One-on-One With Sean Sutton

Sean Sutton hit the ground running immediately after the OSU Cowboys' first-round NIT loss to end the 2005-06 season, and didn't slow down for nearly two months. That's what happens when you miss playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nine years. The 37-year-old Sutton was forthcoming and upfront when he sat down for an interview with Go Pokes earlier this week (although he was not able to talk about his dad or Eddie Sutton's future).

What did the team learn from this past season?
Sean Sutton:
Well, I think it forced them to grow up. They got put in a difficult situation that guys with less character and commitment would not have performed at the level they did down the stretch of the season. They clearly made improvement, and they deserve the credit for that. They're the ones who came out to the practice court every day and had the right approach to practice, the right attitude and worked hard to get better. I thought our overall chemistry got better down the stretch, and I thought we became tougher minded. I think they reached a point where losing hurt a lot more, and that's the way it ought to be. That's the way it's always been here. It was a tough season to go through. We did not necessarily perform up the levels that this program has been expected to, but at the same time I'm proud of their efforts and excited about the future. I think they understand what it takes to be successful at this level. I think it was proven with them that when they play well they can play with most teams in the country, and they showed that last year. They've worked hard this spring. Individually a lot of guys got better. We've got a chance to have an exciting season this next season.

Were the expectations for last year's team unrealistic?
Sean Sutton:
I don't know. I think if everything fell right last year's team could have got into the NCAA Tournament. That would have been a big achievement. From the coaching staff standpoint, that was the goal – to get back to the tournament for the ninth straight year. It was a rebuilding year much like the 2001 team did. It would have been considered a very successful year (if we'd made the tournament), and we had opportunities along the line and missed on some games we should have won that we had opportunities to win that we didn't close out or find the ways to win the games. So much happened at the end of the season that I was just proud that they hung in there and got better.

What did Sean Sutton learn?
Sean Sutton:
I'm a firm believe that you've got to win at home. This is a hard league to go on the road and make up ground. We lost four home games ... no, we lost five and four in the conference. You can't do that in this league and expect to finish in the top two or three spots, where we've been. You've got to protect your home court. We let some games get away here that shouldn't have happened. That's one thing that there's no substitute for experience. When you've got young players mistakes are going to be made, and a lot of times it's out of your control. When games are there to be won you've got to find a way to win them. You can't let games get away. I think one thing that will help prepare us for the future is we got put in a lot of different circumstances late in games that we hadn't been put in in quite a while. We can take the things from this season, and that's something that we'll stress throughout this next year. We've always tried to have a segment (in practice) for situations late in the game, special situations, what do you do, but we probably more than we've ever had when you look at the three- or four-year window, let alone one year. Those are things I think we're going to be able to practice and get where they're comfortable and know exactly what to do.

Do you think JamesOn Curry will be a different player this next season?
Sean Sutton:
I do. He got put in a tough spot with so much pressure put on him as a sophomore. He was expected to carry so much. That's a pretty big adjustment when you go from a freshman on a veteran team where you're a good player but you're surrounded by a lot of good players to where all of a sudden he was the man. Everybody was trying to stop him. I think you'll see the player we all know he can be.

How did his spring go?
Sean Sutton:
Good. I thought he worked hard. I thought his attitude was great. He got stronger in the weight room. He worked on his game during individual workouts. He seems happy, and he seems motivated to have a great year to get this program back to where people expect it.

Did you worry about his psyche after last season?
Sean Sutton:
We talked to him a lot. At times he was clearly frustrated and disappointed, like he wasn't doing enough. He could have played better, but that's not the way it went. I still have a tremendous amount of confidence in him that he can be one of the best players to ever play here, and he can be one of the best players in the country. He's got that type of ability, and I think we'll see the JamesOn that everybody is hoping to see the next two years.

How has the Big 12 changed with K-State hiring Bob Huggins and Missouri hiring Mike Anderson?
Sean Sutton:
It makes it harder. Those two schools went out and got two outstanding coaches that will pop new life into those programs. K-State just could never get over the hump and they've got a coach now who will push them over the hump. I think they're a team that you will see compete for spots in the NCAA Tournament, and I think you'll see them competing for a chance to win the Big 12. Mike Anderson is one of the best young coaches, in terms of head coaches, in all of basketball. What he was able to do at UAB (Alabama-Birmingham) was tremendous. We played against his teams twice (the past two seasons) and their style of play is hard to deal with, and his teams play as hard as anybody in the country. I think you can look at Missouri and K-State, both of those programs to take a climb up. I've known Mike for a long time and he's as good of guy as there is in coaching. He got passed on some jobs when he was an assistant at Arkansas, but I think he's been able to prove to everybody just how good he is. I don't know coach Huggins very well but his teams always play hard, and he wins. He's a great competitor. Having those two guys, and coach (Greg) McDermott at Iowa State, will to the competitiveness of the Big 12. I think you can make the argument that the Big 12 has the best coaches in college basketball.

Marcus Dove and Torre Johnson both had wrist surgeries after the season. How are they doing?
Sean Sutton:
They've still got about three or four weeks left and then they'll start working out again around the first part of June. It's important for both of those guys to have good summers. There are some areas offensively that both of those guys have to improve in, and they both have got to get stronger in the weight room. Marcus has got to become a more legitimate offensive player, an offensive threat that can score points. We don't need him to score a lot of points but he's got to score some. Torre has got to improve his ball-handling. Right now, he's a catch and shoot player. When he gets pushed out of his comfort zone, and he gets against physical players, I wouldn't say that he disappears but he isn't as nearly as effective as he is when he's able to play the game the way he wants to play it.

Other than Roderick Flemings (who is transferring) do you expect everyone else back next season?
Sean Sutton:
Everybody will be here. We're happy about Obi (Muonelo) and Gary Flowers. Both of those guys will be good players, and have a chance to come in and play a lot as freshmen. We're pleased with the effort and attitudes of the players over the course of the spring by how hard they worked in the weightroom and how hard they worked during their individual workouts with the coaches.

Is Gary Flowers a player you expect to help next season?
Sean Sutton:
I think he's got a good chance to come in and play right away. He's athletic, he's versatile, he's tough, he can shoot the ball from the perimeter, and also score with his back to the basket. He rebounds the ball consistently on both ends. He's got to get stronger and he's got to improve in some areas, but from a talent standpoint and how hard he plays he factors in strongly in the rotation.

How about Obi Muonelo?
Sean Sutton:
I think he'll play a lot and could possibly start depending upon how well he picks everything up. He is a very, very skilled basketball player and has a great feel for the game. He's good at everything. He passes the basketball. He handles it well enough to play three different positions. He's a terrific shooter from the three-point line. He's a good athlete. Defense is something that he's going to have to commit to playing and he's got to get in a little bit better condition, but if he does those things he's got a chance to compete for a starting position.

Last season you found it difficult to redshirt anyone despite having eight new players. Does it appear that you'll be in that same situation again with Obi and Gary?
Sean Sutton:
Ideally you'd like to redshirt all of them as true freshmen because they're a lot better their fifth year than they are their first year. It just depends on how it goes. There may be somebody that returns, that maybe doesn't make the improvement, that may really benefit from a redshirt year. That's always a possibility. I don't have anybody in mind at this point but that's something that we might consider. Eleven guys is hard to deal with sometimes. Nine, in my eyes, is the ideal number, (and) 10 if you think somebody is going to get hurt.

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