True Freshman To Start Season Opener?

Oklahoma State’s media notes for the Cowboys season opener Friday night against Southeastern Louisiana list senior Marek Soucek as the replacement for Michael Cobbins in the starting lineup. The 7-foot senior would seem to be the logical starter as the Cowboys tip off the season at 7 p.m. inside Gallagher-Iba Arena. But don’t be surprised if it’s another Cowboy.

Soucek, who has been in the program for the past three seasons, was the starter in OSU’s lone exhibition game Saturday afternoon against Missouri Western. But he did not score (taking only one shot) in 10 minutes of play, and has been hampered by some nagging injuries in recent weeks.

However, OSU head coach Travis Ford said that true freshman Mitchell Solomon has been impressive in practice this week.

“I’m seeing incredible progression (from Solomon) and he’ll be rewarded for it,” Ford said Thursday afternoon when visiting with the media.

Ford refused to say that the 6-foot-9 freshman from Bixby, Okla., would be in the starting lineup Friday night. But he broke into a huge smile and laughed when pressed on the matter. “We’ll see. We’ll see,” he said.

“I’ve seen a different guy in the last three or four days. I really like what I see,” Ford said. “What I’ve seen mostly is his athletic ability rising, and he’s able to play to this athletic ability rather than thinking. He had a tip dunk yesterday and we hadn’t seen that [before].”

The NCAA has ruled that Cobbins will miss the first three games of the regular seasos. He played in two regular season games for a total of five minutes during his redshirt season in 2010-11, and the NCAA eligibility committee has determined that he must sit out four games (last Saturday’s exhibition game and the first three regular season contests) to start the 2014-15 season.

That leaves the door open for Solomon, Soucek and junior college transfer Anthony Allen to prove to Ford that they have earned playing time. None of the three Cowboys impressed Ford in the exhibition game victory, but Solomon has moved ahead of the other two in this week’s practices.

Solomon averaged 18.3 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.5 blocked shots as a senior at Bixby High School a year ago, and the four-star recruit was the highest ranked high school prospect in Oklahoma before signing with the Cowboys.

“He’s such a humble young man, a terrific young man,” Ford said. “His head was spinning so much [early in practice], as were all the new guys … He’s a perfectionist. So we’ve been telling him, ‘You don’t have to be perfect, Mitch.’ But he wants to be perfect. He wants to be great. He wants to do everything right. Now that he knows how to do everything right, he’s able to play. He was thinking so much.

“Now, I really like what I see.”

With scorers like Le’Bryan Nash, Phil Forte and Anthony Hickey, the Cowboys won’t be asking Solomon to do much on the offensive end of the court. But he will be asked to do the job on the defensive end, and Solomon is more than capable, Ford says.

“Defensively, he’s as far along as any freshman I’ve ever coached as a freshman big man. He’s by far ahead of the game. He really gets it. He really understands offense, but he was really struggling on where to find points, [asking] where do I score? Now he’s just playing … and it’s been fun to watch,” said Ford, who has yet to lose a season opener in his previous six seasons as head coach of the Cowboys.

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