Rough Week In January Leads To Madness

Oklahoma State heads into the final two games of the Big 12 regular season staring down two high quality opponents in Iowa State on Wednesday in Ames and then Kansas State on Saturday in Stillwater. Call it an early start to postseason as the Cowboys head into the stretch run with a 22-6 overall record and a 12-4 mark in the Big 12, and as of today a No. 13 ranking in the Associated Press poll.

The Cowboys are in the NCAA tournament and play these games this week as opportunities to better their seed and path through March Madness.

Remember this is a team that missed postseason all together last year, and while they had a very good nonconference campaign they also started Big 12 play by losing two of their first three games, a start that included a lackluster performance in the Bedlam loss in Norman.

Head coach Travis Ford formulated a plan to use a full week of practice after those first three games for an attitude adjustment before returning to the Big 12 schedule hosting Texas Tech.

"I think it refocused us a little bit and I think we came into the conference season a little too confident, maybe feeling a little too good about ourselves," said Ford looking back on that week.

Ford wasn't pleased and he was going to make sure his young basketball team knew that the way they were playing was unacceptable.

"We got back to a lot of the basics and we didn't have to prepare for an opponent for three or four days and we concentrated on our team and what we needed to do," Ford said today of his plan that week in early January.

"Now, I think it surprised some of our guys what we were doing, two-a-day practices that time of year and a.m. practices that time of year. I think with a young basketball team it caught a lot of those guys and smacked them in the face a little bit and the seriousness and how difficult that stretch of basketball in the Big 12 truly is."

The reaction of the players ranged from surprise to frustration having to get up so early and push so hard so often that week. Looking back at it now you get a softer, more appreciative attitude about that week's work leading up to a blowout win over Texas Tech.

"It's something to look back on and it was tough going on the road to start the Big 12 (season) and it set us back a little bit," said senior center Philip Jurick. "Those workouts were a good thing and they obviously helped get us to where we are now. It helped more than it hurt us."

"I think it definitely helped us and we took a step back and forgot about scouting reports and focused on what we needed to do to help us start winning," said freshman sharp shooter Phil Forte. "We went back to the basics and all of our basic fundamentals and how we play defense and how we run our offense. I think it helped us and also caused us to play a little with a chip on our shoulder."

In fact, at the time Ford admitted after the huge win over Texas Tech that he didn't know how his team was going to play that day. He said he thought they might be dead-legged and might even get beat by the lowly Red Raiders. But he was sure that the work that week would pay off the rest of the season.

He got the win over Tech and then after one more road loss at Baylor the Cowboys won six road games in a row and won 9 of the next 10 games. It even helped one Cowboy that wasn't ready to come back from an injury just yet.

"Being in the trenches with the guys, I wasn't doing the workouts, but I was here doing the rehab and the cardio," said Brian Williams, who was working to come back from that serious wrist injury he suffered at the start of preseason practice.

"I was here and I wanted to be a part of those practices because something about those just makes you a better player. I wanted to be a part of them and the guys grinded them out and got ready for conference," said Williams.

"You have a great coach, like Coach Ford and you have to do what he says," added Le'Bryan Nash. "At the time, we were thinking why are we doing this? Why are we doing this? Now you look back at it and see we've won 10 of the last 11 games and we're thankful to have him as a head coach.

"We are thankful to have team chemistry like this and guys could have just said they weren't going to do it, but we have guys that are willing to do whatever it takes to win," added Nash.

The rest of the way practices will be of the lighter variety to allow players to keep their legs fresh and ready to go. But as this team hits the peak of March and all the madness, the Cowboys will remember that week of mad practice that helped put them in position to be a part of the rest of the college basketball season.

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