When you start a discussion about Roland basketball, you don't talk about Oklahoma City University. You talk about "The Big House." Jim Norrick Arena. OKC Fairgrounds. The greatest place on earth, when you're a kid.
For adults, it's just as expensive as a trip to Target.
The talk of the town today is Oklahoma City University because that's where you'll see the first magic trick, in a series of three, in bringing the gold ball back to Roland. And I know, we've never had a gold ball in Roland. When I say "back to Roland" I mean back....
..... way back
..... to the beginning.
For whatever reason I'll never understand, I first touched down at Roland School in 1982. I guess it's mandatory when your parents are teachers. I was almost a year old and I don't remember any of it, but here's what I do remember. I remember studying yearbooks from the time I was old enough to read until the day I left for the Navy.
When I was old enough to read, I started with the 1982 yearbook. I studied names, pictures, teams, teachers, coaches, administrators, school board members and even the class favorites. I became one of those, myself.
But the one thing I always remember studying was the basketball team. No matter what was going on at Roland, I was always in the gym. In and out of Coach Lewis's office with Kim and Brandon, playing hide-and-seek on the stage and sneaking into the concession for "free" pop when we still had it on tap.
Sorry about all that.
We shot a lot of free-throws, too. It was the law of the land.
No matter what all we got into, basketball seemed to be what everyone was obsessed with at Roland. Since the day I can remember, Carl Matlock Fieldhouse is a packed house when the Rangers hit the floor. Buzzer to buzzer, it's louder than the swamp, hotter than a fox in a forest fire, and it's the only place in America where you'll find a grown man dressed like Zoro with a Roland Ranger blanket-cape strapped around his neck, carrying a sledgehammer and singing London Bridge under the free-throw shooters.
You'd have to be from here to understand all of this....
The point here is that Roland basketball was big in my beginning and, if you're from Roland, it was probably big in your beginning, too. We can all pretty much agree on that.
Another thing we can all agree on is the fact that we'd like to see a man win a championship after giving 40+ years of his life to the same program and never giving up. Not even when the money in Arkansas looked good, or when the retirement age hit, or even when bigger fish came calling. Coach Lewis has been here since the beginning.
And now comes the part where we, the fans, have to separate "routine" from "once in a lifetime." I've heard it all around town since last Friday.
"Roland always goes to State but they never win."
A trip to Oklahoma City may be routine for those of us who count the gas mileage, but it's not routine for these kids. It's once in a lifetime.
I've followed this group of Rangers all season through the print, Twitter posts, Facebook posts and even on the pages of the folks talking about why they have to play Roland in the first round. In my opinion, this is the most capable team of winning a state championship in nearly a decade.
Two giants collided in 2013 and someone had to come out on top. It was unavoidable. I still get a little sick thinking about it.
This year, everyone's giving the credit to Millwood. I guess because they can play football, too. I don't know. They're ranked #1 for a reason but they're in a bracket with Star-Spencer and I believe that's who the Rangers will beat for their first state title. <---SPOILER ALERT--->
However it goes, the Rangers are back in OKC for a shot at glory and I don't know anyone who isn't ready for Thursday. The fans are ready, Ranger Bob is ready, and I know those boys have to be chomping at the bit to claim their place in OSSAA history.
And I don't know if any of the Rangers will read this story but I only have two pieces of advice.
The first is to stop time this week and get all up inside this moment like it's a hot towel out of the dryer. Don't move. Feel the heat of the arenas. Feel the energy of this week. Feel the pep rally. Feel the send-off. Feel the police escort and feel the sirens. Close your eyes and breathe it in when those kids cheer for their heroes. There are no expectations of you and nobody will be disappointed.
And the second piece of advice is to box out. For the love of Steve's Barber Shop, go to the hoop, be aggressive and BOX. OUT.