In anticipation of the weekend series against the Tulsa 66ers and in lieu of a traditional game preview, I turned to Kevin Henry, beat writer for the Tulsa World and author of the 66ers Nation blog, for a Q&A to get some information and insight regarding the 66ers. The 66ers enter the weekend with a record of 11-7, second in the West. Erie comes in at 8-12, fifth in the East, but riding a two-game winning streak.
BTB: For starters, Tulsa has won 5 of their last 6 games. What's been the main reason(s) for their recent success?
This is a completely different team than the 66ers of last year. Right now, there's only one active player (Moses Ehambe) from last year. Last year's team was very me-centered at times. This year's squad is truly a team and does a good job of making the extra pass to find the open man. It's a good unit that enjoys hanging around each other on and off the court. Also, I think Tulsa has a defensive-minded mentality and that has certainly made a difference this year. That comes straight from the parent Oklahoma City Thunder, which is also a vastly improved team this year.
BTB: Coming straight out of high school to the D-League, Latavious Williams was one of the biggest stories of the D-League draft. The 66ers used their first round pick (16th overall) on Williams. How has he developed through 18 games this season? What's his role on the team?
Tay, as he's called around here, is still picking up the game on the D-League level. He has started a number of games this year and has made more of an impact on the boards than in scoring. If you watch him play, you'll see he is very productive in the time he's in the game. Coach Nate Tibbetts watches his playing time and makes sure he's not overused. When Tay is in there, he'll do something on the defensive end to provide a spark. He has so much potential, and I think he'll only get better and better.
BTB: Tulsa currently sits tied for second in the West Conference. What will it take for the 66ers to surpass Rio Grande Valley and win the conference title?
Right now, it seems that the Vipers can't lose, despite different players being called up to the NBA. If Tulsa keeps playing solid defense, I think they can fight for the West Conference lead all season. This team may not be loaded with superstars like Idaho or RGV, but it is a solid team from top to bottom that can compete with, and beat anyone. They're 2-2 against RGV this year, so they have confidence when they step on the court with the Vipers.
BTB: Which 66ers players could you see playing at the next level? What do they need to do to make that next step?
I'll say Mustafa Shakur. He's a solid point guard who can create and score. He's also a leader and you can tell that the 66ers rely on him in close situations. He's a quiet scorer, meaning at the end of the night you'll look at the score sheet and wonder when he scored all of his 20-plus points. He does what he needs to do to make the team run and run well. That's a must for any NBA point guard, and I think Mustafa has the skills to play in the NBA.
BTB: Who's the most underrated player for the 66ers?
Larry Owens. He's a guy who can play the three or four position and score from anywhere on the court. He's not getting a lot of attention as so many people are focused on Latavious or Mustafa. Larry is quick and his teammates have faith in him to score if they need a big basket.
And finally, what do you see as the keys to defeating Tulsa?
Make Tulsa take bad shots. The 66ers haven't shot under 50 percent in any game for the last seven contests. Tulsa is playing with a smaller lineup right now because of callups and injuries so I think a team with a dominant inside game could cause problems. However, Tulsa's guards can rebound and beat you down the court, so another team has to be dominant inside and rebound well to give the 66ers a big headache.