One-on-One With Sean Sutton-Part 2

Oklahoma State basketball coach Sean Sutton visited with Go Pokes earlier this week about a variety of topics, including the 2007-08 schedule, including a game against his brother Scott's Oral Roberts University team, point guard Byron Eaton's role as the leader of the squad, and the direction of the program after several players have been arrested in Stillwater this summer.

How close is the schedule from being finalized and released?
Sutton: We're one game away. I was hoping we'd get it done by Aug. 1, which would be the earliest we've ever gotten it out, and that still could happen.

Are you trying to find another home game?
Sutton: Yes, a home game with ESPN (televising it). I think that's all we're waiting on.

One game that many fans will be looking forward to is the game against Oral Roberts, coached by your brother Scott, in the All-College Classic in Oklahoma City on Dec. 20. How did that game come about and are you excited to be going against Scott as a head coach?
Sutton: That's always a great event. We've had some unbelievable games down there. You think back to Pittsburgh and Tennessee the last couple of years, and even the Gonzaga game, even though we lost, was a heck of a college game. I'm not overly thrilled with having to play against Scott, but at the same time I'm a little bit excited too, just because we're both competitive, we grew up competing against each other ... the down-side is somebody is going to have to lose. But I think it's a good game for the state and will generate a lot of interest. I think ESPN is excited about the match up.

Was ESPN the reason this happened? Did they approach you about playing against ORU?
Sutton: In that contract, for three years, it's written in there that for two years you play two kinda marque teams, and you play in Oklahoma City and then return the game to a neutral site in their state. We played Gonzaga in Seattle, Tennessee in Nashville, and we played BYU in Salt Lake (City). You have one of those three years where they pay a team to come in and play, and there's no return. This was our year for that type of game. I said to (the ESPN people), I don't know what you guys think about ORU. This was before they made the NCAA Tournament again (last March), and they said they liked the idea and suggested we talk about it some more. So I called my brother first to see if it would be something that he would want to do. I thought it would help their program and help them get on national TV. He said he'd like to do it, so I called ESPN back ... they played around with it a little bit and then made the decision they wanted to do it.

You dad was always adamant about not playing a game against his son's team, and didn't even like playing games against guys who he had previously had on his staffs. What did you dad say when you told him your team would be playing Scott's team?
Sutton: I haven't talked to him about it.

How about your mom?
Sutton: I haven't talked to her about it either. I'm sure neither one of them are overly excited about it, and I'm not even sure they'll go to the game. My dad probably will but my mom will probably be too nervous to go.

Byron Eaton's role on this team continues to evolve, even in the last few weeks with JamesOn Curry's departure to the NBA and the recent suspension of Marcus Dove. How important is Byron Eaton to the success of the 2007-08 Cowboys?
Sutton: I told him he's the most important player on the team, and he's got to step up and accept that responsibility and accept that role. We recruited him to come in here and be a great point guard. He's got two years left and there's no reason that he shouldn't be one of the three best point guards in the Big 12, if he gets in shape, with (Mario) Chalmers and (D.J.) Augustin. He's got that kind of talent, and he's got that kind of ability, but he's not gotten to that level because he's never committed himself to getting in shape. There's only so much that we can do, and there's only so much that Jake (Manzelmann, the Cowboy strength and conditioning coach) can do. At some point it falls back on the individual, that he's going to eat properly, he's got to eat at the right times, he's got to watch the amount he eats. If he gets himself in great physical condition, and gets down to 205 to 210 pounds like we want, then I think he'll be the player that we all think he should be.

Is he making the progress that you've wanted throughout the summer?
Sutton: I think he's done well this summer. He's been consistent. He hasn't missed any workouts, he's done extra sessions probably on the average three times a week ... and his weight has come down. I think August is a big month for him because he's going to be back home, and all the work that he's put in to this point you can't let slip away. If he goes to (how hometown) Dallas and loses his focus, and loses a little bit of his discipline ... but so far I've been pleased with him.

What does he weigh as of today?
Sutton: He's under 220. We wanted to try to get him to 215 by Aug. 1, and that leaves us roughly 10 weeks before the season started, and at that point if he loses one pound a week for 10 weeks he's at 20t when we start practice. I think once we start (practice in mid-October) it won't be an issue with his weight going up and down. What he's got to understand is that Augustin did it, Sherron Collins did it ... He knows what he has to do. He's been consistent this summer, and I think it's going to pay off for him.

How much of a better player will he be at 205 pounds?
Sutton: I think people will see a big difference, and see the player that we saw in high school. He'll be quicker, he'll be more athletic, he'll play a lot more minutes. He needs to be on the court 30, 32, 33 minutes a game, and in order to do that he's got to get his weight down.

What else does Byron need to work on to be the leader of this team?
Sutton: He's got to get better with shooting the ball. He's done a good job of getting up extra shots (this summer), but that's something that needs to carry over into the fall. He needs to become a gym rat like John Lucas and Tony Allen and some of the other great players we've had in the past. He stays after practice or comes back over here after study hall and shoot 400 or 500 shots, where becomes a consistently legitimate three-point shooter. I thought his decision-making was better last year than it was his freshman year, and I think it'll be much better this year from last year. He's the key.

During a two-year stretch (the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons) everything seemed good with this program, and all the bounces went the Cowboys' way. But it's been exactly the opposite for the past 18 months or so. Are you ready for your luck to turn around and the bounces to start going your way again?
Sutton: It's going to turn, there's no question in my mind about that. We had that run of two years where we won 57 games, and really everything seemed to go right. Sometimes you get in a situation like this where you go through a string of tough breaks, and that's kinda what we've been fighting the last year and a half. I feel like that's all about to change, and we're going to go back in the other direction.

Do you ever get discouraged?
Sutton: Not really. I stay pretty upbeat. I'm disappointed in some of the decisions that our players have made over the summer but that doesn't change the way I feel about them as people. I'm upset at the lack of judgment that was used in some of these situations, but as a group I really like this basketball team a lot. I really think it's the best group of guys we've had in here since that group (pointing to a photo on his office wall of the 2004-05 team with Ivan McFarlin, Joey Graham, Stevie Graham, John Lucas, Daniel Bobik, etc.). I think that will all play out in time as the media and fans get a chance to be around these guys and observe them. Right now it's been tough but that's part of this profession., and that's part of athletics. You're going to go through some periods like this where people question things, maybe question you (as the head coach). I've got a lot of confidence in my staff and a lot of confidence in myself, and a lot of confidence in these players that this is going to be a good season, and it's going to be a team that our fans enjoy.

Some Cowboy fans are beginning to wonder if the program is out of control. What do you say to those fans?
Sutton: I believe 100 percent that everything is going to be good. We're going to put this behind us and return to the good times that we've enjoyed here. You get spoiled in a situation like we've had here, when you win so many games and go to eight straight NCAA Tournaments. You forget that other programs go through tough times too – North Carolina had it three years ago, Connecticut doesn't even make the NIT this year, UCLA goes two years without making the NCAA Tournament. It happens. But you continue to grind and do the right things, work hard and I think it'll all play out and everybody will be pleased. The criticism really doesn't bother me. I learned at an early age that you're not going to please everybody. We're all going to go through periods of life where people are going to criticize you, and that's one of the things that I got out of playing at Kentucky. At 17 and 18 years old I learned to be thick-skinned and tough, and not sit around worrying about what other people think or what other people say, or what's being written in the paper. That was a valuable lesson for me to learn. There's no use worrying about what this person said or what it said in the paper. There's nothing you can change about that, and I don't let that affect my mindset or my job or my life.

Have you talked with dad much about the situation, and asked for his advice?
Sutton: We've had a couple of good conversations. I think everybody forgets the 2002 season, that fall we were coming off two first-round defeats in the (NCAA) tournament, Tony Allen gets in a fight at Whataburger the first week of school, Cheyne Gadson's there with him ... it's a little bit of the same situation in people are wondering where our program is headed. That really got the attention of Tony, and really got the attention of our players. That team went on to win 22 games and get to the second round (of the NCAA Tournament) before losing to (eventual champion) Syracuse, and then we followed that up with going to the Final Four and the Sweet 16. I think this has been an eye-opener for the players on this team. (Back to your question,) my dad and I have visited some, and he's been positive and he's been good to talk to.

What does Marcus have to do to rejoin the team?
Sutton: That's not something that I want to discuss just yet. I will say this, the first four years in this program he's been great to coach and he's done well in school. He's done everything that he was supposed to do. He used extremely bad judgment the other night. He's got to learn from that and never let it happen again. I've said we're not ever going to have any more issues like this. Our program has been too well thought of across the country for standing for and doing the right things, and we're going to work hard to repair the damage to this program.

To read what the Cowboy head coach had to say in part one of this interview, go to this link: One-on-One With Sean Sutton-Part 1

GoPokes Top Stories