One-on-One With Travis Ford (Part 3)

Oklahoma State will have its most talented team in Travis Ford's six years at the school. Ford is embracing the fact that Cowboys basketball fans are as excited as they've been since his arrival, and he's looking forward to a fun and what he hopes will be a "special season." Here are excerpts from our interview with the Cowboys head coach.

What do you expect to get from Le'Bryan Nash this season?
Ford: Rebounding and the hustle stats. I know he can score but to me if I can look at the stats we keep – rebounding, deflections, charges, blocked shots, the things that I would consider taking extra effort ... If I just look at those stats when either practice or the game is over, and you get as many rebounds as I expect you to have, and you get the deflections I expect, I can tell you how many points you scored. I can tell you if you've had a great game in the extra effort stats then you've probably scored 18 to 20 because you're engaged. And when he's engaged the game comes easy.

That's what I'm challenging him with. He knows that in order for him to reach his potential he's got to average more rebounds than he did last year, and get more blocked shots, and things like that. But again I think he's come a long way. I think he's in for a special year. From what I've seen this summer, the rebounding and the things I talked to you about are to be determined, but from what have I seen from him during the summer and from working with him is he's grasping more and more how he can be a more effective scorer, and play to his strengths a little bit more.

(He's of the mindset) that I don't have to prove to everybody I can shoot, and I don't have to prove to everybody I can be a guard. I'm not worried about that. He can do that. He can sit out there and shoot threes and he'd make more than most people. But you're so blessed at getting to the rim, you're so blessed at being crafty and you're so hard to guard off the dribble, I've seen it thus far and he's been virtually unstoppable at times. And if he continues with that mentality I think he's going to have a good year.

What's Phil Forte done to improve since last season?
Ford: We challenged Phil Forte all summer to develop his offensive game as far as creating his own shot, and getting his shot off quicker, because when you go put the ball in the hole like he has you want more opportunities to just catch and shoot. Of course, he's worked on that, like nobody you can possibly imagine.

The best way I can describe it is Phil Forte is a better player today than he was at the end of the year last year, and he was a good player last year. You're talking about a young man who averaged 10 points a game last year as a freshman as a non-starter, and that's pretty good. But I think he's a much better player right now than he was at the end of the year last year because he's worked so hard on his game.

Phil Forte is a player that you have to have on the court. He does so many things right defensively, he gives you such a weapon offensively, his toughness, he has a really good knack for stealing the ball.

Whereas this time last year I would be sitting here saying I hoped would be a role player, now he's an impact player. He's not a role player any more.

Kamari Murphy also returns for his sophomore season.
Ford: He's a guy who has to understand his role and his strengths. He had a good freshman year, it was kind of a typical freshman year. He started out the year starting the first seven or eight games, and we jumped into the top 20 with him in there, (and) life was grand as a freshman. But it was typical as a freshman, and they begin thinking things are pretty easy and then all of a sudden Michael Cobbins comes back (from an early season injury), and Kamari's role changed a little bit, and he struggled with that.

We've talked a lot about understanding your role and understanding your strengths as a player. If he plays to his strengths, running, jumping, defending ... what we call his motor has always got to be running, and your presence has got to be known out there. Scoring does not have to be one, two or three on the list of things that he needs to do to help the team win. If he understands that, he could have a really good year.

Is Brian Williams healthy, and if he stays healthy can he be the difference in this going from a great season to a special season?
Ford: He's 100 percent healthy. Brian Williams brings us great defense, great energy, rebounding, and again here's a guy that averaged 12 points a game as a freshman in the Big 12, so he can score. But we don't need him to score but he will be a guy that can score out of our offense, out of our style of play. We don't need him thinking that he's going to have to score. He can be a stopper for us defensively, and I don't know if we really had that stopper guy last year.

He's one of our better offensive rebounders on the team, and that's an area that we're looking to really improve as a team. I think he can help us in that area. I thought last year at this time that Brian Williams a major player on our team, hopefully he can get back to where he was. He brings us great energy.

OSU fans should be happy with the schedule with teams like Memphis (31-5 a year ago), South Carolina (14-18), and Robert Morris (24-11, including defeating Kentucky in the NIT) all coming to Stillwater, and Louisiana Tech (28 wins) making the trip to Oklahoma City for the All-College Classic. How do you feel about it?
Ford: We got presented so many opportunities but we wanted to balance it. I don't know if it's as balanced as I wanted it. It's probably a little tougher than I wanted, but you want a tough schedule.

Every game is going to be a battle and I've talked to the guys about that because it's a little bit different than last year when we kind of snuck up on some people. We're not sneaking up on anybody (this year).

Memphis might be one of the most talented teams in the country. South Carolina is here on Bedlam weekend with (former Kansas State head coach) Frank Martin. We play Colorado (on Dec. 21 in Las Vegas) and they have four returning starters. We get a Robert Morris team here that beat Kentucky in postseason play. Louisiana Tech won 28 games and has four starters back.

We have a very difficult schedule. It's good for this team because you need to be tested. We might lose a game but you learn a lot during difficult situations.

If sitting here today, the first week of October, I said that this team would win 29 games and go to the Elite Eight, would you take that or would you say I want more?
Ford: I think if you do that it becomes a really great year. That's a great year, no mistake about it. I think it would be a memorable year. But I think our team ... we've spent all summer and up to the first day of practice talking about winning a championship – a Big 12 championship, Final Four and national championship.

What we've done is assigned groups of three (players) to study in depth and do reports on all the Final Four teams here at Oklahoma State. They had to stand up and give us a report on all of the Final Four teams. So we had three guys get up and tell us about the 1945 team. They told us the roster, where guys were from, who they beat ... I mean they had pictures. We went from '45 to '46 to '51 to '91 to '95 to 2004.

I think it's important that they understand the history of Oklahoma State, and understand who came before them and the tradition and the history, but also understanding about championships. We've talked a lot about that.

We did a project on a slogan: Think Like a Champion, Play Like a Champion, Act Like a Champion. That's a slogan that you've probably seen before but I gave three groups the assignment and told them here's your phrase. "Think Like a Champion," you five guys have 10 days to give a report to the team. Another group had "Play Like a Champion," and they needed to give a report on what does that mean to you. The other gorup had to give a report on "Act Like a Champion."

One thing I've done every year for 17 years is I always have a team dinner. At that team dinner I always give our players a little assignment to do and then I get up to talk and I give my preseason address, this is what I want this journey to be about. We talked that night about a little bit about championships. We talked about the Big 12 championships, the Final Fours ... but when it was over I told them I don't want you to think about that anymore. We have talked about it enough. We need to think about getting better every day. I don't want them to have the pressure of having to think about winning a championship.

But I told them we've talked enough about champions. We all get that. We've studied all the teams now. We need to stop talking about that at this point. We need to start talking about getting better every day, about being humble but very hungry. I don't want to put the pressure on our team, it's not fair to them.

If we were to make the Elite Eight and win 29 games and come up a couple of points short of making it to the Final Four, I would still tell you that's a great season. Is it the special season? Again, I think very special is saved for Final Four (seasons), and things like that.

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