A View From Behind the Bench

For the first time in my career of covering the Cowboys and Eddie Sutton's teams I was assigned a seat right behind the Oklahoma State bench. When the team came out for the start I made my mind up that I was not going to watch the cheerleaders, scan the arena, check the scores of the other games, or anything else during time outs. I kept my eyes glued on the bench and what went on during time outs.

Before the game, as the players went out for the opening tip, I caught Eddie Sutton looking back into the stands for a quick wink and acknowledgement of his wife, Patsy, sitting up in the stands. It was obvious in the initial minutes that Daniel Bobik is the one player who wants constant feedback from the bench. On every free throw he was walking over to the bench to talk to, usually Randy Rutherford, but also Eddie and Sean Sutton. Bobik may end up coaching himself. He has the personality for it, and he is a definite student of the game.

It is very easy to tell without hearing what is said how the coaches feel about the play on the court, and even individual players. For the second straight game Joey Graham was in the doghouse from the start. After John Lucas fouled Jamaal Tatum on a three-point try at the 16:49 mark, Eddie Sutton pulled Lucas over and gave him a 15-second dissertation on why you don't foul a three-point shooter. No doubt, that is a lecture Lucas has heard before.

A little later the under 16-minute TV timeout was whistled and Eddie Sutton and Sean took turns in the huddle addressing the players. Sean was working off a small sheet of paper that serves as the game plan in condensed form.

By the under 12 minute media timeout, the coaching staff was raising the intensity level. Eddie Sutton and Rutherford were on Curry for a pass he tried across the paint that resulted in a kicked ball. Rutherford told him to finish and take it on to the hole, don't make a risky pass like that. Assistant Jimmy Williams worked on Joey Graham and urged him to play tougher inside.

The team would be back in front of the coaches only 11 seconds later and this time, trailing 20-17, it was time for a special play as Sean Sutton grabbed the marker board and drew up a play called "stack high." Eddie Sutton told Ivan McFarlin to get down on the baseline and be ready for opportunities. The result just 12 seconds after the time out was a McFarlin layup.

The under eight minute media time out was even more interesting as Sean Sutton lit into the squad for ignoring help defense principles on the Saluki's leading scorer Darren Brooks. Meanwhile, a player got into the act as John Lucas pleaded with the post players to come out some and help on offense with the motion.

At one point seconds later, Sean Sutton stands up and yells, "ball reversal." The yell gets the desired result as the Cowboys move the ball over to the weak side and the result is a missed open jumper by Lucas that rims out.

After challenging the players in a halftime talk that John Lucas claims he thought would never end, the Cowboys come back out for the second half and jump out to a quick start. After an 8-0 Cowboy run, that gives them a 47-46 lead, SIU calls a timeout. The coaches - in almost a chorus - tell the players to punch them, not meaning literally but on the scoreboard. Joey Graham found himself being coached by every coach at every timeout in the second half. Sean Sutton contributed a few more special plays, and overall, the view from behind the bench was an interesting and enlightening experience.

I can say this after watching them work up close, if I need to win a basketball game to save my life, I want Sutton, Sutton and Company doing the coaching. You've heard the term, ball coach, the Cowboys have six of them on their bench.

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