From the Horse's Mouth

John Helsley talks to Oklahoma State basketball coach Eddie Sutton about his 2003-2004 Cowboy team and one of Sutton's most drastic rebuilding years.

Eddie Sutton Q&A

Eddie Sutton is facing one of his more radical rebuilding jobs this season. Gone are Victor Williams, Melvin Sanders, Andre Williams and Cheyne Gadson ­ starters all. Returning are Ivan McFarlin, Tony Allen, Jason Miller, Janavor Weatherspoon, Onye Ibekwe and Frans Steyn. Joining the mix are Stevie and Joey Graham, John Lucas, Daniel Bobik, Marcus Dove, Tremaine Fuqua and David Monds, with Terrence Crawford hoping to shake injury woes and rejoin the rotation.
John Helsley, a frequent contributor to the O-State Sports Report, recently asked Sutton about mixing and matching the old and the new as he begins his 43rd year as a head coach.

O-State Sports Report: Eddie, how's the adjustment for a team that looks so different from a year ago?
Sutton: We have a lot of new faces, and a lot of them going in all different directions. I told someone the other day, they're just like a covey of quail, they're just flying everywhere. That's a coach's job, to get them back. We've made some progress, but we still have a lot of things to correct. Defensively, we're not nearly as good. We lost Melvin, who I thought was the best perimeter defender in the league, and Victor was probably one of the 10 best. And Andre was very good as far as pivot defense. And we don't have anyone like that right now.
Potentially, I think there's some people there who can become good defensive players. Another area, we're very careless with the basketball. We had a scrimmage the other day and I think in one game, we scrimmaged two halves and another 10 minutes after that, so 50 minutes, I think one team had a total of 34 turnovers. And the other had 29. If your defense was really outstanding, you might accept some of that. But most of it was just careless passing or walking with the basketball, things like that. And those are correctable. In the offense, we're not executing and setting good screens. We're running what I call brush screens, not really setting your nose on his chest and setting a good block. We're not doing that. But again, that's coachable. Shot selection on the part of some of our new players, that needs to be corrected. Inconsistent play inside. I think we have enough good perimeter players to develop into a good basketball team, but we need someone other than Jason and Ivan to elevate their game. When you look at the new players, plus Frans, someone has got to step up and give us added depth. Right now, it isn't there. I'm talking about Monds, Fuqua and Frans.

OSSR: With so many new faces, are fundamentals an issue?
Sutton: It's a problem all across the country. I think fundamentally, players in our country right now are not near as sound as they once were. Carelessness is the biggest thing. That's why you're seeing so many more European players coming to the NBA. Fundamentally, they're just much sounder. I think they work fundamentally on their game, maybe more so. And I'm not being critical of high school coaching. I just think players just aren't as sound in a lot of areas in the game as they once were.

OSSR: Does the athleticism of this team give you hope that the defense will come?
Sutton: Defense is something that can be taught. If you're a good athlete, you can become a good defensive player, if you work at it. Once you learn the basic fundamentals of good, solid defense it's just a matter of going out and working hard. And you'll become a better defender. And that's what I try to tell a number of the players. You don't need to score a lot of points if you can limit your turnovers, play good solid defense and rebound. Go set good solid screens for guys who can score ­ you can play. But I think we have enough players that we can become a good defensive team.

OSSR: Despite the heavy turnover, there seems to be reason for fans to be excited about this team.
Sutton: I think some of them are too excited. I think this team has the potential to be a pretty good basketball team. But there's still a number of question marks. They'll be a fun team to watch, I think. Right now, I don't think we can play with a good basketball team. That doesn't mean we won't be able to a month from now or in two months, when we get into the league. I think we have a chance to be a pretty nice team.

OSSR: Word is Jason Miller has made strides from a year ago. How do you see his progress?
Sutton: He's still pretty inconsistent. Some days he's playing pretty well, some days he's not. That's one of the question marks we have about the ball club, because I think he could be a player who could go out and average nine or 10 points a game and get five or six rebounds a game. I hope that he can.

OSSR: What about the buzz that the Cowboys will push the ball up the floor more?
Sutton: I think this ball club is capable of getting up and down the court maybe better than some of our teams. You want to go as fast as you can, but once you get there you want to have the basketball. I think in order for us to be a good team, we've got to score baskets in transition. Because once we get into a half-court set, we might not be as good as some of the teams we've had.

OSSR: Can you compare this team to some of your recent editions?
Sutton: It's hard to compare ball clubs. I thought (Bobby) Knight had a good comment, OIf we go out and get in a running contest and a jumping contest, these guys are pretty good. But I don't know if they can play basketball or not.' There's some truth in that. We have some wonderful athletes. Take Frans, he's as good an athlete for a guy his size as you maybe can find in college basketball. If you went out there in football, where you only play one end of the field and then it's a specialized responsibility you have, he could go out and in a month's time, I think he could be playing. He could be an offensive tackle, and he could really be a defensive player at a certain position: Go chase the quarterback down. Maybe he couldn't do that in a month, but he could do that in a short amount of time. And we have some other guys. In basketball, there's so many things you have to learn because you're playing the whole game. In football, you're only playing one end of the field.

OSSR: After so much anticipation, how are the Graham twins, Stevie and Joey, coming along?
Sutton: They're struggling some. When they were out there last year, there's no pressure, they were just out there playing. Now there's a little more pressure on them because it's the real deal ­ it's time to play. I think they're struggling a little bit. But they'll be OK.

OSSR: Are they guys you look to for some off-court leadership?
Sutton: I hope it's coming from several people. I don't think you just have one guy out there. I think Lucas has been accepted and embraced by his teammates. I think he has that potential, and the Grahams do. Ivan has been here a long time and can give you some leadership, if by nothing else by example. Off the floor, it's hard to tell. This is not the most talented team I've had here, but as far as people and what they're supposed to do off the floor, it may very well be as good a group as we've ever had. All of them are good students.

OSSR: Can Lucas fill the shoes of Victor Williams?
Sutton: I don't know. He's only been here a short period of time. He's struggling on defense a little bit right now.

OSSR: How has your perception of him changed, from coaching against him to coaching him?
Sutton: He's a great practice player because he just plays his tail off. I think that's one reason his teammates have so readily accepted him, because they see how hard he plays, and he's a nice player. I think his biggest problem will be becoming a better defender. You know, he's not very big. The thing about Victor, he was strong. He had been on the weight program here. I'm not sure John has been on a strong weight program. But he's a clever little basketball player. You can tell he's been around basketball, been around his dad and grown up in a coach's atmosphere.

OSSR: With all the new faces, how do you see the chemistry of this team?
Sutton: Chemistry, you never know until they're out there for more days than we've been out there. But like I said, they're good people. The only thing that concerns me a little bit is we have a lot of perimeter players and there's only 200 minutes in a game. I hope none of them get to where, OGosh, I'm not getting to play but four or five minutes a game.' That can hurt a ball club. I hope that doesn't happen. But when you look at Lucas, the twins, Bobik, ‘Spoon, Tony, there's six guys who are all perimeter players. I hope there's enough minutes for all of them.

OSSR: What's the chance you may go small and play four little guys?
Sutton: I told a coach yesterday, I don't know if you can do it when you get into the league, against Texas or Oklahoma or Kansas or Missouri, because of their size. But I think there's a lot of teams you could play in nonconference and your best team would be four perimeter players and one inside player. In fact, one day I did it in practice for 20 minutes and they just beat the heck out of the other team. They had Ivan, Tony, Lucas, the two Grahams and we had ‘Spoon and Bobik subbing in a little. If we could get in a 6-6 and under league, we'd be terrific.

OSSR: Tony Allen really burst on the scene a year ago. Does he get an enhanced role this year?
Sutton: Tony is a good offensive player, and he could be a great defensive player. I hope that he'll really accept that challenge to improve his defense. His tendency is to make a spectacular play, by making a steal, but then he'll make two or three bad plays by losing the person with the ball and the guy will beat him with penetration. Part of the reason is he's always fighting the ball. Hands can get you in trouble on defense if you use them too much.

OSSR: How much of a load falls on Ivan's shoulders?
Sutton: Well, Ivan's a warrior. He's undersized in some ways to do what we ask of him, but Ivan is just a good college basketball player. He's going to rebound for you. He's going to score points for you. He, too, needs to get a little better on his defense. We don't have right now what I'd call a stopper. Boy, Melvin was a stopper. I would hope one of those guys on our team would accept that challenge, regardless if they score any points, but go out and just snuff somebody. Melvin could do that.

OSSR: Is there a candidate for that role?
Sutton: I think one of the Grahams could be that. And I think Tony could be that. I tell you somebody I think has improved a lot on his defense is ‘Spoon. He's a better defender than he was a year ago. But I don't think he can be a stopper. But I think the Grahams or Tony could be. Especially the Grahams, because they're terrific athletes, and they've got size.
OSSR: The Grahams are twins, but are they the same type of player?
Sutton: They play a lot alike. But I think Joey might be better in and around the basket and Stevie might be a little bit better around the perimeter. But there's not much difference. Both of them can play inside and both can play on the floor.

OSSR: Can you tell them apart?
Sutton: When they've got their numbers on. They could switch at halftime and I'm not sure I'd know. When they'd come into my office last year, I'd always tell them: OGood to see you Mr. Graham.'

OSSR: Have they tried to pull any of those twin tricks on you?
Sutton: Not on me. But they probably could.

OSSR: What is Bobik's role?
Sutton: Bobik could very well be the hardest worker we have on the basketball floor. He works really hard. And right now, I don't know if he can be a stopper, but right now he might be playing as well defensively on the perimeter as anyone we have. He could be a good scorer, but he has a tendency to rush things in the delivery of his shot. If he takes his time and gets set, he can really shoot it.

OSSR: How do you see the conference, with so much star power missing from a year ago?
Sutton: Oh, I think the league is as tough as it's ever been. I think the top half of the league is probably close to being as good, may not be quite as good. But the bottom half is better with the exception of Baylor. A&M, Iowa State, Nebraska, K-State are all up there. Kansas, Texas, Missouri, if they get their problems squared away, those three teams are all capable of going to the Final Four.

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