Ford: Nash Makes Us Better Immediately

Travis Ford was in a good mood, smiling and laughing earlier this week during an end-of-season interview. The biggest smile spread across Ford's face when he was asked if he'd watched Oklahoma State signee LeBryan Nash place first in the McDonald's All-American Powerade Jam Fest on Monday night. The Cowboys head coach can't wait for the 6-6, 210-pound five-star recruit to arrive in Stillwater.

Nash only scored two points during the McDonald's All-American Game on Wednesday night but won first place in Monday night's slam-dunk contest while wearing the same orange foam Cowboy hat that he was wearing in November when he committed to Oklahoma State on ESPNU.

"I love it. I think it's great. That hat has created a life of its own," said Ford. "I'm happy for him. I know how much he puts into it. I know how much basketball means to him. He loves the game and he has fun with it, as you can see, and he's not afraid.

"If there are 12 McDonald's All-Americans, I bet 10 of them wouldn't put that hat on because they are too cool. He's great in that aspect. But it's fun to watch and it's fun that he's having the success he's having."

But Ford knows that there will be an adjustment period for the Lincoln High School senior in Dallas. Instead of playing the likes of Conrad and Spruce high schools as he did this past season, Nash will be going up against Texas, Kansas and Texas A&M with the Cowboys.

"When he gets here, he's a freshman. It's not just going to be easy. He's going to have his tough times and things like that, but, again, I think he is going to be surrounded by guys who are really going to help him through this," said Ford.

"Yes, he is an extremely talented player, probably the most talented player I will have on the team, even as a freshman. He's a very talented, skilled basketball player. But he has still got to come in and fit in with everybody else. But no question, I think he makes our team better immediately."

Nash averaged 21.6 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists in leading Lincoln to a 32-4 record this past season. Could he challenge the OSU freshman scoring record of 521 points (17.4 ppg) set by Richard Dumas in 1987-88? Ford will know more when he arrives on campus.

"One thing Ford does know is that Nash probably will not be a Cowboy for four years. He expects him to have the type of OSU career that leads to the NBA, possibly after just one season.

"No," Ford said when asked if Nash will play at Oklahoma State all four seasons. "It's a good question, but is he a candidate, for somebody as we are sitting here right now, to be a one-and-done? Yeah. He's a candidate. He's a top-five player in the country. He's absolutely a candidate.

"But we don't know how his freshman year is going to go and things like that. The trend is, a lot of these guys are staying (more than one year). You look at (Ohio State's Jared) Sullinger who is saying he's staying. A lot of these guys could say they are leaving. But this possible (NBA) lockout could affect a couple of the next classes. If a lot of these guys stay now, the following year, where are you at?

"We'll see how he does, how quickly he adjusts to this style of basketball or this level of basketball. But yeah, as you sit here, he is a candidate (to leave after one year). You wouldn't expect him to be here for four years. But nowadays as you sit back, he is a candidate for one-and-done if we do as well as we hope to do, and he does as well.

"I hope he has that option. But maybe he's back for another year, even like a James Anderson, who could have left after his sophomore year and said, hey, I mightr need one more year even though I could be a top-20 (NBA draft pick). We'll just see," said Ford.

Here are some other topics Ford addressed with media members on Tuesday:

OSU's 2011-12 schedule, which includes playing in the Preseason NIT, a return game with Alabama to be played in Birmingham, and a trip to Missouri State in Springfield, Mo.: "I don't know if it's carved in stone or not because we still have about three (games) to go. The Alabama game in Birmingham is carved in stone, I think. I think the Tulsa game here maybe. I don't know. But I hate to say that because with three games (left to schedule), things can change. We may have to change something. It will be the best home schedule ever in the history of Oklahoma State basketball, just because of the conference. But we will have Tulsa here and we will have another name team coming in here. We are trying to add to it. But already, it could be the toughest schedule maybe ever if some of the things we are looking at (occur). We are not looking to go easy. I know some people say, well, everybody is talking about going easy in the nonconference because of the conference schedule. We are not doing that by any means. That is not happening. I promise you that. If anything, we are probably going a little bit extreme once it's all said and done, but we still have three games to play here. Right now those three games could be really big games."

OSU's shooting improving next season over this past season when they Cowboys shot 43 percent from the field, including 29.5 percent from behind the three-point line: "I don't think there's any question that Keiton Page will shoot a better percentage because the people around him are going to make him better. He won't be the go-to guy. I think Keiton will get 15 or 16 points per game easily to be honest with you just because he's going to have better weapons around him. I think Markel Brown will be a much better percentage shooter. I think J.P. Olukemi, at one stretch J.P. was shooting about 45-46 percent from the three-point line, so if he can do it, and LeBryan (Nash) can score. I think Reger (Dowell) will get better. So I think our shooting will get better."

As far as recruiting, is finding another post player a priority? "We'll see. We've got some stuff going on, but we'll see. I like our team right now if everything works out. There are a lot of question marks."

Some of the issues that affected this Cowboys this season: "One of the reasons I don't think we were able to win 25, 26 games this year is besides the distractions, the chemistry was bad. We were trying to fit square pegs into circles. It wasn't fitting. They got along great off the court. And chemistry is a big word. And I think that's the No. 1 thing you have to have to be successful, great chemistry. On the court and off the court. We had it off the court. On the court, it wasn't that they didn't like playing with each other, it just wasn't jiving. I'm beating my head against the wall every day trying to get something to work. And that's hard to do. I'm happy we won 20 games trying to figure that all out. I wish we could have won a whole lot more and done a whole lot more. And that's what we want to do. I don't' think it was just a failed year. these guys did the best they could. It was a tough year chemistry wise."

What he expects next season from Michael Cobbins, an 18-year-old freshman who redshirted this past season: "A guy who's very versatile, probably the best shot blocker on our team. He's not Marshall Moses and he's not Matt Pilgrim, as far as the physicality. But he's much more active than those guys. He has gained a lot of weight and gotten a lot stronger. He'll play the 4 and the 5. He will score in transition, because he'll beat bigger guys up the floor. He does have a good low-post game, because he uses his quickness and his versatility in the post pretty well. He's a guy I hope can get eight to nine rebounds a game because of his length and his athleticism and how quickly he can get off the ground. And another guy who if you say, ‘Mike Cobbins, you're the 5 man or whatever you are and you've got Keiton Page, LeBryan Nash, JP, Markel Brown, you need to go out there and screen for him and go to the offensive rebounds and you need to give me four blocked shots…' he's going to look me in the eye and go do it."

What he expects from Brian Williams, another freshman who redshirted this past season: "Brian's a guy who can bring you offense and defense. He's a premier athlete. A guy who doesn't get tired. A guy who's strong. A good basketball body. In practice every day, he was always on the scout team and just days, he'd make four, five, six 3s in a row. Now, that's without a lot of pressure. And we're telling you to be (Baylor's) LaceDarius Dunn, which means you get to shoot the ball every time. It's a great role to have. But I told him, ‘Now your year's over and your mindset has to change.' But I think he will bring an offensive threat and a guy who can play a couple positions, 2, 3, 4, probably more the 3 and the 4. And a high character kid. Whatever you tell him to do, he's going to try to do it. But he brings us an offensive threat, some athleticism and is a guy who is probably our best offensive rebounder on our team. I can't tell you how many times he goes in there and tip-dunks on people. Every day in practice on scout team, he's getting his hands on balls, very active. He comes from a big-time basketball background in his family, with his dad coaching him in AAU and things like that. A high-character kid who I think you can win with and I'm excited to coach."

On whether Gallagher-Iba Arena is as tough a place for opponents to play as he imagined when you took the job: "My three years here, we've lost four games. So it's been tough. It's been tough on opponents, I guess. I'd put that up against anybody. It's a tough place to play. The record says it. We've been successful at home. You always want more. You'd like to sell it out every game. One of my most enjoyable games was our last home game (against Harvard in the NIT), maybe because I didn't expect a lot. I was really concerned about how many people would be in the building. We had already prepared our team that we're going to have to create our own energy. And I heard it in our locker room, ‘wow.' I don't know how many people were out there, but it was loud. And when I walked out there, just the feel of it was incredible. It felt great. People stood in the end zones the whole game and were shoulder-to-shoulder. Now, maybe we didn't have 14,000 in there. But it was a great atmosphere. I think what coach Holder and the athletic department have done with the ticket prices, some of those fans who came to that game, it's going to allow them to come to more games. That's what I'd like to see. We pre-sold last year something like 9,800 season tickets. We've just got to get those people to come. But the people who came to the Harvard game are excited about Oklahoma State basketball. The people that I see out at restaurants and the gas station, who say, ‘Coach, you all are doing a great job, enjoy watching you on TV.' I say, ‘Well, we're going to play tomorrow night.' ‘Well, I can't get tickets.' Or, ‘It's too expensive.' Or, ‘I can't get 'em.' Some times people don't understand and think they can't get them. So we need to do a great job of making sure everybody understands they can get some tickets. And the ticket prices are reasonable. I think that's a step in the right direction."

His expectations for Jarred Shaw and what he needs to do to improve: "Play with more confidence. Come ready to go every day with great confidence. Come ready to compete every day. Not some days. Have as much belief in his game as I have got in him. Maybe I have (too high of an opinion). Maybe he is not. I don't know. I think for a guy who has just been playing basketball for five or six years, that he does some things that are very good in practice every day and he shows in games he can do, but it's on such an inconsistent basis. It may be the worst I have ever seen. I don't know. J.P.'s on the road and home deal is about as bad as far as being inconsistent that I have seen. But I just went down and watched him lift weights a while ago. I'm pushing him to become more outward and do some things and hold his head high and his chest back when he walks in the gym and show a level of confidence, even if you are faking it. Maybe you don't even believe it. But it starts with that with him. Eight out of 10 times when you see him, his head is going to be down and his shoulders are going to be down. I mean if he walked in right now that's the way he would be walking is like this. That's his personality. But with him, he's got to work on his balance and things like that as far as his physical game is concerned. But the sucker is 6-11 and can block some shots and doesn't have a bad touch. It's all confidence, mental confidence with him, every bit of it."


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