two-time defending champ Westmoore along with sparkplug Jessi Murcer, who has garnered Most Valuable Player honors the past two seasons.
Murcer, who averaged 23 points a game last season, recently signed a scholarship offer with the University of Oklahoma. Six-foot senior Whitney Outon is also back after posting just under a double-double for the Lady Jaguars a year ago.
Westmoore, which began the season ranked sixth in Class 6A, opens against U.S. Grant at 4:20 but will have to be at the top of its game the rest of the tournament to complete the tournament three-peat with a host of talented newcomers ready to challenge for the title.
One of the top challengers will be Prosper, Texas, which makes its first Lion Classic appearance and will square off with host Durant in the opening round at 7 p.m.
The Lady Eagles are off to a 9-1 start to the season and ranked fifth in the Texas Class 5A poll fresh off a third place finish in the rugged Allen Lady Eagle Hoopfest. They are coached by former Edmond Santa Fe baseball All-Stater Trey Rachal who went on played at Oklahoma State.
They also have a premiere talent in 5-10 junior guard Jordyn Oliver, who has already committed to Division I power Baylor, and is averaging approximately 25 points an outing this season. She was also a member of the Under-16 USA national team a year ago.
Prosper has another tremendous player in 5-5 senior dynamo Mackenzie Hewitt, who poured in 27 points for the second time this season in a victory on Tuesday night.
Two-time Lion Classic runner-up Springdale, Arkansas may have the most interesting first round matchup against tradition-rich Carl Albert at 1:40.
Springdale reached the Class 7A state finals last season and is off an undefeated start while being ranked fourth in the Arkansas state poll.
The Lady Bulldogs have their own Division I prospect in 5-11 junior Marquesha Davis, who was an All-Tournament selection last season in the tournament. She is an extremely versatile athlete that can play almost anywhere on the court and ranked as the top prospect in the state of Arkansas in the Class of 2019 by one scouting group.
Davis posted 32 points and 10 rebounds in a season opening and has scholarship offers already from the likes of Arkansas and Oklahoma State.
Perennial state tournament contender Anadarko rounds out the bracket with an opening round contest against Hugo at 11 a.m.
The Lady Warriors have a lightning-quick leader on the perimeter with 5-4 junior guard Jessica Quoetone to spearhead their aggressive, pressure defensive style.
In the power-packed boys’ bracket, Durant will face off with Class 6A sixth-rated Union in the 5:40 opener.
The Redskins, who were ranked number one in the state much of last season, are looking to replace several key components, but do possess one of the best three-point shooters in the entire state with 6-4 senior Mo Garcia, son of head coach Rudy Garcia.
Michiah McQuarters, an athletic 6-4 senior with a terrific wingspan, is also drawing college interest.
First-time tournament entrant Norman North tangles with the Union JV in the first round at 3 p.m. on Thursday looking to find scoring to step up and replace the loss of All-American Trae Young, who has taken his talents to star at OU after lighting up Class 6A opponents to the tune of a state-best 43 points per game last season.
Overshadowed a bit by Young’s prowess was Shemar Smith, a dynamic 6-6 junior that is ranked as one of the top 2019 prospects in the state and expected to be one of the Timberwolves’ leaders.
Norman North, which opened the season ranked 10th in the state, also returns Daily Oklahoman honorable mention All-Stater Drake Stoops, who averaged more than 11 points an outing as a junior and is the son of former Sooner football head coach Bob Stoops.
Defending 5A champ Tulsa Memorial has one of the marque first round showdowns facing off against Oklahoma City Southeast in the 8:20 p.m. finale.
Memorial is already off to a blazing start ranked second in the initial state rankings but with three victories already under its belt while averaging a scorching 84.5 points per contest.
The Chargers have arguably the top junior in the state of Oklahoma in 6-9 Kalib Boone, who is pumping in 17 points and 13.5 rebounds already this year with college offers on the table.
His twin brother Keylan Boone, who checks in at 6-7, isn’t far off that pace with 16.5 points and nine rebounds per outing on his own this season.
Another 6-5 senior Kori Guest tosses in 15 points per game on the wing with senior point guard Shermar Walker back at the point to quarterback the offense with his eight points and six assists averages.
The early first round game at 12:20 should be an interesting battle as well with Class 6A Yukon facing off with traditional power Hugo, which opened the year ranked 10th in Class 3A.
Action continues both Friday and Saturday at Durant High School.