Practices have been going extremely well. We have a really exciting group this year. We have a lot of new faces, I'm still learning names.
We've had the luxury of playing with different lineups each day and trying to find the right combinations. But I think this season will offer quite a few good surprises from this basketball team.
Q: What are those good surprises?
Ricardo Patton: As all of you are probably aware of, we were picked to finish10th by the Big 12 coaches this season. As I asked myself why, I think it's that we are just an unknown group right now. Coaches in this league, and even the media, aren't as aware of some of the kids that we brought into the program to go along with some of the returning players.
All the returning players came back better, ready to contribute. I'm hoping that we are a much better team – with an emphasis on that word team — than we were for the majority of last season.
Q: Is that in part because of losing four starters?
RP: Anytime you lose the major bulk of your scoring, people are going to question how quickly you can recover from that. Certainly when you lose a guy of David Harrison's stature, that's a hard position to fill.
That was the one position where we were bigger than most teams. We don't have that luxury this year.
But I think we'll be a different team, we'll play a lot different than we did last season.
Q: Where do you look to make up scoring and rebounding you lost from last year?
RP: The guys that we brought in, those guys are very capable scorers. I'll start out with our freshmen. We've got Richard Roby, and a guy that's been a pleasant surprise, Marcus King-Stockton. He was a guy that we had talked about redshirting, but he's done a good job in practice, and so that's a question now.
I don't know that we'll have the luxury of redshirting him, because we may need him.
We'll get scoring from a lot of different areas. Julius Ashby is a guy, Lamont Arrington. Those two are different type of players from David, but who will do things that will cause teams some problems.
Q: Who are your shooters — the guy you go to with 10 seconds left an you need a 3?
RP: I don't know yet. I know that Andy Osborn is a guy who has the ability to knock down the 3-point shot. Richard Roby, Glean Eddy, and even Jayson Obazuaye is shooting the ball a lot better and playing with a great deal of confidence. Going in, he probably gets the most improved player award. Marcus Hall is a guy that's really stepped up his games.
Right now our team identity is still a mystery, but I believe that we have enough pieces that if we will play unselfish basketball and play extremely hard, then we'll have a chance to be successful.
Q: How different will your style of play be from last season?
RP: This is probably the most athletic team we've had since I've been here. We'll be a lot quicker, and we'll be able to extend our defense more than we have in the past.
Q: Do you have a starting five in mind yet?
RP: Not at this point. We've had the luxury so far to look at several combinations and see what works best. I think there was only one combination that I put on the floor one day that I didn't like. The rest of them you could play with a little bit. But at this point we don't have any starters.
Q: Are you looking for one guy or a rotation to replace Harrison?
RP: It'll be a team effort. Julius Ashby and Lamont Arrington and Andy Osborn and Chris Copeland. We'll probably just score in different ways than we did last year. Last year we could just pound the ball inside to David, and he was bigger than most on most nights. This year, we'll just go in a different way.
Q: How is the health of the team?
RP: A couple of days ago we looked like a MASH unit. But we're slowly, but surely getting back to good health. Glean Eddy's been out; he had some heart issues, but has been cleared to go. He will practice Tuesday for the first time in over a week.
Q: How is the team chemistry so far?
RP: I talked to the players about that last week. The chemistry has been really good. They do a lot of things together off the floor, and they like each other very much. But the thing that I'm reminded of is sometimes team attitude changes once you start handing out playing time. So that will be when I give my final assessment about if this is truly a team.
Q: How do you resolve the point guard situation? Do you give it to one player, or go by committee like last year?
RP: We've put Jayson Obazuaye at the point guard position. I like his size and his strength at the point guard. But I also like Antoine McGee. His experience is really showing right now running the team.
Those two guys run the team in two different ways. With McGee at the point, he is a true point guard and does a good job of setting his teammates up. Obazuaye is a guy that we look to get into the lane and use his athleticism against smaller guards.
Q: Your best teams have come out of the bushes. You're picked to finish 10th (by the coaches poll). What do you think about that?
RP: The last team that was almost picked that low was the team that finished 2nd in the Big 12. Typically we've been picked toward the bottom, but we've always finished higher than that I think.
When I first saw that I thought if this team finishes 10th, then I'll remind the players that this would be the worst team we've ever had. Hopefully, that'll be an incentive for these guys to want to do much, much better than 10th.
Q: Do you have more questions about this team than you have with other teams in the past?
RP: There are more questions in terms of rotation. A lot of questions in terms of the guys' abilities have been answered early in our practices. But I have more questions in terms of putting a rotation of guys together. Substituting guys will be an area we'll concentrate quite a bit — having the right combination on the floor at the right time.
Q: What's the biggest challenge with putting a team with so many new faces together?
RP: Again, it's just finding team chemistry. Basically team chemistry means guys are unselfish, and guys are willing to accept their role. Guys aren't caught up in the "who's starting, and who's not starting."
That's the biggest challenge: putting a group on the floor that truly wants to win above any other interest.
Q: More often than not, Juco players struggle early in their careers as they adjust to Division I. Will these guys go through that?
RP: They're talented enough to play in the Big 12. That's the first question you have to ask yourself: From a talent standpoint, are they good enough? And I believe that they are.
Certainly, there will be a learning curve, and some adjustments that they make as they go through the Big 12. But I think one of the things that will help them is the fact that we have a very, very competitive non-conference schedule. We start out here after our exhibition games with the College of Charleston, which is a very good basketball team. If we win that game, we move on to Michigan.
That schedule gives those guys an opportunity to realize the adjustment they have to make to play at this level.
Q: How tough is it to make that next step in the Big 12, to the top three or four teams?
RP: I think it's extremely difficult. One of the problems you have in going from way down, where Colorado used to be, to 1, 2, and 3, it's the fact that those teams (at the top) don't have slippage. Sometimes in order to catch a person, you've got to be doing all you can and more, and then maybe you catch a break when a guy slips.
What I've found in the Big 12, those teams that are 1, 2, and 3, they don't have slippage. They continue to get better.
Texas will be a new basketball team this year, but the four or five guys they brought in were all McDonald's All-Americans. Sometimes it's tough to catch that time of team.
And then, of course, you need resources that those teams have that allow them to stay where they are.
Q: No players appear on the media guide cover. Will any players be the face of this team down the road?
RP: That'll happen, I'm hoping. But it's like yesterday's thought for the day was: Captains are selected and leaders are revealed. That's what has to happen with this team. The leader has to reveal himself. We can select captains any day of the week, but that real leader has to step up and come forth. That'll happen over a period of time.
Q: How do you see the Big 12 shaping up? RP: Kansas, of course, I knew they would be favored to win our league. Most of those guys that are returning, I think all the seniors, this is the fourth year they've been together. The point guard and Wayne Simien played in the Final Four, so they've got experience.
You look at Oklahoma State coming off a Final four run; they lost a pretty good player but had a couple guys sitting out.
You asked earlier how difficult it is to go from the bottom to the middle (of the Big 12), for a long time we couldn't crack that seventh place spot. And it's so difficult to go from seventh to sixth. And that's when the NCAA was taking six teams out of the Big 12 (to the tournament) every year.
If you look at Nebraska last season. They were right on the edge of cracking the top tier. They had guys that could shoot the basketball, they were big, they were well-coached. They had all the ingredients, but it just didn't happen last season. They probably are my surprise pick for this season as a team that could make some noise in the Big 12.
I though Kansas State played as hard as anyone in the league last year. For us to beat them twice, I thought, was a blessing. It's just difficult to move up in a tough conference.
On Lamont Arrington and Julius Ashby.
RP: Lamont is a legit 6-11. He's long and pretty athletic. I wish we had the luxury of redshirting him. I think that would give him a chance to play at the next level. Right now the only thing that he needs is to get stronger. He has a great work ethic, very coachable. He's a guy that can change shots and run the floor.
Julius Ashby is a guy that's as athletic as any post player as we've ever had here. He's getting better every practice. Works extremely hard and can really run the floor.
Our players during preseason had to run a lot. In the last week, our guards had to run a mile under 5:30, and our post players had to run a mile in 6 minutes. Julius Ashby ran his mile in 5;15. That's pretty good for a 6-9 guy.
Those two guys compliment each other pretty well. I'd like to be able to put them both on the floor together, because it gives us our biggest lineup.
The coaches and I were in a meeting last week and we counted 10 guys that we were very comfortable playing, and thought any of those 10 guys could easily be starters.
Q: Do you have a timetable for solidifying a starting five, or will that take into November, and maybe December?
RP: I'd like to get to that point as soon as possible, but I think we'll look at the two exhibition games and play with some different combinations in those games, and go from there.