CHARGER SPARK: Memorial’s Caleb Nero goes for a layup in game against Hale earlier this season. Nero is one of the Chargers’ top scorers.
The shot is haunting.
Memorial senior guard Caleb Nero recalls last season when Midwest City Carl Albert hit a last-second shot to beat the Chargers in the 2016 Class 5A boys state championship game.
The team thinks back on it every time they take the basketball court.
In that game, Trey Hopkins connected with the net off an offensive rebound, breaking a tie with three seconds remaining and giving the then second-ranked Titans a 56-54 win against the No. 1 Chargers.
“Every practice, every game, we always think about that last shot,” Nero says. “That last shot was tough. It hurt all of us, especially the guys who graduated last year.
“I don’t think it had anything to do with how we played, they just got the ball at the last second and made it,” Nero says. “That was really it. I don’t think there were any lessons to it.”
It was the second straight season that Carl Albert High School broke Memorial’s heart. An 8-foot basket by Mason Harrell as time expired lifted the Titans to a 50-48 win over the Chargers in the semifinals of the 2015 state tournament.
As of Jan. 20, Memorial (13-2) was ranked No. 2 in 5A, behind, you guessed it, Carl Albert (14-1).
“We don’t want anybody being in front of us,” Nero says. “So, it definitely gives us motivation.”
Nero has been playing basketball since he was three years old. He relishes being in his leadership role. He is one of the go-to guys for the Chargers’ scoring, and he does it in impressive fashion.
“I’ve been starting on the varsity since I was a sophomore,” he says. “I started as a junior, and now it’s my time to be an ultimate leader and lead this team to a victory. It’s great. Coach gives me the freedom to do that.”
The things that Nero likes the most about basketball are the grinding and practicing parts.
“It’s a very fun sport. I’ve been playing forever,” he says.
Nero has college plans for basketball but is still entertaining offers. He says he has received calls from the likes of Providence and Rice.
If there is a game that would be memorable for Nero, it would the Chargers’ Jan. 10 game at McLain, where he led the team with 43 points – Kevin Durant numbers – in an 83-56 win.
“My teammates were finding me in the right spot,” Nero says in regard to his performance that night. “My coaches were calling plays for me, and I was catching the ball in rhythm and just hitting shots. It felt great because Brandon Loyd held the scoring record and I broke the scoring record. So, it felt great. (Brandon Loyd) was probably one of the best players that ever came through Memorial.”
Brandon Loyd was a member of Memorial’s state championship team in 1994.
Memorial’s two defeats have come at the hands of 6A powers Midwest City and Edmond North in the Tournament of Champions, an annual event played over Christmas break at the ORU Mabee Center, which features teams that are likely expected to make the state tournament,
“(The losses) helped us get better as a team,” Nero says. “They showed our weaknesses, they showed us the things we need to get better at, showed our defense how we need to play better, and our offense on having to move the ball more.”
Nero believes the team has grown a lot in the past year.
“We have a great team,” he says. “We don’t necessarily have any role players. We don’t have someone who is just good at doing this or that. All of our guys can score, they can pass, they can play defense and we have a bench too.”
Central and Booker T Washington are the toughest foes left on the schedule as they attempt to make another run towards a state championship.
What will be the key to accomplishing that?
“We just stay super-focused on our main goal,” Nero says. “We have to be locked in every practice, every game and just keep on getting better.”