The Breakdown

Oklahoma State once again has a promising roster under coach Eddie Sutton. Here is a position by position analysis of the 2003-2004 Cowboy basketball team.

There have been times in his coaching tenure at Oklahoma State that Eddie Sutton has felt lonely on the basketball court. He's always had enough players to field a very competitive team, as evidenced by his leading the Cowboys to 11 NCAA Tournaments in 13 seasons. But there have been times that Sutton has struggled to come up with enough players to have some of those intense scrimmages, a staple to the Sutton formula of success.


That won't be a problem for the 67-year-old coach and his staff this season.


After a couple of good recruiting seasons that included five Division I transfers, another specialty of one of the masters of college coaching, there are plenty of players. The task ahead is to get them all in the right role and going the same direction.


"A lot of new faces, a lot of them going in different directions," Sutton said. "Like a covey of quail they are flying everywhere. That's the coach's job to get them going down the same road together. We lost a lot of defense.

Potentially, there are some players who can become very good defensive players."


Yes, defense, always a primary concern for Sutton with his teams. With the graduation of star defender Melvin Sanders and speedy pest of a point guard Victor Williams there is a major concern as to how this team will pass the "Iba test" that Sutton always gives his team when it comes to defensive proficiency. There is also a concern of putting together the offense, a problem prevalent with the past two Cowboy squads. They could run, but forced into a half-court situation they often flunked at producing points.


Basketball IQ was a term that became trendy with Sutton in discussing his team's trouble with the half court offense.


A few months ago, that term was being tossed around as the OSU staff began considering who to play at point guard. With the thought of making a fulltime conversion with transfer Stephen Graham to the position, all of a sudden Victor Williams' hoops IQ was looking better and better. Then following the tragic and disturbing developments in the Baylor program, players were given permission to jump ship, and the Cowboys ended up with an answer as to who will quarterback the season.


Former Baylor point guard John Lucas was the missing piece to the puzzle for the Cowboys. Little did Eddie Sutton, his team and Cowboy fans know as they watched Lucas score 20 points, post six assists and two steals, including an inbounds pass and a quick bucket that helped seal a 74-72 upset at Gallagher-Iba Arena, that Lucas would be back in Stillwater helping the Cowboy cause. The son of NBA standout and former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach John Lucas Jr., Lucas III is a classic gym rat ­ just the kind Sutton likes to run his team. Lucas is smart, knows the game, and is now getting a crash course in defense "Sutton style."


"He's struggling a little bit on defense right now," said Sutton of his new point guard.  "He is a great practice player because he just plays his tail off. I think that's why his teammates have accepted him because they see how hard he works. His biggest challenge will be becoming a better defender.


He is not very big. Victor was strong, and he'd been on that weight program here.  I'm not sure John has been on a weight program before."


Lucas is learning fast and showed better defensive skills in the Cowboys' two exhibitions. He brings a lot of offense. He knows how to direct an offense, picks things up quickly, and he can score as evidenced by his 34 percent three-point percentage at Baylor and 83 percent free-throw average.


He also averaged 13.2 points at Baylor.


"He's a clever little basketball player," Sutton added. "He's been around basketball, been around his dad, been around a basketball atmosphere."


Lucas isn't talking much about his past at Baylor. He's looking forward to his future.


"Not at all, that's old. I put that away. I'm at a new school with a new beginning," Lucas said when asked about the problems in the program at Baylor.  "What happened last year, that's last year. This year I'm looking to win a Big 12 championship and get as far in the tournament as we can. I've never experienced the NCAA Tournament or NIT. I'm more excited about this season than any season I've had in college basketball."


The depth at point guard is still limited as walkon Guy Ikpah is back after spending a year studying in Nigeria, and Maurice Findley walks on after a solid junior college career as the point guard at Hutchinson (Kan.) Junior College.


Stephen Graham will be the primary backup to Lucas, but the arrival of Lucas allows Graham to move around the floor in other roles that he is better suited to.


Sutton is looking for a defensive stopper to replace Melvin Sanders from last season. Don't look for anybody to come out as a carbon copy of the greatest defender in the Eddie Sutton era of O-State basketball, but the pair of players we list at combo guard are both candidates to pick up the slack.


Stephen Graham is a good all-around player who will help with depth at the point guard but is also a good three-point shooter (39 percent at Central Florida) and explosive with the basketball. He is a very good athlete and is picking up the drill of defense in his year of sitting out after transferring. Graham is more in tune to the importance of defense. He is big enough to cover forwards and quick enough to defend guards. Eddie Sutton has thought it out and he has several strong possibilities in his mind for the Cowboys "defensive stopper."


"One of the Grahams could be that and Tony (Allen) could be that," said Sutton.  "I tell you somebody that has really improved on their defense is Spoon. Spoon is a lot better defensively. I don't think he can be a stopper, but I think Tony or the Grahams could be. I think one of those Grahams could be because they are terrific athletes.


That brings us to that other name mentioned by Sutton. Janavor Weatherspoon was sometimes lost in the shuffle last season, but we predict he won't be lost this campaign. Weatherspoon has a 45-inch vertical jump that in the Cowboys' first exhibition game he used to jump up and stuff former Tulsa standout Marcus Hill under the basket. Weatherspoon can't guard post players, but he is quick and a strong candidate to come off the bench and silence another team's hot perimeter player. It's not a fulltime starring spot in the credits, but Sutton has always made his role players a priority in receiving credit. Role players are relished and Weatherspoon, who has some offensive game, looks to be working toward a regular role this season.


Last season Tony Allen was the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, but late in the season he hit a wall. That wall was opponents' defenses that didn't respect the rest of the Cowboy lineup enough and put their emphasis on stopping him.


As the season wore on it became harder for Allen to have the same impact.


For example, Allen scored in double digits in 14 of the first 15 games last season. In the last 17 games, while playing more minutes, Allen was held in single digits in five games. He finished the year averaging 14.4 points per game and 5.4 rebounds. He came in as a free-wheeling, take-it-to-the-hole player and came out of the season with a greater appreciation for playing more in control and in a team system. As with all players who play for Sutton, he also gained a greater appreciation for defense.


"We have to get our defense back like it was last year," said Allen prior to the season. "A lot of guys we've got right now are new faces and playing with each other is going to be one of the biggest things. Defense is going to be one of those things that he is going to shove down our throat. I know this, if you don't play it his way you will be sitting on the left side of him. I know that. I'm just trying to get to that level of where he wants me to play because I lost two of the best guys that got after it on defense like monsters in Melvin and Victor. I wish those guys were here just to show us how to do it. I do think we are getting better every day in practice."

Oddly enough, it is Allen who Sutton is seeking help with that. The Chicago native is not a real boisterous individual, but his teammates follow him.


If Allen is paying attention to and working to become a better defender then so will his teammates.


"Tony is a good offensive player and he could be a great defensive player," said Sutton. "I hope he will really accept that challenge to become a better defensive player. He will make a terrific play with a steal and then he will make two bad plays by losing the person with the ball and he will beat him on penetration and break down the defense. Part of the reason is he is always fighting the ball. Hands can hurt you on defense if you don't use them right."


One of the brightest surprises so far is Daniel Bobik. The transfer from BYU is 24 years old, married, has a son, and besides a nice shot brings a strong degree of maturity and a work ethic to the team.


"I think he is the hardest worker we've had during the preseason practices," said Sutton. "He shoots the ball really well and works hard on the other things like defense and setting screens. He will play a lot and really help us."


The first exhibition game proved that statement true as Bobik hit three shots from the field, including a three-pointer, and four free throws without a miss in the first half when the rest of the team was having trouble scoring.

Providing depth is Brandon Elliott, a freshman walk-on from Lewis, Kan.


Here's where you find the other Graham ­ Joey. An inch taller, Joey Graham is a little better inside than Stephen and the pair proved that theory at the Basketball Bash when Joey won the slam-dunk competition and Stephen won the three-point shooting contest. The funny thing is the other brother was the runner-up in each of those competitions. Joey scored 13 points and had six rebounds in his first ever collegiate game as a freshman against Georgetown of the Big East. As a sophomore at Central Florida he averaged 13.3 points per game and 4.7 rebounds.


He also figures into that search for defensive presence that Sutton is seeking as he could be the top defender on the wing where he combines size and speed.


A surprise here could be freshman David Monds, who played a year of prep school ball at Shores Christian Academy in Florida. Monds was not highly regarded when the Cowboys recruited him, but then word filtered out that Cincinnati really wanted him. He has lived up to expectations early. He is more developed than the other newcomers in practice and in nine minutes in the first exhibition game scored eight points with five rebounds and a steal. If he could do that in nine minutes every game, he'd be the best nine-minute player in college basketball.

Terrence Crawford is the hard-luck story on this Cowboy team. The former Oklahoma Player of the Year from Bishop McGuinness, Crawford missed all of last season when he tore his Achilles tendon while running sprints in preseason practice. Before this season's preseason practice could begin, Crawford sprained his knee, setting him back. The hope is that sometime before conference season he will get a chance to get in sync with the team as he could prove to be valuable off the bench.


Highly regarded freshman Marcus Dove is a talented player, but the backlog of talent could lead to him redshirting this season.


Ivan McFarlin must have a good season for Oklahoma State to do well. It's very simple, McFarlin has too much talent for him not to be a stalwart.


Just in his third season after sitting out his initial year as a partial qualifier, McFarlin averaged 10.8 points and 7.8 rebounds with 63 total blocked shots the past two seasons. He is very athletic but at the same time physical and has worked on his shot and increased his range.


When Eddie Sutton talks about McFarlin he pays him the highest compliment that he verbally does in describing a player.


"Ivan is a warrior. He's undersized to do some of the things that we ask of him," said Sutton. "Ivan is just a good college basketball player. He's going to rebound for you, he'll score for you, but he too needs to get better on his defense."


McFarlin likes to think he has answered the challenge of his head coach.


At least he feels that he has.


"I am a lot better than I was last year. I'm shooting the ball better and doing some things that I wasn't capable of last year."


Another key contributor at the center position could be 7-foot-2 Frans Steyn. The South African native, who came to Stillwater to learn basketball from Eddie Sutton after starring in rugby in high school, is getting better, but it's tough as Steyn has to play against players who have been playing basketball all their lives. Steyn still has to think more than react, as he's only been on the court three and a half years. Sutton said Steyn will play more and contribute this year, but is probably still another year away from being a starter and central figure in the lineup.


That leaves Jason Miller to provide a key role this season. Miller was penciled in for that responsibility last season, but suffered from rust, physical ailments and a lack of confidence. Those are problems that Miller addressed in the offseason and feels have improved.


"First of all, at the end of the season coach gave me some things to work on," explained Miller of his self-improvement program. "He gave everybody some things to work on. Number one was defense and number two was confidence. That's the main thing I've had to work on because last year my confidence wasn't where it should have been. I was a little bit slower and didn't play to my abilities. Defense and confidence and rebounding, hopefully those three things will help me have a better season."


Sutton has seen progress in Miller but feels there is more to be made and consistency is pretty important.

"Jason I thought played pretty well early on, but he is still pretty inconsistent," said Sutton. "That is one of the question marks because I think he could be a player that averages nine or 10 points a game and five or six rebounds a game. I hope that he can. At times he shows signs he can do that and other times he doesn't."

Onye Ibekwe proved last season he will play hard but still needs to learn more in order to help on a regular basis, therefore Ibekwe and junior college transfer Tremaine Fuqua are candidates to redshirt.


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