The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

December 17, 2013

At Pioneer, it's Colby Koontz time

By Ryan Costello, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — A microcosm of the Pioneer Mustangs’ season so far was on display with 2:25 left against 3A No. 19 Oklahoma Christian School.

Pioneer led 47-45, with three missed free throws keeping the Saints within a possession, and with a chance to put some cushion on the lead, Colby Koontz, the Mustangs’ 6-foot-9, 220-pound junior and a Division I college prospect, caught the ball on the left elbow … and passed.

“Now’s the time to take over!” Pioneer coach Brandon Gallagher roared specifically to Koontz after the possession finished empty-handed, but loud enough for all within the Chisholm Trail Expo Center to take part in the drama.

In fairness, it’s not like Koontz hadn’t already substantially impacted the game -- his 22 points already would have finished a game-high if it’d ended after 29 minutes -- but Gallagher wanted Koontz to seal the deal, not defer.

Though not then and there, Koontz did ice the game. After losing the ball on an attempted drive and pounding his chair in frustration during an ensuing timeout, Koontz hit both ends of two one-and-one free-throw opportunities to give the Mustangs a 52-47 lead that shortly after was a 52-49 win. The junior forward, completely healthy for the first time in two seasons after an injury to his right elbow, has scored 21.5 points per game through four for the Mustangs.

“He’s our best player,” Gallagher said after the win, which earned the Mustangs a spot in the finals of the early-season Oklahoma Bible Academy Prep Classic. “He needs to assert himself. And what happens is, when he tries to take over, other guys end up wide open. It’s not like we’re saying he needs to take every shot, but when he’s aggressive and he asserts himself, everybody else ends up wide open.”

Even with Koontz's production, plus 10.5 points from Brandon McNaughton and 10 a night from Blake Gabriel, the Mustangs are off to a 2-2 start, albeit against an early schedule that indcluded two ranked teams (No. 10 Alva, No. 19 Oklahoma Christian School) and Oklahoma Bible Academy, which likely also would be ranked with a higher profile.

If there is a problem for Pioneer, it’s balance. In three of four games, only four players have scored for the Mustangs -- in the other, five did, each time with Koontz leading the offense. So, as Koontz goes, so goes Pioneer. At no point was it clearer in the Mustangs’ next game, when Koontz scored a season-low 16 in an ugly 54-33 loss to Alva, dropping Pioneer out of Class 2A’s top-20 in the OSSAA’s official rankings for the first time this season.

“Colby’s a really good kid, and I think he wants to be unselfish, and that’s great,” Gallagher said. “But sometimes, he’s gotta say, ‘Hey, it’s my time, too.’

Even if it’s not his first instinct, Koontz understands as much.

“I feel like I have a bunch of guys counting on me,” Koontz said. “God’s blessed me with a lot of talent and ability, and I feel like I need to use that to help my teammates, my brothers. That’s what coach is getting after … I’m ready.”