When Brad Underwood wasn't dribbling, shooting or defending the basketball at Kansas State for former Henry Iba player and Oklahoma A&M guard and quarterback Jack Hartman, he was studying radio-television communications, his degree field. So it was no surprise how comfortable and at ease, along with informational, the 52-year-old new Oklahoma State Cowboys head coach was in front of the cameras and microphones inside a festive Gallagher-Iba Arena complete with campaign like posters and t-shirts promoting "Underwood 2016."
I know, he has the same name as the diabolical President in the Netflix series House of Cards played so well by Kevin Spacey. Underwood isn't as evil as Spacey's Underwood, but he did promise his teams would be trouble for opponents as soon as next season.
"This is not about me, this is not about the athletes, this is about filling this arena because of the tradition and the culture," Underwood preached to the crowd. "Those are the two hardest things there is to find. It takes years and years to develop tradition; and the Ibas and the Suttons – that's as big as it gets.
"We are privileged, you are privileged, I am privileged to be here because of them, and that means a great deal to me. We've got to have the students. The rowdiest arena in America, we have to get back to that. We have to make this miserable for opponents, and we'll do that.
"We're coming here to win. I told the players yesterday in a team meeting, losing is not an option. We're going to work. I have no greater appreciation for the fans who have to get in their vehicles on a Wednesday night and drive to come support us and the work that these guys have put in. The one thing I can promise you is that we're going to play for the name on the front of the uniform," Underwood said.
The Gallagher-Iba crowd cheered loudly when Underwood was asked about his penchant for playing tough man-to-man defense, a popular staple of Oklahoma State teams under Mr. Iba and Eddie Sutton. He didn't lose any of the excitement with his answer.
"The one thing I can promise you, I can't promise wins, if I could do that, we'd (his Stephen F. Austin team) be playing Wisconsin tomorrow night. I can promise you this, you're not going to find a group of guys who are going to take that court every single day and work any harder," Underwood continued. "We're going to guard, we're going to rebound and we're going to make life tough as hell for everyone we play."
Those are the kind of words Cowboys fans like to hear. He must have said something good to the players because he already has one key veteran in the boat as future fifth-year senior point guard Phil Forte said he was coming back.
Forte said he was familiar with Underwood from his days as a K-State assistant when they were recruiting him. He had talked to his AAU coach and his high school coach at Flower Mound Marcus and both told him Underwood would be his kind of guy. He also said he liked what Underwood said about relationships as he has always had strong relationships with his coaches.
"I can't speak for any of the other guys (teammates), but I will be back. There is no place I want to play other than Oklahoma State and no guys I want to play with other than my teammates here," Forte answered when asked about his future. "This is where I want to finish my career. I want to win an NCAA game. I want to make the Sweet 16 and make a run at the Final Four. I hope we can do that."
In order to do that then Underwood will need to successfully campaign and get the rest of the players in his "party."
"I saw Phil (Forte) and Jawun (Evans) play a lot in high school," Underwood said of the current OSU players. "You see these guys play on the AAU circuit because of the way recruiting is set up. I know we have really good players and I know we have guys that are very experienced and have been through the battles.
"You have a few guys dinged up, but I'm going in excited about the talent that is here and the opportunity to coach really good players. We are going to play good teams. We are going to test ourselves and these guys need to know that every night we step on the floor we are going to give it our all and we are going to go to work. That is the most important thing for me right now is to connect with these players, to meet them, get to know them, and find out what is important to them."
In other words, time to get to work.