Basketball Media Day: Eddie & Sean Q&A

The Oklahoma State basketball team held its annual Media Day on Monday afternoon. Below are some excerpts from the question and answer session with head coach Eddie Sutton and head coach designate Sean Sutton.

Question: How has practice been so far with so many players capable of contributing this season?
Sean Sutton: I think it's gone maybe a little bit better than we anticipated. Still you're dealing with eight new players (and) it's a little bit of a slow process. Because of that we've had to be more patient on a daily basis. Certainly we are still correcting mistakes and trying to get them to understand our system, and we've done so more in an encouraging and positive way. Right now, offensively we can score some points. We're much better when we're in the open court, when we're in transition situations, than we are when we have to grind it out in the half court (offense). They are nowhere near the defensive team that they should be, and that they will be down the road. That's been a struggle, as well as the turnovers at this point in practice. The value of the basketball with young players, sometimes it's a hard lesson for them to learn because they got away with it in high school. Throwing the ball away once or twice here and there isn't that big a deal when you're going out and scoring 25 or 30 points for your team. At this level games can be so close that one or two possessions can be the difference (in winning or losing). So that's been a learning curve for them to value the ball better. I think they've gotten better and learning the strengths and weaknesses of their teammates, which you are always concerned about when you put together a new group of players. I think they've done better from week to week. We've liked their attitude. We like the enthusiasm they play with every day. We're excited to see how they play in a game tomorrow night.

Question: If you were to look into a crystal ball what type of savvy do you think this team will have a few months from now?
Sean Sutton: I think some have more than others at this point. Some have adapted and picked things up easier than other guys have. I don't know if that's because of the coaches they had in high school or the feel they have for the game. For example, Byron Eaton has really understood exactly what we're trying to do and has picked things up a lot faster than maybe we thought he would. He has a great feel for how to play the game, and the way we want to play on both ends of the court. I don't think you can really answer that until you get out in a game situation, and see exactly how they're going to react in certain situations. It's hard to tell right now how they'd react in a tough atmosphere on the road. One thing is we're going that opportunity when we go to Gonzaga, and we go to UAB (Alabama-Birmingham) and we go to Pepperdine, to see how they react under pretty tough situations on the road against good teams. I think that's important to learn but you're not going to know that until you go through the situation.

Question: How is JamesOn Curry playing?
Sean Sutton: Right now, I think he would tell you this, he has not played as well day in and day out in practice as he will. A lot of that is because he was out almost 10 weeks with that (knee) injury so his timing is a little bit off. But there's no question that he is a tremendously gifted offensive player. Certainly we are going to count on him big time early to help this basketball team. It's been an adjustment for him in that he's trying to learn to play with a whole new group of players. As unselfish as he is he has a tendency right now in practice to pass up shots, to get other guys involved. The thing we've told him is we're going to give him some freedom to shoot the basketball because obviously he's a great shooter, a great offensive player. But there comes a time sometimes when you're too unselfish and you hurt the basketball team by doing that. Right now, his timing is a little bit off but we have a lot of confidence that he will be a good leader for this team. He's been a good leader on the practice floor with all the young players, they look up to him not only because of the type of player he is but also because of his attitude towards the game and how hard he works on a daily basis. He's a better player right now than he was last year, whether or not he leads the Big 12 in scoring I don't know. I think he will be one of the best guards in the conference.
Eddie Sutton: In all the years I've coached I haven't really very many times told a player I'm going to give you a lot of freedom on offense. But I really think early on offense he's got to score a lot of points because I think some of our other guys, I think they're going to come along, but I think they're going to be inconsistent. We see that in practice. I told him you're going to take a bad shot occasionally, but if he can get in the 20s I think that will really help us as a basketball team. I think he can do that. One thing, in my opinion, that has slowed us up is we've had more injuries this year than anytime I've ever coached. We had eight guys out the other day. We couldn't even practice. Some of them aren't very serious – an ankle sprain or a charlie horse in the thigh but they couldn't practice – but I echo what Sean said, I think they're attitude is excellent and they're really good kids. They want to win and they want to learn. Now we had a scrimmage yesterday (Sunday) and I would advise you guys to maybe bring a helmet or something (to wear on press row), you'd better hang loose I'll tell you that, because that ball will hit you right in the face. Yesterday I think one team had 27 turnovers and the other team had 26. That ball was flying all over the arena. I'm anxious to see how they'll play tomorrow night. One player who hasn't been out there very long and I think he's going to be an outstanding player is Mario (Boggan). I think he really has a chance to be a big-time player for us.

Question: Describe Mario's game for those of us who haven't seen him play yet?
Eddie Sutton: He can shoot the ball about as well as anybody we have, maybe better than anybody. He just knows how to play the game. He's terrific posting up down low yet he can stand out there on the floor and knock down treys. We may only play him 14, 15, 16 minutes tomorrow night. In the scrimmage yesterday he played 21 and I think our trainer, Murph, thought maybe that was too much. He's one guy that I think has got a chance to be a terrific player for us.
Eddie Sutton: Right now they play what I call brother-in-law ball. You let me shoot it, and I'll let you shoot it.
Sean Sutton: That's like yesterday we had a scrimmage and the score was like 99-78, and one team has 27 turnovers and the other team has 20-something turnovers and still score that many points. We've got some good offensive players but a lot of it is just bad defense.
Eddie Sutton: We've got to develop a pride in our defense. We're telling them every day that this team in order to win has got to be solid defensively. So many of these young players never played defense in high school. The coach didn't want them to get in foul trouble and foul out so they just concentrated on offense. They're going to have to grow and become accustomed to playing defense at this level if you want to win.

Question: Is this the most talented team you've had from top to bottom?
Eddie Sutton: Well I think there's a lot of raw talent. We've had some outstanding teams here, but potentially this team has a chance ... that's why I keep saying that a year from now this team will be terrific. This year, I think they're going to be up and down. They're going to be inconsistent. But when those young players grow up, they're very, very talented.
Sean Sutton: I think we've tried to make these guys understand that the only way they're going to win, win the way we want to win in terms of our goals, is they've got to become a great defensive team. This program has been built on hard-nosed, tough man-to-man defense, and that's allowed us to win a lot of games in 15 years. Last year's team was a fabulous offensive team, and scored a lot of points. The year before that they led the country in field goal percentage and last year they led the country in three-point shooting, but they would defend last year like the team that went to the Final Four in 2004. A lot of it was they just would not commit themselves on a daily basis, and in games, because they felt like they could always score enough points to win. This year's team has got to become a defensive team like some of our teams in the past. Your defense always starts at the point of attack and Byron Eaton and Jamaal Brown are strong, physical, quick guards that ought to be able to disrupt the other teams in terms of them getting into the flow of their offense. We've got more depth which is going to allow fresher bodies on the floor, we've got more depth in our front line. We hope that Aaron Pettway will play like we envisioned when we recruited him because he can certainly change the game in the paint with his shot-blocking ability.
Eddie Sutton: But he had 12 fouls yesterday.
Sean Sutton: He almost got a triple-double yesterday. He had 9 points, 10 rebounds and 12 fouls.

Question: Are these young players better equipped, with good basketball IQs and willing to learn than most of the other young players you've had?
Sean Sutton: We like their attitude. We like the way they practice. With young players they have a tendency to wear down at the end of practice.
Eddie Sutton: Of all the teams we've had here we've never had a team that will be as deep as this ballclub. That's important. Sometimes you go into the season and you lose a player to injury or anything can happen. Right now, there's probably 9 or 10 guys ...
Sean Sutton: There's JamesOn and then you've got a couple other guys and after that there's not a whole lot of difference. At least now. There has not been separation where these five guys are the best five and these two are the next two. I'd say right now we have two or three guys who are clear starters and the other eight or nine ...
Eddie Sutton: We don't even know who we're going to start tomorrow.
Sean Sutton: It changes from day to day. In some ways that's good because it keeps daily competition on the practice floor. In terms of chemistry, until you start playing games you don't know how guys are going to accept their roles. Right now they're all happy because they think they're going to play 25 or 30 minutes tomorrow night. When a guy plays 7 or 8 we're going to see how his attitude is and whether he'll accept that or not.

Question: Do you want them to accept 7 or 8 minutes?
Sean Sutton: No, if they're a competitor they shouldn't accept it.
Eddie Sutton: We just don't want them pouting, and having a long face.
Sean Sutton: We'll tell them, don't call your parents because if they call us we're just going to let the whole team know.

Question: How much do you count on JamesOn to help instill the mindset about playing tough defense?
Sean Sutton: We've had a lot of talks, and that's one thing about him is he'll call 30 minutes after practice and want to know what we think he can do better or what the team can do better, what does he need to be talking to them about. Obviously he understands the disappointment that we had in our team last season down the stretch in terms of defensive effort. It was outrageous to let six of the last 10 opponents shoot over 50 percent ... I think JamesOn is well aware that the standard we have for defense did not measure up at all for our team.

Question: How high is the coaching staff on 17-year-old Kenny Cooper?
Sean Sutton: I think he has been, I don't want to say maybe the most but certainly one of the surprises of this team. Going into practice there were some discussions that we might possibly redshirt him because he's only 17 years old. But he just gets better every day. I think the players respect him. I think he's made an impression on the coaching staff because for a young player he has unbelievable intensity and passion for the game every day. He plays with great enthusiasm. He plays with a smile on his face, much like JamesOn did a year ago. He has fun and he wants to do the right things because of that here's a guy we thought about redshirting but he might be in the starting lineup. There's no question he's the best rebounder day in and day out. He does the best job of posting up of any of the big guys. Right now he has a tendency where he doesn't finish around the basket. And then he may be the best shooter out of the group, outside of Mario. He can step out and shoot the basketball. I think he's certainly a factor on this team and I think he has a chance to be the best center to play at Oklahoma State since Bryant Reeves when it's all said and done.

Question: Has he played his way out of the redshirt then?
Eddie Sutton: I don't think we can afford to redshirt him. If he doesn't get injured I would say by his junior year he could be maybe one of the best centers in college basketball.

Question: Have you made any decisions on redshirting some players? Eddie Sutton: There are a couple of those guys who probably need to be redshirted but it's hard to convince players sometimes that if they just would understand that I'm trading my first year for my fifth year, and the fifth year you're so much better than you were as a freshman. But it's hard for them to accept that and sit out after playing basketball their whole life.
Sean Sutton: When they're seniors they wish they would have redshirted and they realize how much it would have helped them. But ideally in a situation like this, that you knew everybody was going to stay healthy, you could play a rotation of 10 players, and redshirt two of them.
Eddie Sutton: Too many of them are too close.
Sean Sutton: Right now there hasn't been separation where you can say this guy's definitely going to redshirt, (and) this guy's going to redshirt.

Question: Do you feel good about the two point guards?
Sean Sutton: I think they both have played well. I think they both have got to pick up their games defensively because they have the ability because of their strength and quickness to cause a lot of problems. Right now, they just don't do it consistently. They have to do a better job of taking care of the basketball. Jamaal (Brown) is a terrific shooter. He can really shoot the basketball from the three-point line. Byron (Eaton) is probably, for a young player, as good a penatrator as we've had at Oklahoma State. Both of those guys get the ball up the floor quickly. Byron has a way of getting into the paint. Sometimes he has a tendency to get too deep, where in high school he got away with that because of his athleticism and power. But we're trying to educate him that once you get to a certain point in the lane you've got to either shoot the basketball or you've got to look to where you're going to pass.
Eddie Sutton: And they can both play together in certain situations. I've always liked three guards. If you had JamesOn out there and the other two guys, there will be some nights you can play that way because potentially all three of those guys can really play havoc defensively with the opponent on the perimeter because they're all capable of being good defenders.

Question: How much would it mean if you got your 800th career win this season?
Eddie Sutton: I think that would be very meaningful. When you look at Mr. Rupp, and you look at Dean (Smith), you look at Bob (Knight) and (Jim) Phelan ... I mean it would be a wonderful goal if it's reachable this year because I can look back to when I was coaching high school ball and if somebody had told me you're going to be close to 800 wins, I would have said you're crazy because I never thought I'd leave high school. I was convinced that high school was the place for me, that was my calling ... If I don't get it, it's been a wonderful career. It really has. I look back at all the great players and all the good times we've had, all the good assistant coaches ... that would be quite a honor. I think there will be some other people, if they stay in coaching, that will be able to do that. But I can't see very many young coaches coaching that long. When I look at my good friend Bill Self or guys like that I don't know whether they'll be able to coach that long because they'll make enough money that they won't have to. Yes, it would be quite an honor to get up there with those guys who have already won 800.

Question: If you didn't get it would you stay one more year to chase No. 800?
Eddie Sutton: I want to see how I feel at the end of the season. I just want the program to be in a place where he (pointing to Sean) will be successful. That's why I say in another year I think this team, but they might this year surprise some people. We're capable, by midseason, of being a good basketball team.

Question: How are you feeling now?
Eddie Sutton: I'm all right. Getting old is hell.

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