McKinney North head coach Michael Oldham posted a simple tweet on Christmas Eve.
The tweet, which was of a picture of a University Interscholastic League medal, came with a message: “They don’t make these in the North Pole: You have to go to work every day in the gym to get this.”
And work is exactly what the Lady Bulldogs have done so far this season, playing to a 13-4 record and a No. 3 ranking among 4A schools in Texas.
North – 2012 13-4A District Champions with a 30-4 record – brings to the court a mix of freshmen and upperclassmen in 2013. Both of which are looking to continue a winning culture a North.
“We have a way of doing things here,” Oldham said.
Oldham, who is in his third season at the helm at North, said his team focuses on the task at hand every day, and doesn’t look into the future, which can be a challenge for a team as talented as North is.
North returns four starters and seven lettermen from last year’s team. North finished the 2012 season 14-0 in 13-4A, but fell to Red Oak 47-41 in the UIL-4A State Playoffs.
This year, however, it is the youth that is making the difference for North as four freshmen – Breah Powell, Alex Coleman, Stephanie Jackson and Tia Wright – add a new dimension to an already talented North roster.
Jackson leads North freshman in scoring, averaging 6.3 points per-game, while Tia Wright is contributing around 4 points a contest. Powell and Coleman are averaging 3.2 and 1.8 points per-game respectively.
Senior Mikaehla Connor, who is averaging 9.1 points per game and shooting 42 percent from behind the arc, said she is not surprised by how well the freshman have played, and have helped contribute so far this season.
Oldham echoed Connor’s sentiments, saying he is getting what he expected out of his freshmen, noting he’s watched this group of freshmen since they were in the sixth grade and knew they could handle the game from a talent standpoint.
But it all hasn’t been perfect, Oldham said, noting the freshmen have struggled with the speed and physicality of the varsity game, but expects that to change because their basketball IQ is so high.
“They’ve been in a lot of situations that they’re seeing now,” he said.
Beside the young guns, North’s anchors are its upperclassmen — Connor, senior Amy Kleynhaus and junior Chanterria Jackson.
Connor said the influx of freshmen caused the team’s chemistry to be off early in the season, but the hard work North put in is finally starting to pay off.
She said the girls worked out when other teams weren’t and have spent time and effort to build chemistry that wasn’t there a few weeks ago.
And that chemistry and success has put a Bulldog-sized target on North’s back.
“The older kids have just helped them understand that at the varsity level, when you’re ranked third in the state and coming off a 30-4 season, that everybody’s going to want to beat you, everybody’s wanting to take their best shot at you,” said Oldham, who added the younger players have done a great job pushing the veteran players to be the best they can be.
Arguably, two of the best veteran players in the area are Jackson and Kleynhaus. Jackson leads the team in points per-game (11), rebounds per-game (5) and steals per-game (3) while shooting 47 percent from the floor.
A key reason for her success has been staying focused all season, and setting goals for herself before each game, she said, with Oldham saying she is learning to use her athleticism to score from all areas of the court.
Kleynhaus, who is playing her fourth season under Oldham (her first being her freshman year on JV), is averaging 9 points per game and whose game continues to evolve.
Oldham said Kleynhaus started out as strictly a post player because of her size, but has worked to expand her game to and can stretch defenses out to the perimeter.
Achieving the No. 3 ranking in the state doesn’t come without practice, and a practice at North isn’t what one would think it would be.
Oldham said he doesn’t have the girls go through several sets of drills. Instead, a typical practice will consist of around 15 plays the game plan focuses on – 70 percent of which are based on defense, with the emphasis of scoring from their defensive sets.
And the offense that is practiced, are situations and shots Oldham wants to see in the game.
“I think it’s important the kids understand the shots we shoot in games need to be the shots we took in practice, and I think we do a good job with that,” Oldham said.
Kleynhaus said Oldham does a very good focusing on what the team needs to improve on more than worrying about what the opponent will try to do to them, a philosophy Oldham learned from a legendary coach.
As a young coach studying different coaching styles, he came across that of Dean Smith, former University of North Carolina head coach, who said he worried more about what the Tar Heels did than what Duke was going to do to them.
“Let’s worry about what we do and let’s get really good at what we do, and the rest will take care of itself,” he said.
And all the work being done from the players to the coaching staff is to accomplish one goal – winning state – a feat last year’s team failed to do after a disappointing end to the 2012-13 season.
Oldham said basketball comes down to three aspects: shooting, rebounding and turnovers, and his Bulldogs did none of those things in the Area-Round loss to Red Oak.
“We just had the wrong game to have those things flare up,” he said.
Winning state is a goal not lost on Kleynhaus, who said it would “mean so much if we went all the way.”
One of the biggest differences Oldham said about the 2013-14 version of his Lady Bulldogs is they are deeper than they were a season ago, noting he can play as many as 10 girls if needed. North’s bench last season was around six girls deep, he said.
Along with added depth on the bench, the aspect that will put North “over the edge” will be its returning talent and experience.
Aside from the record or the play on the court, Oldham said he is “blessed” to coach this group of girls, and knows his legacy will be what they do once the pass through the doors at McKinney North and enter the next stage of their life.
“As a coach, that’s ultimately what you’re judged by, not necessarily the wins and losses and all the championships,” he said. “I’m going to be judge by what these 12 girls do once they get out of McKinney North high school. Where do they take their lives – that what I want to be judged by more than wins, losses and championships.”
And the feeling is mutual, as Connor said the relationship between Oldham and the players goes beyond the court.
“He’s more than a coach, he’s our dad,” she said.