One-on-One With Sean Sutton

Sean Sutton is much happier on March 5, 2008, than he was a year ago. OSU's basketball season has been the exact opposite of last season when the Cowboys won 16 of their first 17 games before struggling to the end with eight losses in the final 11 contests. But Sutton's current team, which was 11-12 just four weeks ago, is on a five-game winning streak entering Wednesday night's Bedlam showdown.

Just a few weeks ago, after a 21-point loss at Kansas State on Feb. 9, OSU was under .500 (at 11-12) and fighting to stay out of last place in the Big 12 (at 2-7). Few people, outside of Sutton, his coaching staff and the Cowboy players, believed the season could be turned around, and rumors began that the second-year head coach might not make it to see a third season.

But Sutton's Cowboys have now won five in a row, are tied for fifth place in the Big 12 standings, and with two regular season games remaining are battling for a first-round bye (awarded to the top four teams in the conference standings) in next week's Big 12 Tournament to be played in Kansas City.

We visited with Sutton for a few minutes Sunday evening.

How difficult has this season been for you personally with the team struggling and then the rumors about your job status?
Sutton: I just try to block it out. I just try to control the things that I can control, and that's our team. You can't control a lot of things but the things you can control, you just concentrate on that. I tried to stay positive with our team.

I understood that this was going to be a tough season before we started. We started the season with only four guys who had ever played at this level, and we lost two guys who would have been in the starting lineup right in the middle of the summer. I knew it was going to be a battle all year long when you try to get so many young players to mesh together in this system.

I've stayed upbeat, I've stayed confident that our system works, and I felt like this team would make a lot of strides and a lot of improvement, and I think that's happened. We came so close early at the start of the Big 12. I wish we could go back and play some of those games now, and I think the results would be different. Coaching is not always an easy profession, and I knew that when I started it. That's part of it sometimes.

I'm sure you've gotten discouraged at times over the past two years. Who do you lean on when you need a word of encouragement?
Sutton: I've got a lot of support and a lot of friends that call and text-message me. Obviously at home, I've got a great family. My wife and kids are great. I will say this, I've leaned on my faith a lot. I think that's helped.

Are there any similarities between the way last season finished and the way this year's team struggled the first two or three months? Did you experience the same frustrations?
Sutton: It's two totally different teams. Last year Obi's injury was a tough blow. We just played so well early and then my team just got worn down. The challenge with that team was trying to keep them fresh, and we had to do whatever we could to win as many games as possible to finish out the season, and do the best we could possible do under the circumstances with seven players. This year's it's a totally different in that we've had great practices every day, and we've got more players. It's just been so much more rewarding to watch our guys grow, and mature, and make improvement, and get better.

You'd much rather be where this team is right now, finishing up strong and coming together like you have the last couple of weeks, as compared to a year ago.
Sutton: Oh, sure. You always want to be playing your best at the end of the season. We've got a lot of momentum going now, and we'd like to carry this through to the Big 12 Tournament and, hopefully, through the NCAA Tournament. We've got everybody coming back except for Marcus (Dove), and we've got a chance to have what I think could be a great year next season. We've just got to get a couple of guys to come in and help with what we have already. I feel good about the future.

I remember sitting in your office last September talking about this season, and you said at that time that the play of Byron Eaton would be the key. I think you're direct quote was, "I've told him he's going to be one of the biggest keys to how this season goes. It's time for him to play at a high level night in and night out, like he's capable of doing." That's proven to be true. Byron's play has been the key to this team's turnaround the last few weeks. Why is he playing better?
Sutton: I think he's playing with a lot of confidence right now, and he's certainly playing as well as any guard in the league. Players develop at different rates. I thought a year ago at this time this is what we would be getting out of Byron. It's just taken a little longer. But he's playing at a high level right now.

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