Oklahoma Sooners: Lon Kruger

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

Not every top basketball prospect signed with a school in the fall. Some needed a solid senior season to open up even more eyes.

Case in point is three-star shooting guard Frank Booker (Augusta, Ga./Westside). Booker had some offers heading into his senior season. He didn’t make a decision, believing bigger and better things would be coming his way.

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A battle with a former Big 12 rival highlights the men’s basketball schedule for Oklahoma. The Sooners will take on Texas A&M, who moved to the SEC this year, in the All-College Classic on Dec. 15 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Okla.

The Sooners 14-game non-conference slate features seven home games including a Dec. 29 contest against Ohio, one of the darlings of March Madness 2011. Road games at Arkansas (Dec. 4) and Oral Roberts (Nov. 28) highlight their road slate.

[+] EnlargeLon Kruger
Mark D. Smith/US PresswireLon Kruger and the Sooners will play on national television 17 times this season.
OU will also participate in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla. from Nov. 23 thru Nov. 25.

The November schedule sets up well for the Sooners, who return their entire starting five from last season and lost just two contributors from the roster.

After spending their Thanksgiving in Florida, OU faces the toughest stretch of its non conference schedule with games at Arkansas, in Oklahoma City against Texas A&M and back to back home games against Stephen F. Austin and Ohio. Fortunately for Lon Kruger’s squad, those four games will be played in a span of 25 days and make up the majority of OU’s December schedule because of finals.

OU will appear on national television 17 times this season (11 on ESPN or ESPN2, 6 on ESPNU), six more than last season.

The Sooners enter this season with plenty of optimism with the addition of Wyoming transfer Amath M'Baye along with talented freshman guards Buddy Hield, Je’Lon Hornbeak and Isaiah Cousins. They join a roster which returns six players who averaged at least 10 minutes per game in Kruger’s first season.
Every weekday morning, a member of the SoonerNation gives his take on three things happening in the Sooner sports world.

1. What did OU basketball coach Lon Kruger say he wanted to do when he took over? Keep the top in-state kids home. Well, you can’t say he’s not trying. Kruger pulled off an Oklahoma high school double on Thursday with the commitments of 2013 four-star point guard Jordan Woodard (Edmond, Okla./Memorial) and 2014 power forward Jacob Hammond (Duncan, Okla./Oklahoma City Sky). With Stevie Clark now in Las Vegas, Woodard is the top in-state prospect for 2013. Hammond, when it’s all said and done, could be the top one for 2014. He is already 6-foot-10 and 235 pounds.

2. It’s August, right? Just making sure because this is a big basketball weekend. The second alumni game will take place Saturday. This year the major star returning is Mookie Blaylock, who didn’t participate last year. But this event and weekend is also a showcase for recruits. Woodard and Hammond will both be on hand as will other recruits. It’s an environment and atmosphere that should be 100 percent positive and fun. If the banquet is usually the big football event for recruits, the alumni weekend could be on its way to being the big basketball event.

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Florida State became the latest school to ban its players from Twitter. OU head coach Bob Stoops said he’s not inclined to keep his team off Twitter, though it’s clear he’s lost no love for the social media network.

“It’s kind of dumb really,” Stoops said of Twitter during Big 12 media days. “I don’t have much of a deal on it. Except my guys, and I’ve said this – and obviously sometimes they don’t take it to heart – but anything that has to do with our program, that’s just like you had a press conference. (There,) you’re not going to do it. If you’re going to the grocery store, have at it. If it’s something to do with us, I need to approve that.”

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiOklahoma coach Bob Stoops said a recently-created Twitter account "was a lie."
Stoops’ players have had issues with Twitter in the past. The worst came two years ago when wideout Jaz Reynolds was suspended after making jokes about a shooting on the campus at the University of Texas.

“If they can’t get that, or just if certain guys can’t get that, I’ll just take theirs (away),” Stoops said. “So we’ll see, I don’t know.”

Former OU coach Barry Switzer became the latest to hop on Twitter last week, but don’t expect to Stoops to be following Switzer any time soon.

“I don’t even know the first way to follow anybody, or how it works,” Stoops said. I have nothing to do with that.”

Other OU coaches like basketball coaches Lon Kruger and Sherri Coale and baseball’s Sunny Golloway are on Twitter. Not long ago, the athletic department appeared to have created an account for Stoops, too, before eventually deleting it.

“That wasn’t my page. It was a lie,” Stoops said. “Sometimes people get on and say they’re me, and they’re not me. If anyone is on Twitter saying it’s me, you can bet that it isn’t.”
Every weekday morning, a member of the SoonerNation gives his take on three things happening in the Sooner sports world.

1. The NBA draft is on Thursday night but no Sooners are expected to be selected, which is no surprise. Lon Kruger’s squad returns the majority of its key contributors as C.J. Washington was the lone scholarship senior on the squad last season.

2. Bob Stoops weighed in on the upcoming four-team playoff on Wednesday. The Sooners football coach is happy the bowl system will remain in place and the regular season will continue to be important.

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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.”
You see it all the time at the college level. Head coaches leave and the recruits or players on campus start to explore other options. But you don’t see it too often at the high school level. And you normally don’t see a top prospect considering such a game-changing move this late in the recruiting season.

However, that is exactly what point guard Stevie Clark (Oklahoma City/Douglass) is considering following the departure of Oklahoma City Douglass coach Terry Long.

Clark, who is 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds, is a four-star prospect ranked No. 57 in the ESPN 60 for 2013. But he is contemplating graduating early from high school and enrolling in college in the fall. The news was first reported by NewsOK.com.

Stevie Clark
Bob Przybylo/ESPN.comPoint guard Stevie Clark is the top junior basketball player in the state, but he might reclassify and enroll in college in the fall.
The junior was offered by Oklahoma in February, and the Sooners are one of his more than 20 offers at this point.

Clark’s mother, Dorshell Clark, said the family has checked with Oklahoma City Douglass to make sure he has all of the necessary credits to graduate early. Clark has a 4.0 GPA. She has been on top of making sure her son is eligible with NCAA Clearinghouse guidelines for a long time. Clark has been a prospect to watch since his freshman year when he received his first offer. He is the No. 1 in-state prospect in the class.

“Right now it’s a real possibility,” Dorshell Clark said. “It was a shock to me as well, but I will support my son with whatever he chooses to do.”

With his academics in order, the next question becomes athletics. Do any of Clark’s top schools have room to add him to their 2012 class?

The Sooners do not have an open scholarship for Clark and have already signed three guards for their incoming class: Je'lon Hornbeak (Arlington, Texas/Grace Prep), Buddy Hield (Bel Aire, Kan./Sunrise Christian) and Isaiah Cousins (Mount Vernon , N.Y./Mount Vernon).

Some of the other schools on Clark’s list are in the same position. Dorshell Clark has reached out to some of the schools and the answer seems to be consistent. No school has said no at this point, but it might be tough to make the pieces fit.

“I called Coach [Lon] Kruger, and he was out of the country,” Dorshell Clark said. “I should be talking to him soon.”

Dave Telep Stevie is one of the top deep-shooters in the country. His range and consistency are high level. The biggest adjustment from high school to college will be the advancement of his passing game and development of a secondary offensive weapon like a floater. He's talented enough to make the move early but would be best served playing in a multi-guard front to ease the transition.

-- ESPN.com senior basketball recruiting analyst Dave Telep on Stevie Clark.
Long’s departure is a huge blow, but it wasn’t necessarily a huge shock. Long accepted a head coaching job at Mustang, Okla., last week. Oklahoma City Douglass is a Class 4A school, while Mustang is 6A, the largest classification in the state. Long had already tried to leave Oklahoma City Douglass earlier in the spring. He was a finalist for the job at Edmond (Okla.) Santa Fe, one of the premier basketball programs in the state.

Even before Long officially left, it has been a tough situation for Stevie Clark and the Clark family to do deal with because they are such good friends with Long and his family.

“He’s got to do his thing. I understand that, but he means a lot to me,” Clark said two weeks ago at the OKHoops.com Invitational in Oklahoma City. “He has been a lot more than just a coach for me.”

Clark averaged 25 points and 11 assists per game in helping lead Oklahoma City Douglass to its third consecutive state championship.

It wasn’t until February that Clark and the Sooners got on the same page. Miscommunication had each side believing there was not mutual interest. Once that got cleared up, though, Clark and OU have quickly developed a strong bond. He attended several of OU’s final home games and Kruger visited Clark at Oklahoma City Douglass to watch him play. Clark said he likes the direction Kruger is taking the program.

He also has offers from Florida State, Oklahoma State and Connecticut, among numerous others.
Every weekday morning, a member of the SoonerNation gives his take on three things happening in the Sooner sports world.

1. OU quarterback target Brayden Scott (Tahlequah, Okla./Sequoyah) has couple of important days this weekend. Scott left for Atlanta on Thursday and will participate in the Elite 11 QB regional event, followed by the NIKE Football Training Camp event Saturday. He realizes this is his chance to shine and said he is hoping to get an invitation to the Elite 11 finals to The Opening. Scott will be evaluated in person by OU quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel next Friday.

2. He didn’t make the ESPN 150, but OU fans have to be happy with the evaluation of defensive end commit Matt Dimon (Katy, Texas/Katy). Not much was made nationally when Dimon committed to the Sooners, but he was given a four-star rating and is ranked No. 17 at defensive end by the ESPN scouts. OU has two of the top three running backs and two of the top 17 defensive ends -- not a bad start to the 2013 class.

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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."
Every weekday morning, a member of the SoonerNation gives his take on three things happening in the Sooner sports world.

1. It’s judgement day for Ryan Broyles. The former Oklahoma receiver holds his Pro Day today at 10 a.m. CT and is expected to run the 40-yard dash and run routes for NFL scouts. Broyles was slated to be a second or third round pick before the injury and is looking to prove to NFL teams that he is ready to make an immediate impact on Sundays. It has been a quick recovery after his ACL injury last November and it’s hard to believe Broyles won’t have success in the NFL; he’s the type of guy who make the foundation which championships are built upon.

2. Unless something unexpected happens, it appears Ryan Spangler will leave Gonzaga to transfer to OU. Orginally from Bridge Creek, Okla., Spangler is a big body with excellent athleticism and offensive skills. If he does end up in Norman he should become an impact player as soon as he becomes eligible in 2013. Spangler, who was not offered by Jeff Capel’s Sooner program before Lon Kruger took over, is set to visit OU this weekend.

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Freshman power forward Ryan Spangler has decided to transfer from Gonzaga and will make an official visit to Oklahoma this weekend, Spangler confirmed Wednesday.

Spangler, 6-foot-8 and 225 pounds, was a high school star at Blanchard (Okla.) Bridge Creek but was not heavily recruited by then-Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel.

[+] EnlargeRyan Spangler
Robert Johnson/Icon SMIFreshman forward Ryan Spangler is transferring from Gonzaga.
With OU head coach Lon Kruger’s commitment to keeping local talent at home, Spangler said he feels he would fit in with the Sooners, which is why he is visiting OU this weekend.

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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.”


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