Ford: We May Play Five Guards

The good news for Travis Ford is he inherits a team that returns more than 81 percent of its scoring from a year ago. The not so good news for the first-year Oklahoma State head basketball coach is that the majority of that production came from four guards. That's why it shouldn't come as a surprise to Cowboy fans when Ford puts four guards, and possibly a fifth, on the floor at the same time.

"The four-guard possibility is definite. It could be five guards at some point," Ford said Monday during the Winter Sports Media Day in Stillwater. "There's no question right now that we will be playing four guards an extensive amount of time, especially if we had to turn around and play a game tomorrow."

The Cowboys don't have to play tomorrow ... but they do have an exhibition game against Rogers State (an NAIA school located in Claremore, Okla.) next Wednesday, Nov. 5, at Gallagher-Iba Arena. And, they open the regular season in just 17 days -- against Texas-San Antonio on Nov. 14.

Ford says if things continue as they have through the first several weeks of practice that he will have at least four guards on the floor for the opening tip. Eaton (11.5 points and 3.5 assists last season) could be joined by Anderson (13.3 ppg, 37.9 percent 3-point shooting), Harris (10.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and Muonelo (9.8 ppg) are being asked to make the adjustment to Ford's fast-paced, full-court pressure style of play.

Eaton, the former McDonald's All-American point guard who has battled weight issues throughout his college career, is determined to make his senior season one to remember. He is playing at 215 pounds and says he feels better than he has at any time since playing at Oklahoma State. Harris was suspended indefinitely by Ford just two days after being named the Cowboys' head coach in April, and spent the summer working his way back on the team.

The 6-6, 205-pound Anderson, also a McDonald's All-American, led the Cowboys in scoring a year ago as a freshman and should thrive in Ford's get out and run style of play. Muonelo, the 6-5 junior from Edmond, Okla., is in the best shape of his life, having dropped about 20 pounds during the offseason.

Nick Sidorakis, a 6-4 guard from Jenks, Okla., who only averaged 1.5 minutes per game last season as a freshman, has impressed Ford during preseason workouts, and should see considerable playing time.

"Right now we're getting great play out of Byron, Terrel, James Anderson, Nick, Obi. If you didn't have to rank them by positions or anything. those would be our top performers at this point, and they've been the most consistent," Ford said. "Now Malcoln (Kirkland) has had his days ... his day was actually last night in the scrimmage. (Ibrahima) Thomas has been hurt a lot so it's hard to say anything about him. Marshall (Moses) is coming along. Anthony (Brown) is coming along.

"If we're going out there and just trying to put our best players on the court it could be four guards, or possibly five, because those guys are producing," Ford added.

Ford and the OSU coaching staff have been teaching the Cowboys the fast-paced offense he used at UMass last season when the Minutemen averaged 81.5 points per game (eighth-best nationally) and made 9.2 three-pointers (13th in the nation).

"It's been a very slow process with this team just because the style of play is so different. I didn't realize how different it was until I got into practice," said Ford.

The Cowboys seem to be enjoying the newer, fast-paced style of play. "Winning is what's fun, and that's going to be the ultimate determining factor. Yes, we do play fast, and yes, it is very different. That doesn't mean it's better or worse, it's just different," he says. "But I don't want our players to think that the system alone is going to win. That's not what it's about. I do think it gives you an advantage. But them working hard, developing positive habits, learning the fundamentals of the game of basketball, coming together with good team chemistry, having a good attitude and things like that, that's what's going to win.

"We're not going to beat people with talent. We're picked anywhere from five, to six, to seven, to eight (in the preseason polls). I've never seen us any higher than five and I've never seen us any lower than seven or eight. So what that means is there are a lot of unknowns there," Ford continued.

"We do not have the best talent in the league, that's not a knock on our players. But we have good enough talent that I think we can compete, if do all the tangible things. If we come together as a team and develop team chemistry, if we all start understanding and believing in each other, and not griping at each other and having what I call a loser's mentality, we get plenty of rest at night, we eat the right foods ... we do all these little tangible things that hopefully Oklahoma or Texas or Kansas or all these other teams that have more talent aren't doing. Hopefully it will give us an advantage somewhere.

"We've got a long way to go if we're going to compete with the elite teams in this league right now. But we have enough players to do that if a lot of things come together."

Ford was asked how he's taught his team to push the ball up the floor, and become a squad that looks to beat its opponents to the other end of the court.

"It is controlled chaos to an extent, but it is very structured as far as where we want people to be at certain times. Playing fast is more of a mentality than it is a physicality. What I mean by that is they've just got to condition their minds not to rest after a made shot, condition their minds to jump into a press after we score, condition their minds to play 94 feet ... that's the problem we're having. It's about reaction time, and they're not quite getting down the reaction time that I want in the transition from offense to defense.

"So it's more of a mentality than it is the X's and O's of it. That's what's taking them so long. We really haven't gotten to the X's and O'x of it yet. We've gotten to a little bit but not near as much as I would normally. I would usually have 15 to 20 plays in by now and we've probably got four or five plays. We're just trying to teach them to change ends fast and play with the mentality we want to play with."

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