It’s been a long 235 days for Brad Underwood. After being named head basketball coach on March 21, the wait ends Friday night as the Underwood era officially tips off with the Oklahoma State basketball season opener against Campbell University at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Underwood compiled an impressive 89-14 record during his three years as head coach at Stephen F. Austin University – tying for the most wins ever in the first three years of a coaching career in college basketball history.
The Cowboys will be looking to rebound after a disappointing 12-20 record a year ago, and the return of All-Big 12 shooting guard Phil Forte (elbow) and Big 12 Freshman of the Year Jawun Evans (shoulder) from injuries a year ago should make Underwood’s transition from the Southland Conference to the Big 12 a little easier.
Forte missed 29 games a year ago and returns for his fifth year with the Cowboys, while Evans missed the final 10 games. OSU will be looking to break a seven-game losing streak that finished last season, and will be looking to win for the first time since a 58-55 victory over Kansas State on Feb. 13.
“I think it’s an important time of year,” Underwood said. “I think our players are excited. They’ve gone through the month of 30 practices, beating each other up, (and) now it’s time to get out and see what we can do. You get to a point where you get a feeling it’s time to play, and I think we’re at that point.
“They come fast and furious here at the start, but I’m looking forward to seeing where were at, and I think we’ve improved in some areas since our scrimmage.”
Underwood will find out a lot about his Cowboys over the next six days, beginning with Friday night’s opener against Campbell, followed by home games next week against Central Arkansas (Monday) and New Orleans (Wednesday).
The Campbell Camels were picked to finish eighth in the Big South’s preseason poll after finishing 12-18 last season. The Camels return three starters, including 5-9 point guard Chris Clemons, who was named Big South Freshman of the Year after averaging 18.5 points a game.
Clemons will be tested by Evans, a preseason All-Big 12 selection who was named to the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award watch list. The OSU sophomore led all Big 12 freshmen in scoring (12.9 ppg), assists (4.9 apg), assist-to-turnover ratio (1.9 A/TO), field goal percentage (47.1), 3-point field goal percentage (47.5) and free throw percentage (83.3).
In the six games prior to his injury, Evans averaged 19.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game – all team highs. He scored a freshman record 42 points in the Bedlam game against Oklahoma in Stillwater.