Travis Ford's job got a little bit easier when Le'Bryan Nash announced Saturday night during the annual POSSE auction that he would be returning to play his senior season instead of entering the NBA Draft. Nash was one of the top-10 high school prospects in the nation when he signed with the Cowboys coming out of Lincoln High School in Dallas, and now he will be the player that opponents focus on, a role that he seems to relish.
Here is GoPokes.com's ranking of the scholarship players, in order of importance if the Cowboys hope to contend next season for a Big 12 title and make another appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
1) Le'Bryan Nash (6-7, Sr.): Nash always has wanted to have the spotlight on him, and now the 6-7, 235-pound uber-athletic wing gets the chance. He is one of only nine players in school history to average in double figures scoring during his freshmen (13.3), sophomore (14.0) and junior (13.9) seasons. In 95 career games, he's averaged 13.8 points and 4.9 rebounds. But Ford will need Nash to average 18 to 20 points and 7 to 10 rebounds next season as a senior if the Cowboys want to make a run.
2) Michael Cobbins (6-8, Sr.): Ford knew immediately what the loss of the 6-8 post meant to his team when Cobbins when down with an Achilles injury last December. Although he was averaging just 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds in 13 games, his presence inside on defense was a difference maker for the Cowboys. Cobbins' return from Achilles surgery is imperative for the Cowboys. He's also well liked by his teammates and provides leadership both on and off the court.
3) Phil Forte (5-11, Jr.): Forte's role increased in the last month of the season as he went from coming off the bench while playing about 25 minutes a game to an average of 38 as a starter the last 11 games. He was recognized as the co-Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year after averaging 13.3 points and shooting 44 percent from 3-point range. He'll be a starter from day one as a junior and will be asked to produce on both ends of the court.
4) Kamari Murphy (6-8, Jr.): Murphy has played in the shadows of Brown, Smart and Nash each of the past two seasons, but the 6-8 junior game's has improved since arriving at OSU. He will again be asked to be a force on the boards after leading the team in rebounding (6.3), but look for him to get more involved in the offense. He only averaged 6.1 points last season but shot 53.6 percent from the field.
5) Jeff Newberry (6-2, Jr.): The transfer from New Mexico Junior College is expected to be the team's starting point guard the second he arrives on campus. Newberry averaged a team-best 13.5 points and 3.8 assists while leading the Thunderbirds to a 27-7 record and the National Junior College Athletic Association national tournament. In a 102-94 overtime loss to No. 1 seed Indian Hills in the national tournament, Newberry scored 31 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field and 15 of 16 free throws while only playing 22 minutes because of foul trouble. However, his primary role will be to run the team, getting the ball in the hands of Nash, Forte and the Cowboys other scorers.
6) Leyton Hammonds (6-7, So.): Cowboys fans kept hearing what a great shooter Hammonds was in practice but after hitting two 3-pointers in the season opener against Mississippi State the freshman went more than three months and 21 games before sinking another trey. He showed signs of what he was capable of during the last month of the season, including going 3-for-5 from behind the arc and scoring a career-best 13 points against TCU. Hammonds should be more comfortable as a sophomore, and hopefully that pays of with outings similar to what he did at TCU.
7) Jeffrey Carroll (6-6, R-Fr.): He redshirted last season after averaging 22.3 points and 6.7 rebounds at Rowlett (Texas) High School in 2012-13. Carroll is capable of filling it up from beyond the 3-point line. It will be interesting to see what he brings to the team after spending a year working on his game.
8) Anthony Allen (7-1, Jr.): Allen, who signed last week with the Cowboys, is expected to be a defensive presence in the middle. The 7-1, 245-pound center averaged 11 points, 8.4 rebounds and 6.2 blocks in 32 games at Lamar State College-Port Arthur (Texas) last season. In his two-year junior college career, he recorded six triple-doubles in which he had 10 or more points, rebounds and blocks, including a career-high 14 blocks in one game. The OSU coaching staff is hoping that Allen is the defensive stopper in the paint that they haven't had in many years.
9) Tyree Griffin (5-9, Fr.): The Large School Player of the Year in Louisiana, as selected by The Times-Picayune, Griffin will join Newberry as the top prospects at point guard. Ford is counting on one of the two – or maybe a combination of the pair – to run the team. Although just 5-9, 165 pounds, Griffin plays much bigger, says his high school coach. He averaged 17.2 points, 6 assists and 5.6 rebounds in leading Landry-Walker High School in New Orleans to the Louisiana Class 4A state championship. He was named the Most Outstanding Player at the state tournament.
10) Joe Burton (6-5, Fr.): Ranked as the 79th-best high school prospect in the nation, Burton averaged 22.5 points and 7.8 rebounds in leading Atascocita High School to a 29-7 record this past season. Burton was named the MVP of District 13-5A after helping his team to a perfect 16-0 record in district play. He'll be asked to provide depth off the bench as a freshman.
11) Mitchell Solomon (6-9, Fr.): A first-team All-State selection by the Tulsa World, the 6-9 post from Bixby (Okla.) High School averaged 18.3 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.5 blocks to help the Spartans reach the Class 6A state tournament. He had 20 points and 18 rebounds in a win over Broken Arrow, and blocked nine shots against Booker T. Washington in an area tournament final. In 81 high school games over his career, he finished with 1,013 points (12.5 ppg), 599 rebounds (7.4 rpg) and 170 blocks (2.1 bpg). With the return of Cobbins and the addition of Anthony Allen, it wouldn't be a surprise if Solomon spent his first year on campus as a redshirt.
12) Marek Soucek (7-0, Sr.): The 7-footer from the Czech Republic must show drastic improvement if he expects to see the court as a senior. He only played 69 minutes last season and was passed by walk-on Mason Cox.