Ford: 'We Will Play The Way I Want To Play'

STILLWATER – Travis Ford wants to go fast. The Oklahoma State head basketball coach has always preferred an up-tempo style of play but that wasn't the case in the just completed 2010-11 season. But Ford addressed a variety of issues, including promising changes in the way the Cowboys play next season, on Tuesday afternoon in an end-of-season interview session.

The Cowboys averaged just 68.2 points (10th in the Big 12 and 187th out of 345 schools playing Division I basketball) and made a dismal 29.5 percent of their three-point shots (last in the conference and 339th in the nation) this past season. Those numbers did not please Ford, whose team finished 20-14 and failed to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his three years as head coach.

"Yes, we're going to get back to playing the way we need to play, the way I want to play, and that is night and day to how we played this year," Ford said emphatically from his office overlooking Boone Pickens Stadium.

"But part of that style of play is (based on) we need to shoot the ball better, and I think we will. But as I was telling my staff just this morning, shooting threes this year was not an emphasis (on our team), not that we expected to shoot 29 percent. But when it's not an emphasis, you don't normally shoot a really good percentage. It will be more of an emphasis next year, no question, which will enhance everybody's percentages and our team's," said Ford, who has a 65-37 record as the Cowboys head coach.

"We will play the way I want to play, no question."

The 41-year-old Ford told members of the media in late February that he was going to make some changes following the season, and he was asked Tuesday what specific changes he had planned during the offseason.

When asked if those changes involve players and members of his coaching staff, he answered, "I'm still evaluating everything. There's nothing right now."

Although he gave no specifics, Ford said the changes will be more in how he operates in the future. "Big changes to you guys may be different than big changes for me," he said.

"The big change for me is just not tolerating some of the things I tolerated throughout the season that I thought hurt our basketball team, and knowing that I can't fix everybody," said Ford.

"I'm close to all my players. My players are like my sons, and just like if you have a son or a daughter, you don't want to kick them to the curb when they make one mistake or two mistakes or even three mistakes. You feel like, I'm going to fix it, I'm going to make it better. I've done that throughout my whole career, and I've had success after success story. But there's been some cases where it's hurt my basketball team, where I've allowed things to happen. I've learned that I just can't fix everything, and that's a big change for me.

"I was very patient with some older players. It was nothing they were doing illegal. It was just being patient to the extent that it affected the team probably a little bit. I've always probably been a little bit more patient with older players because there are only so many things they can do from here. Once you get older, you have fewer and fewer options. There's more to my job than just coaching basketball. When you're dealing with 18-, 19-, 20-, 21-, 22- and 23-year-old kids, and that's what they are, there are going to be things that come up. Some years more than others. Some times more serious than others.

"I tolerated things that allowed guys not to be their best. I would punish them and they'd come back good, then you'd punish them again or penalize them, and they'd come back again. I just drew too many lines at times. These are not bad guys. None of them are bad guys. But it just took its toll at times. That's not blaming it on anybody in particular because I think some of these guys who will be leaving the program, it benefitted them particularly, and it will make them better people and will give them a chance to do something from this point.

"I learned a lot. I learned a lot. It's hard to explain."

But Ford said one thing he definitely learned is that he wants to get back to playing the way his team did in his first season at OSU when the Cowboys averaged 80.9 points (second in the Big 12) and shot 38.4 percent from behind the three-point line (first in the conference).

"Faster and spread the court out more, and not play two low-post players," he said when asked about playing his style of basketball. "We played 95 percent of this year with two five men, and one of the five men in Marshall was 6-5 (tall). Matt Pilgrim was a five man. Even Darrell was a five man who plays a lot of four. Now we're looking at three or four guys who fit what I see the four spot to a tee. LeBryan (Nash), J.P. (Olukemi), (and) Brian Williams ... those three guys are high-level athletes with size. They're like Obi (Muonelo) but all of them are three or four inches taller, and three or four times more athletic. You can throw Michael Cobbins in there just because he's more versatile, although he's not a shooter like those guys, but he can play it as well."

Ford said he entered the 2010-11 season hoping that a deep bench would allow the Cowboys to use more full-court pressure, but that idea was scraped when Fred Gulley was lost for the season to an injury, Darrell Williams was suspended, and Ray Penn left the team.

"That's my plan," said Ford when asked if the Cowboys will press more next season. "I thought we were going to have depth this year but it ended up being the absolute opposite. But as of right now, absolutely. I think depth should be a factor for us. It should be, barring injuries. I've got to believe it. That's what I'm counting on right now."

Ford said he would like his team to continue to play the type of defense they displayed this past season, but get better on the offensive end of the floor.

"We've always spent more time on defensive than offense, but I think we established this year that if we really had to rely on our defense we could do that. I think when you start scoring in the mid-80s you start taking away from defense a little bit. It means you're probably not playing much defense because the game's going so fast. I think in the upper 70s because than our defense can really take us ... I think we can be better defensively next year than we were this year, even though we lose our two most physical guys, and Matt May have been our best defender as far as inside presence," said Ford.

"Physicality and size is always good, no question. But it becomes less a factor when you play faster. When you're going to play in the 60s, you'd better have some guys down low who are going to hold every team to one shot, which we were doing a very good job of, and you'd better make teams take tough shots and we were doing that at the end of the year.

"Again, the makeup of our team will be different (next season) but our style of play will be different. We're not going to be as physical. We won't have those two seniors in there who just battle, one of them was just extremely athletic and the other one was just as strong as an ox and had great experience.

"But our philosophy defensively and our schemes defensively, I'm counting on it not hurting us. What we're looking at is not missing a beat and hopefully getting better defensively and be a whole lot better offensively."

(Please check back to GoPokes.com as we'll have more from Tuesday's interview with Travis Ford in the next few days.)


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