The competitive Prairie City Panther boys have a target on their backs, so to speak, after making the state championship level for three consecutive years.
Three seasons ago, coach Jonathan Gill led the team to the second round of state, and coach Sam Workman led them to the state tournament the past two seasons.
The Panthers earned the second-place trophy in 2018. Last year, seeded eighth going into the state tournament, Prairie City beat the top-seeded Sherman Huskies in the quarterfinals, 52-48. They fell to the Nixyaawii Eagles 71-49 in the semifinal round, and lost a 3-point game to the Days Creek Wolves to place fifth, the Wolves third.
Panther Levi Burke was named OSAA’s 2019 Player of the Year, and the previous season, Panther Dorran Wilson, a 2018 graduate, was named Player of the Year. Both are now at the college level, with Burke playing for the Blue Mountain Community College Timberwolves in Pendleton and Wilson playing for the Treasure Valley Community College Chukars in Ontario.
Five Prairie City senior players graduated last season — including Syd Holman, who was named an All-State honorable mention player — but the whirlwind of success for the Panthers is not expected to die down anytime soon.
“We lost some positives and gained some positives,” said head coach Bo Workman.
Bo, the brother of Sam Workman, took on the role of head coach after a change in Sam’s work prevented him from continuing as coach this season.
In his fourth year coaching the Prairie City varsity girls team, Bo will lead both teams with help from returning assistant coach Mike Workman, a longtime basketball coach who is also Bo and Sam’s dad. Two additional assistant coaches, one for each team, are expected to be hired soon.
The positives head coach Workman is looking at for the boys team include two seniors, guard Lucas McKinley and 6-foot-6 center Cole Deiter, who are in their fourth year as starters, and guard Jojari Field, a junior, who will be in his third year starting.
“We should be competitive and be in the hunt this season,” Bo Workman said. “I’m looking forward to coaching both the boys and girls. We have a good group of freshmen, JV and varsity.”
There were 22 boys out for the team on day one.
“We’ve got the numbers, so we just need an aggressive defense and a little more full-court pressure,” the coach said. “We have some good leaders, and I hope some of those guys will step up and be leaders like they have in the past. They need to help each other and know when to kick it in and step up.”
Mike, a Prairie City graduate, had his first coaching experience in Prairie City in 1987, then Mt. Vernon until the high school portion closed. He also coached at Grant Union, then Jordan Valley for several years.
He said they still have some positions to fill on the team.
“We’re still trying to determine who those players are, and that won’t be determined for some time,” he said.
He said they were fortunate to have the Player of the Year on their team the past two years.
“We were blessed then, and we’re blessed now with some good, skilled players,” he said.
All five seniors, Deiter, McKinley, Carson McKay, Opie McDaniel and Kaden Madden, have a united purpose.
“Our goal is winning league again and making it back to the state tournament,” Deiter said.
McDaniel said he’s hopeful for that third consecutive year back at the tournament in Baker City.
“We’ve got a little height, speed and good shooting,” he said.
Madden said he’s looking forward to a fun season.
“We hope to bring a good game of basketball to the home crowd,” McKay added.
“I want to get to the state game,” McKinley said. “The first step is to win districts.”
He said the team’s camaraderie is factoring in to what he feels will be a successful season.
“We have good team chemistry — and we get along well,” he said.
Prairie City will face nine teams in the 1A-8 High Desert League this season, including the Dayville/Monument Tigers, Long Creek/Ukiah Mountain Lions, Jordan Valley Mustangs, Adrian Antelopes, Crane Mustangs, Harper Hornets, Huntington Locomotives, Burnt River Bulls and Four Rivers Falcons.
“It’s anybody’s trophy,” Bo Workman said. “It’s going to be a fight. These guys have been so successful the last few years. Everyone is hoping to get them.”
He said their tough preseason starts with their first game against Joseph on the road at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6.
The coach also expects some challenging competition at the Dec. 12-14 Badger Tournament in North Powder. He said games against the Sherman Huskies and Horizon Christian/Hood River Hawks, two teams that made it to state last year, will be tough.
“There will be some good competition,” he said. “Expectations are always hopeful.”
Mike Workman added the Joseph Eagles and Imbler Panthers are two teams that were young yet successful last year.
He added the Panthers won’t have their first home game until Jan. 10, when they host the Echo Cougars.
Mike said they have some young guards who need to gain the experience to become “game-ready.”
“Our guard play has to step up and play well,” he said.
He added, the team is conditioning every night with a lot of individual instruction as the season goes on.
“You mold more team concept, and you just add things as the season progresses,” he said. “It’s not how you start the season. It’s how you finish.”
Prairie City boys basketball schedule
Dec. 6: @ Joseph, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 7: @ Imbler in Joseph, 1:30 p.m.
Dec. 14: @ Badger Tournament vs. Bickleton (WA) in North Powder, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 15: @ Badger Tournament vs. St. Paul in North Powder, 3:00 p.m.
Dec. 20: @ Sherman in Moro, 6 p.m.
Dec. 21: @ Horizon Christian/Hood River, 5:30 p.m.
Dec. 30: @ Crane, 6:30 p.m.
Jan. 3: @ Imbler, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 4: vs. Cove, 3:30 p.m.
Jan. 10: vs. Echo, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 17: vs. Dayville/Monument, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 18: vs. Ukiah/Long Creek, 3:30 p.m.
Jan. 25: vs. Jordan Valley, 3:30 p.m.
Jan. 31: @ Huntington, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 1: vs. Four Rivers, 3:30 p.m.
Feb. 7: @ Harper, 6:30 p.m.
Feb 8: @ Dayville/Monument in Dayville, 3:30 p.m.
Feb. 14: @ Adrian, 6:30 p.m.
Feb. 15: vs. Crane, 3:30 p.m.
Feb. 20 — 22: High Desert League District Tournament, John Day
Feb. 26: 1st Round State Playoffs
Feb. 29: 2nd Round State Playoffs
March 4-7: State Championship, Baker City