OSU Needs Better Point Guard Play

Philip Jurick would make a great point guard for this Oklahoma State basketball team. Now, before you call me crazy, of course Jurick can't play the position, but what coach Travis Ford eluded to on Thursday was that Jurick has the mindset he's currently looking for from his three points guards.

"Jurick has always done whatever we've asked him to do," Ford said. "He's the total ‘team guy' and we need to get our point guards to buy into that a little bit. Whatever you tell him to do he's going to do it. Period."

The point guard spot has been frustratingly inconsistent for the Cowboys though their first nine games and is evident in watching the team but the statistics validate it even more.

While OSU is averaging a respectable 12.3 turnovers per game, good for 49th nationally. OSU is 184th in field goal percentage (43.2) and a ghastly 291st in assists per game (10.6) and 211th in assist-to-turnover ratio at just 0.86. OSU has finished with more assists than turnovers just three times this year.

The NCAA top two current assist leaders, Iona's Scott Machado and North Carolina's Kendall Marshall, average as many assists per game as the Cowboys do as a team with 10.9 and 10.2 assists per game, respectively.

OSU doesn't have a single player who ranks in the top 300 in assists and the Pokes' top assist man isn't even a point guard. Markel Brown leads the team with 18 assists through nine games. Doug Gottlieb had 18 assists in one game against Florida Atlantic in 1998.

And a lot of the reason, at least according to Ford, is that none of the point guards have done enough to establish themselves or done what he wants to see from the position, therefore no clear starter has emerged. He needs one of the point guards to become an extension of him on the court.

He needs to see one of them respond in practice and selflessly try to do whatever coaches ask of him, like Jurick has in the post. And how Jurick proved it above all else was by convincing his teammates they needed him out on the floor.

And Ford is looking for Reger Dowell, Cezar Guerrero or Fred Gulley to make it happen, as well.

"I would like one of them to step up and prove that, ‘Hey, I deserve the 25-30 minutes,' or whatever it may be but they don't need to convince me as much as they need to convince their teammates," Ford said. "Their teammates need to believe, ‘Hey, this is the guy that can lead our team and I know that this guys is going to get me the ball. I know this guy is going to get me in the offense. I know this guy is going to pick up his man for 90 feet. I know this; I know I don't have to worry about this guy looking out for himself. The guy that steps up and does those things and doesn't turn the ball over and gives us what I'm looking for will be the guy.

"They're all trying to do it but they're just all three totally different. They're all night and day from each other. We're basing a lot of it at this point on practice and things like that but we know what we're looking for."

All three have their strengths. Gulley brings defense and experience, Dowell brings driving ability and can hit outside shots, and Guerrero can flourish at times behind the arc and is the best of the three at creating his own shot. Their weaknesses are also easily definable but what matters the most to Ford is that someone takes command and follows his checklist of what he expects from the position.

"I like all three and all of them bring something to the table but the definition of a point guard is what this team needs," Ford said. "Team first, pass first, total unselfishness, get your teammates to believe in you. Make them know that you're the guy that's going to sacrifice and do everything in your power to lead our basketball team defensively, offensively and mentally. It's a tough position; it really is a tough position and I put a lot of extra pressure on our point guards."

And Ford is speaking from experience. He knows what it takes because he was a starting point guard at national power Kentucky in the 1990s, earning all SEC honors as a junior and a senior. But he's not looking for any of OSU's point guards to become a carbon copy of himself when he was a player; he's looking for more.

"I'm looking for point guards that are hopefully better than I was," Ford said. "I'm looking for point guards that will do what I want done. Not necessarily how I played but how I want things done. There are all kinds of players that think in their mind, ‘I do that or I can do this,' and maybe they can but I need point guards that are going to do whatever it takes to make everyone else around them better first. Point guards that are going to think team first, pass first; that doesn't mean they can't score, it doesn't mean they can't still go shoot the basketball, drive it or whatever it is, but that needs to be secondary to making sure Keiton Page gets the ball where he needs it. Making sure Le'Bryan Nash gets the ball where he needs it; J.P. (Olukemi), Markel Brown, I can go on down the line. Philip Jurick even needs the ball more. That's what I want out of our point guards and they should have a 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio.

"You should be able to lead us on defense, you're the focal point, the front of the defense; you set the tone. You have to be an extension of me on the court. These are things that I'm looking for. I'm looking for some toughness, but their only interest should be everybody else. Their interests have to be secondary. That's what I think great point guards do."

Maybe none of OSU's point guards can be "great" this season but becoming a team-first, pass-first type of player can certainly happen. And it can happen in a hurry. Ford even offered an example from his short time at OSU.

"I loved Byron Eaton. He was a tough sucker who would make all the right passes at the right time. We had to work with him to do that. When I got here I had never been around a point guard that shot when he should have passed and passed when he should have shot as much as Byron," Ford said. "We broke down film with him but all he cared about at that point in his career was winning … when you have a guy that has that mindset, then they're much easier to coach and you get out of them what you want out of them.

"We've got to get all of our guys in that mindset to say, ‘We'll do whatever it takes to win.'"

And all three will get another shot to prove themselves Saturday when the Cowboys face a tough New Mexico squad at 8:30 p.m. in Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.

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