TULSA, OK —
Two Mayes County basketball players laced up their high-tops for the final time Thursday night. Their paths have crossed on several occasions on the court, on the field and in life, and while those paths are now headed in two very different directions, the Mabee Center at Oral Roberts University was a grand enough venue to send off the decorated pair.
"Me and Brady are good friends," Chouteau guard Jason Couch said, referring to his teammate and friendly rival from Adair, Brady Bradbury. "We've grown up together, and we obviously know each other well."
It's obvious to anyone who saw Bradbury and Couch joshing each other near the locker room in the tunnels beneath the arena, having just completed their final high school basketball game, the small-school edition of the Oklahoma Coaches Association East-West All-Star game. The two spent years in competition in several sports, including the big three of football, basketball and baseball, but Thursday they shared the court as members of the East squad.
Well, not exactly: crisp line changes by the East and West coaching staffs at the halfway mark of each quarter meant Bradbury and Couch never even spent a second of game time on the floor together. But at least the two were wearing the same jersey, and the entire Mayes County contingent could get behind them -- especially during the introductions with their coaches, Adair's Travis Cannady and Chouteau's Travis Wheeler.
There was plenty of talent to go around at the OCA game. Many of the players had faced each other on several other occasions -- and those old battles were fondly remembered by the soldiers that fought them in the week leading up to Thursday's game.
"There's some trash talk. We kind of jive each other," Couch said with a smile. "It's just cool to come out here and play with Jeylynn Sharpe [of Ketchum], Jacob Richardson [of Porter], those guys you play against all your life. And then get to come out here and watch the elite players like Seth Youngblood [of Roland] and Stephen Clark [of OKC Douglass] just practice, it's awesome."
Bradbury agreed. "It's fun," he said. "At our high school we don't have a lot of people that can get out and run and dunk like [the All-State players]. It's fun to do that every now and then."
Bradbury, who usually played the aggressor for the smallish Adair basketball team, had a fairly quiet night Thursday wearing the No. 41 uniform of the East, chipping in a free throw to go along with three rebounds, three steals, two helpers and a rejection in the East's 100-82 loss to the West.
Bradbury was named the Regional Male Athlete of the Year by the same coaches that voted him into Thursday's All-Star contest, but he'll be trading the sneakers for football cleats in the fall at Pitt State University. Bradbury, a chameleon of a player who filled the roles of quarterback and safety for the Warriors, has been designated by Gorilla coaches as an "athlete."
That's a pretty apt description.
Bradbury and Couch, both of whom graduated in May, began their senior-year duel on the football field, where Bradbury's Warriors trounced Couch's Wildcats last September. Chouteau struck back on the basketball court in December before the Warriors took the next two from the Wildcats in December and January.
Couch got the last laugh in the season series, as Chouteau defeated Adair in February in the middle of a 10-game winning streak that vaulted the Wildcats into the state tournament.
Couch's decision against pursuing the sport at the collegiate level is a curious one, especially for an All-State talent, but in his own words it becomes very clear. People of all ages listen to what Jason Couch has to say, a gift that he doesn't want to squander.
"I'm going to be doing a lot of stuff in the community, different service projects, and that's going to be taking up a lot of my time," Couch said, referring to his inclusion in the Rogers State University President's Leadership Class. "I've had fun playing basketball all my life, but I've heard it phrased this way: 'It's a passion, but it's not life.' I'd like to continue my career somewhere, but I feel like RSU is where I should be."
Couch, wearing the Eastern blue No. 10 jersey Thursday night, dropped in his first two baskets but slumped in the last three quarters. His last basket of the game, however, symbolized the undersized guard's approach to the sport. After missing a long 3-point attempt, Couch sprinted into the lane, scooped up his own rebound and put the ball back in the basket.
Couch finished the game with two boards, an assist, a pair of blocks and nine points on 4-of-12 shooting, but he finished his high school career as a legend in Chouteau.
"I definitely will miss [playing football and basketball]," he said. "I already miss it. But I'll always have these memories to reflect on."
While Couch has concluded his legacy as a Chouteau basketball player, Adair's opponents may look at the Warrior football roster and see a familiar last name in the fall. Brady may be headed to Pitt State, but he handed the keys to the Adair offense to his brother B.J.
"They'll be young, but they'll be exciting," Brady said. "B.J. will be playing quarterback. He's gonna do all right. He'll get better as the season goes along. It'll be fun to watch."
That's good news in Mayes County.