Oklahoma Sooners: Basketball

Every Friday, SoonerNation releases the Sooner Intel, a sneak peek inside Oklahoma Sooners football recruiting with news and notes on the latest happenings around the program. Talk about it on our forum. A few things discussed in this week's update:

  • Why OU isn't out of the picture for a four-star Houston safety.
  • An OU linebacker target who visited for junior day is taking his time and will visit other schools.
  • What the Sooners' newest commit brings to OU's future defense.
  • An in-state tight end is dedicated to becoming great. Will the Sooners offer?
  • Keep an eye on a 2015 in-state defensive back who is working out with elite DBs.
  • More on what went wrong with OU's basketball decommitment.

Read the Sooner Intel after the jump.

The Oklahoma basketball coaching staff knew what it needed to pursue this winter. The Sooners need more offensive firepower, need more scoring going forward.

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Video: Joe Lunardi on Oklahoma

March, 19, 2013
Joe Lunardi previews the road ahead for Oklahoma, the South Region's No. 10 seed.

OU signee Woodard goes out in style 

March, 12, 2013

There are certain traits Lon Kruger is looking for when eyeing potential Oklahoma basketball targets. Leadership jumps to the front. Character is up there. Ability is certainly in the mix. How he fits into the system factors into the equation.

Then there are those intangible qualities. In Edmond (Okla.) Memorial signee Jordan Woodard, the Sooners truly are getting it all.

But maybe what sets Woodard apart from the rest of the crowd is his unselfishness, his team-first attitude.

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The success of the Oklahoma City Thunder is bound to have an impact on the Oklahoma men’s basketball program. OKC’s NBA franchise has changed the landscape for the state and the Sooners.

Head coach Lon Kruger doesn’t consider the change to be a bad development for OU.

“It’s a great thing,” Kruger said. “The Thunder are doing a terrific job and the atmosphere there [at Chesapeake Arena] is outstanding.”

Even though he calls the Thunder’s impact “a great thing,” the veteran coach understands it makes his job a little more difficult.

“What they’ve done is raise the bar,” he said. “We have to do a better job with in-game entertainment and making a fan-friendly experience. We’ll keep working with that ... but it still comes down to winning some ballgames and we’ll do that, too.”

The Sooners finished eighth in the Big 12 in attendance last season, averaging 8,524 fans in 16 home games.
With Carl Blair's decision to leave the program, Oklahoma is left without a returning backup for starting point guard Sam Grooms.

Spring signee Isaiah Cousins (Mount Vernon, N.Y./Mount Vernon) could fit the bill. At 6-foot-4, Cousins could bring excellent size to the position behind Grooms, who is listed at 6-foot-1.

“He’s very good off the dribble, very good at creating for others, he has good size at the point guard spot,” OU coach Lon Kruger said recently. “Sam is the only point guard we have returning so it’s good he can step in and play there.”

Cousins picked OU over offers from Virginia Tech, Xavier, Dayton and Rhode Island. He brings the versatility to play point guard and shooting guard. The Sooners already have Steven Pledger returning at shooting guard along with incoming freshmen Buddy Hield and Je’lon Hornbeak at that position, making point guard a perfect fit for Cousins.

[+] EnlargeLon Kruger
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiOklahoma coach Lon Kruger is excited about his new point guard Isaiah Cousins
Carl Blair, Grooms’ backup last season, elected to leave the program after his junior season and is likely headed to Prairie View A&M.

Two-sport standouts?

Incoming freshman football players Gary Simon and Charles Tapper didn’t leave their excellence on the football field during their prep careers. Both Oklahoma signees were standouts on the basketball court after spending the fall on the gridiron.

Tapper starred as a power forward for Baltimore City College High School and spent a portion of his career playing AAU basketball alongside Aquille Carr on the Baltimore Elite AAU team.

Simon was named player of the year while averaging 18.4 points per game for St. Petersburg (Fla.) Gibbs as a senior. He’s said he would like to play basketball at OU.

Sooners basketball coach Lon Kruger would welcome the duo with open arms but is uncertain if either player will join his squad this season.

“[We’re] not sure,” Kruger said when asked if they would join his squad after football. “We heard a couple of them had interest in coming out and if that works out, great. We love people that play more than one sport.”

Greener pastures?

More than 400 players have elected to transfer since the end of the college basketball season in early April.

Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger isn’t too surprised by all of the transfers nationwide.

“I think it’s a statement on society in general,” Kruger said. “If you look at young people, they’re changing summer AAU teams all the time. It used to be that freshmen go in, and it’s going to be a matter of time, they pay their dues.

“Kids don’t think like that today. They go in right now and if they aren’t playing the role they want to, they’ll go somewhere else to play that role. Often times I think it’s a reflection of young people not making a decision on a college for all the right reasons.”

Breakout year for OU's Amath M'Baye?

April, 20, 2012

ESPN.com college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla wrote a blog this week on possible breakout players for the 2012-2013 season and included Oklahoma's Amath M'Baye, a Wyoming transfer who sat out last season for the Sooners. Fraschilla, whose son James is a walk-on guard for OU, thinks M'Baye will make an immediate impact next season. Here's what he wrote:

Amath M'Baye, F, Oklahoma Sooners

The 6-foot-9 Wyoming transfer, who averaged 12 points and six rebounds as a sophomore before leaving the Cowboys, may have been Oklahoma's best player in coach Lon Kruger's first season in Norman. Unfortunately, the only people who know that are those who watched the Sooners practice, including a number of NBA scouts.

Read the rest of Fraschilla's story here. Insider

Immediate impact of Ryan Spangler's addition to Oklahoma’s mens basketball program is easy to see:

The Sooners have one more scholarship player on campus heading into 2013-14.

[+] EnlargeRyan Spangler
Robert Johnson/Icon SMIRyan Spangler will be able to contribute for the Sooners in the 2013-2014 season.
While that sounds like a simple analysis, one glance at OU’s roster shows the observation goes much deeper. The Sooners ended the season with six scholarship juniors including forward Romero Osby, guard Steven Pledger and guard Sam Grooms.

In other words, OU’s roster will be gutted after the 2012-13 season.

And Spangler, who chose to leave Gonzaga after one season and will be a sophomore, will be poised to step right in and become a core member of the 2013-14 squad. A former Oklahoma Gatorade Player of the Year from Bridge Creek, Okla., Spangler averaged 2.5 points and 2.4 rebounds in 22 games for Gonzaga but wanted to play closer to home.

"It's always extra special to have in-state guys as part of the OU program," said Kruger, "Although Ryan enjoyed his time at Gonzaga we're especially pleased that he's returning home to be a Sooner. He's a very natural rebounder, a tough guy on the boards and has an ability to score inside and outside. Ryan's work ethic will allow him to make great strides during his redshirt season."

Spangler is likely to join Amath M'Baye, Cameron Clark and Tyler Neal as the foundation of the 2013-14 team after he sits out this season. Incoming freshman Buddy Hield, Je'lon Hornbeak and Isaiah Cousins will also be battling to contribute. Spangler joins fellow 2012 spring signee D.J. Bennett">D.J. Bennett as the lone post players amongst that group.

At 6-foot-8, 232 pounds, Spangler is a versatile big man who should earn significant playing time immediately and become a core member of OU’s post rotation. He’s an efficient scorer who can shoot and prefers to face up and use his athleticism against defenders.

Having Spangler spending a season learning Kruger’s expectations cannot be overlooked. And having another 6-foot-8 post player already in the fold will change Kruger’s recruiting approach. While OU will still need to recruit additional size, the need is lessened by Spangler’s (and Bennett’s) presence.

Overall, the addition of Spangler to the Sooners’ roster is a great development for OU. He’ll help immediately as a sophomore in 2013-14 and don’t be surprised if he develops into a double-double player (double figure points and rebounds) during his career in crimson and cream.
With the signing of D.J. Bennett (Ottumwa, Iowa/Indian Hills CC), Oklahoma added size to its roster to finalize Lon Kruger’s first recruiting class in Norman.

A 6-foot-8 shot blocking forward, Bennett averaged nine points and six rebounds as Indian Hills went 33-4 this season.

“He brings high energy, shot-blocking ability and rebounding skills,” Kruger said in a release. “He also has the potential to be more of a scorer in the low post than he has been."

Bennett could fill a role similar to departing senior C.J. Washington, who brought defense, energy and rebounding off the bench for last year’s Sooner squad. He gives Kruger another option in the post along with Romero Osby, Andrew Fitzgerald and Casey Arent.

A junior with two years of eligibility remaining, Bennett could also provide a scoring option in the post if he continues to improve his offensive post game. After scoring double figures only two times in his first 25 games of last season, he scored double figures in 10 of his final 12 outings.

"D.J.'s a fantastic athlete," Indian Hills coach Barrett Peery said in a release. "Activity is his best asset. He can really run, he can really get on the rim and can rebound and block shots with his activity, his length and his bounce.

“He brings high energy, shot-blocking ability and rebounding skills. He also has the potential to be more of a scorer in the low post than he has been."
Wyoming transfer Amath M'Baye should have a immediate impact on Oklahoma’s basketball squad in the 2012-13 season.

His talent and competitive nature has been on display during his transfer season as he challenged his teammates while playing on the scout team.

“He clearly is the most competitive [player on the roster],” coach Lon Kruger said. “And that will change a lot of the other guys.”

Kruger also expects M'Baye to step in as a leader on the squad.

“Amath is very naturally a leader,” Kruger said. “This year we had guys, [Romero Osby] really worked at it, but that’s not his natural personality. For Amath it is. That’s good for the other guys, it’s one less thing they have to worry about and Amath wants that.”
Oklahoma point guard Sam Grooms had a solid first season in crimson and cream. He led the Big 12 in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.85) and finished second in assists (5.97 assists per game).

But the senior-to-be has plenty of work to do to insert his name among the nation’s top point guards. As Big 12 play progressed, teams began backing off Grooms, daring him to shoot from the perimeter.

“Sam has to spend a ton of time shooting,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “You have to make shots, otherwise you’re playing five-on-four all the time. That’s not healthy for the other guys.”

Kruger also would like to see Grooms make progress as a leader and be able to forget mistakes immediately after they occur so they don’t impact the next play.

“He carries those mistakes a little too long, he’s got to play the next play,” Kruger said. “He’s a great kid, a mistake bothers him so much. It’s a good quality to have but not necessarily at point guard in the middle of a game.”
The biggest weakness on Oklahoma’s team in Lon Kruger’s first season was its lack of depth. The starters had to play big minutes and didn’t have to fight for their time on the court, which is the ideal situation when trying to build a winner.

“We didn’t have the threat of minutes -- there’s got to be some risk involved,” Kruger said. “They wanted to do it, they wanted to be more physical but a lot of times it’s get it done or come sit over here.

“This year it was get it done... or try again next time. That’s not the way you want to do it.”

With transfer Amath M'Baye becoming eligible and signees Buddy Hield and Je'lon Hornbeak joining the squad, OU’s depth should improve and competition for minutes should increase.

“That’s human nature,” Kruger said of the threat of less minutes changing the overall competitiveness on the team. “We all react to that.”

Oklahoma basketball coach Lon Kruger told reporters Tuesday that he has no interest in becoming the next coach at his alma mater Kansas State, where he played from 1971-1974 and was head coach from 1986-1990.

When asked if he would have interest in the Wildcats' coaching position -- which is vacant after Frank Martin left for South Carolina -- here's what Kruger told The Tulsa World's Guerin Emig and The Norman Transcript's John Shinn:

"No, not at all. Certainly with no disrespect to [Kansas State athletic director] John (Currie) or their program, but no. Not in any way, shape or form."

Kruger, who went 15-16 in his first season with the Sooners, added that OU assistant coach Steve Henson would be a "great" fit for Kansas State. Henson played for the Wildcats from 1986-1990 and has been an assistant under Kruger for several years.

"K-State is a dream job, no question about it. I'm passionate about K-State and always have been," Henson told Emig and Shinn. "If I can get involved in it, I'd jump at the chance."

Read more on Emig's Tulsa World blog.

Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger was pleased with his team’s effort during his first season, despite the Sooners' 15-16 record.

But Kruger has consistently said his team needs to have a better understanding of how hard they must compete to be successful.

[+] EnlargeSteven Pledger, Ray Turner
Peter G. Aiken/US PresswireOklahoma junior guard Steven Pledger average 16.2 points per game this season.
“We can do a better job of that as a staff,” Kruger said of promoting competitiveness. “There’s a fine line there, you want to promote confidence, you want to promote 'Keep working at it,' but we have to demand more physical play.”

Kruger believes forwards Romero Osby and Andrew Fitzgerald can be more physical along with leading scorer Steven Pledger.

“Steven can be more physical,” he said. “For all he did scoring-wise, he has to do a lot more rebounding-wise, defensively. He’s got a big body, use it more.”

With three-straight losing seasons, Kruger is fighting to keep negativity -- and a losing mindset -- out of the program.

“They have to raise the expectations they have for themselves,” Kruger said. “There’s no one in our program that knows the standard of winning Big 12 games, they’ve never done it. Ww have to keep working to establish that, establish expectations. We have to expect more.”

Oklahoma's struggles in close games is one of the defining aspects of this year’s squad.

“If you look at every game, there were stretches in every game were we played well enough,” Kruger said. “But there were too many stretches when we didn’t play well. We have to treat each possession with more importance.”
NORMAN, Okla. -- Imposing your will during an NCAA women’s tournament game is not easy.

Aaryn Ellenberg sure made it look that way.

The Oklahoma guard scored 28 points to lead the No. 6 Sooners to a 88-67 win over No. 11 Michigan in the first round of the NCAA women’s tournament at the Lloyd Noble Center on Sunday night. Oklahoma will face No. 3 St. John’s in the second round on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m.

“She’s casual Sally,” OU head coach Sherri Coale said of Ellenberg. “She makes it look effortless. She makes you think she’s just along for the ride but she really cares, it really matters to her. And she came to play tonight.”

Ellenberg finished 10-of-18 from the field including 5-of-11 from the three-point line while adding five rebounds and four assists without a turnover in 26 minutes. The LNC crowd gave the sophomore a resounding ovation when she left the floor with 1:27 remaining.

“She can do everything,” Michigan guard Courtney Boylan said. “She can stroke it, she can shoot it, and she can drive it. We tried our best to defend her and stop her as best as we could, but sometimes she got away from us.”

The sophomore from Las Vegas was particularly deadly in the second half, scoring 21 points and hitting four three-pointers in the final 20 minutes.

“I don’t necessarily think I thought to take it upon myself [to take over],” Ellenberg said. “I was trying not turn down shots that I can make when we were in slumps and not scoring. That was my main goal. I have to shoot for us to be successful.”

The Sooners starting guards -- Ellenberg, Morgan Hook and Whitney Hand -- combined for 53 of OU’s 88 points and 14 assists as their backcourt controlled the game while forcing the Wolverines into 14 turnovers and just 11 assists.

“We just have not had much trouble when those three have been really good,” Coale said. “They have been through a lot of battles over the course of the year, very meaningful situations. That’s really the only way you get confidence. You earn it by doing something hard.

“What I thought you saw from all three of those guards is the confidence that comes through going through a rigorous Big 12 schedule.”

It was a disappointing end for a Michigan squad making its first NCAA appearance in 11 years but the loss didn’t take away from the pride of helping to rebuild the program for Boylan and the rest of UM’s seniors.

“That was one of the greatest feelings I have ever felt, seeing our name come up on the television screen that we made it to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 11 years,” Boylan said. “That was a huge point for us in our career. We would have loved to come here and get a win, but in no means does it make it less of an enjoyable experience for us playing at Michigan.”


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