With Page, Moses and Sidorakis returning and the addition of five newcomers – junior college transfers Darrell Williams and Jéan-Paul Olukemi and freshmen Markel Brown, Mike Cobbins and Brian Williams – the Cowboys will be more athletic than his previous two OSU teams, Ford said.
"We didn't make the NCAA Tournament (each of the past two years) because we were the most talented overall team. We had a group of hungry guys, a close-knit group of guys who were very, very hungry to make it. Then we had great leadership, and people followed James and followed Obi," said Ford.
"They need to embrace and understand why those teams made it. Now this team probably has as much talent from top to bottom as those teams do but the challenges of this team is they are going to have to become mentally tougher and handle adversity. A lot of these guys don't understand how hard you have to play on a consistent basis every single day to compete at the highest level to make an NCAA Tournament. That's a challenge with this basketball team right now."
Finding replacements for Anderson, the first-round NBA Draft choice who averaged 22.3 points per game last season in becoming the Big 12 Player of the Year last season, or Muonelo won't fall on the shoulders of just one player.
"Counting the nuts and bolts of this team were James and Obi, and we're still missing that nuts and bolts a little bit. We've got to get that. Who's it going to be? Is it going to trickle down to the other guys who are going to be playing huge minutes?" Ford asked.
"My first two teams ... there wasn't a whole lot of talent, a whole lot of size and athleticism but we knew where we were at. This team has a little more size. We're bigger but we're not a real tall team. We've got more balance and a little more depth but it's all spread out, and we're trying to bring it all together, which is a challenge."
Page will be asked to pick up part of the scoring that the Cowboys lost with Anderson leaving a year early for the NBA and Muonelo's departure after a stellar four-year playing career.
The 5-9 junior from Pawnee, Okla., is the only returning Cowboy to average in double figures (10.7 ppg) but is capable of scoring bunches in a hurry as a 39 percent three-point shooter during his career. Page had 29 points in an intrasquad scrimmage on Sunday night.
Williams scored 20, Olukemi finished with 19, and Jarred Shaw scored 19.
Ford believes he has several players who can score 20 or more points in a game but none will probably do it every night like Anderson.
"Keiton can do it, J.P can do it, Marshall can do it, Markel can do it. A lot of guys are capable," said Ford. "Right now we don't have that guy that's going to go out there and average 20 points a game. So it's going to be by committee. For our team to have success it's going to have to be like that."
Ford's first two teams both made the NCAA Tournament after a three-year drought for the Cowboys. He hopes to be one of the top 68 teams again next March.
"I don't know if you always expect it; it's always a goal," the Cowboy head coach answered when asked if he expects to be in the NCAA Tournament for a third consecutive season.
"I was just telling somebody the other day how difficult it is to make the NCAA Tournament. The moment you just expect it or think it's going to come easy ... I'm sure North Carolina, UCLA and Connecticut, these teams last year who didn't make, always expected to make the NCAA Tournament.
"It's never a given. It's too hard. People don't realize how difficult it is, especially in our league, even though you get six or seven teams. It's a difficult thing to do. Just ask some of those teams. It's humbling when you see the North Carolinas, the UCLAs, the Connecticuts, three of probably the top five or six programs in America, didn't make the NCAA Tournament last year."
The 6-8, 255-pound forward was suspended indefinitely by Ford last week for undisclosed reasons and has not participated in a single practice session since workouts began Oct. 15.
"No update," was Ford's response when asked about Pilgrim's status.
OSU plays another exhibition game against Campbellsville, the NAIA school where Travis Ford got his first head coaching job (1997 to 2000), on Friday, Nov. 5, at GIA.
The Cowboys open the 2010-11 regular season against Houston Baptist on Saturday, Nov. 13. Tipoff is yet to be announced because the OSU football team plays at Texas that day.