Last season, the first under Head Coach Frank Haith and the American Athletic Conference, the Golden Hurricane finished second in the conference but had to settle for a berth to the NIT instead of a second straight season going to the “Big Dance” in March.
This season, Tulsa is led by a large class of nine seniors who all have that postseason experience from the last two seasons. James Woodard and Shaquille Harrison, TU’s top scorers in 2014–2015, will anchor the backcourt.
They were both named to all-conference teams last season and everything seems to point that they will do so. Marquel Curtis, Rashad Ray and Nick Wood round out the guards.
Rashad Smith, Brandon Swannegan, D’Andre Wright and Emmanuel Ezechininso will work the post for the Golden Hurricane this season.
These nine seniors are looking for their second conference title in three years, having won the Conference USA Tournament in Tulsa’s final year.
“At the end of the day, being part of that transition from Conference USA to the American, that’s a pretty nice legacy to have. But wouldn’t it be neat for those guys to finish off with a championship in The American, as they did in Conference USA.”
“That would be something those guys would all be able to talk to their kids and grandkids about.”
Tulsa is also returning junior TK Edogi, and will have Corey Haith available to play after he redshirted last season. Joining the team this year are two transfer students, Pat Birt and Junior Etou, and two freshman, Kajon Brown and Sterling Taplin.
Haith is looking forward to utilizing these new additions to the roster, using them as rotational guys.
“The reason those guys will be rotational guys is because they help us in an area that we were not great at last year, and that’s shooting the basketball.”
The Golden Hurricane are using the non-conference schedule to help prepare for a tough conference schedule in the second half of the season.
Tulsa will host Wichita State (currently ranked 10) in the second game of the season before taking on Oregon State and Oklahoma State on the road. Then over Thanksgiving they will play in the Paradise Jam against the likes of Florida State, Ohio and South Carolina.
And Haith talked about how Tulsa is not the only team in the American that improved from last season.
“You’re talking about, from SMU, who returns basically everybody and the Player of the Year in Nic Moore, to UConn, to Cincinnati, who returns everybody from an NCAA Tournament team. I think Houston will make a huge jump from where they were last year, based on their recruiting. Temple is going to be very good.”
“Even the teams that people think, based on what they were last year, East Carolina, Central Florida, Tulane—they all got better because they got older. It’s going to be a very competitive league. I said this last year: “Our league was good, it was just young. A year older, I think you’ll see this league get 5–6 teams in the NCAA Tournament.”
Tulsa played their first game of the season on Saturday, beating Haskell Indian Nation 87–62 in an exhibition match. Woodard led TU with 20 points and 9 rebounds. Taplin (12), Ezechinonso (10) and Birt (10) all scored double-digit points for the Golden Hurricane as well.
“You just want to give your guys the first chance to play in front of folks. It was about what I expected. It was a good experience for us to get through it and get this game in, and we have to get better from it,” Haith said after the game.
“All-in-all, I just want to see us get this game out of the way, learn from it and get ourselves ready to play on Tuesday.”
Tulsa hosts Rogers State on Tuesday at 7 p.m. to close out their exhibition games, before hosting Central Arkansas on Saturday to open up the regular season.
Tulsa was picked to finish fourth in the AAC this season, but were in a similar situation last season before taking the conference by storm. This season they will look to do the same.