Q&A with Travis Ford

Travis Ford and members of the Oklahoma State men's basketball team met with the media on Monday to discuss the first two weeks of practice and the upcoming 2009-10 season. Here are some of the Cowboys' second-year head coach's thoughts with the exhibition opener scheduled for Saturday night against NCAA Division II Central Oklahoma.

Is the starting point guard going to be Keiton Page or one of the freshmen, Ray Penn or Fred Gulley?
Ford: Ray has a lot of confidence. That's one of the things I like about Ray. He's very confident in himself. Ray is not afraid to speak up, and I like that, except when he's making excuses. He's definitely in the mix.

It's up to three guys – Keiton, Ray and Fred. Right now what we're fighting with Ray and Fred is both of those guys do some tremendous things but they both also have some weaknesses. Ray is physically talented, can score, and a much, much better passer than we anticipated. He's a very good passer, and does a great job of getting other guys' shots, very similar to Byron (Eaton). Byron could put it right there, and zip it to guys. Ray can do all of that. But Ray doesn't understand the offense right now. Ray is more of a leader out there.

Whereas, Fred understands the offense, and Fred is the confident leader, talking to guys, leading by how hard he works. I mean he's just all-out the whole practice, but he just doesn't shoot quite as well and doesn't pass quite as well (as Ray). If we could combine these two we'd be in great shape but with that said … if I had to start tomorrow I'd probably have to go with Keiton because I don't think I'd be totally ready to put a freshman in a spot that neither one of them has earned it.

I'm happy with both of them, and very excited for both of them. Both of them will play a lot of minutes come Saturday. As far as starting and things like that, when you're a freshman you have to earn it. You have to prove to me that you deserve it before I start a freshman out there. I want one of them to step up and take it because I'd much rather start Keiton at the two (position) because we're better with him there.

The team has had a few injuries in recent weeks. Marshall Moses missed about four weeks of practice with a wrist injury and just returned to practice. Nick Sidorakis suffered a patellar tendon injury during Sunday's scrimmage and is sidelined for an undetermined amount of time. Teeng Akol broke a wrist recently and is out for an extended period of time. How does these injuries affect the team?
Ford: We've lost a lot of depth lately. Marshall is just now getting back after being out for a little over four weeks, so he's nowhere near the Marshall we want him to be because of the injury. Teeng Akol was in our top seven or eight. He was easily our first big off the bench. The day before he got hurt he had a dominating practice… now he's out for a long time (with a broken wrist). Nick was probably our sixth man and I had him penciled in as a starter some … now he's out for a while.

So our depth took a hit real quick. We don't want to lose anybody but these are two experienced guys, especially Nick. These two guys were definitely in our top eight. Before these two guys got hurt, I was very solid with nine guys, and now it looks like I'm maybe solid with seven. We're going to have to have some of these other guys step up and play. This is their opportunity.

What do you expect to get out of Saturday's exhibition game?
Ford: We are so behind as far as putting in things. We are not ready play-wise for Saturday's exhibition game. We'll be very basic. We'll be looking at some things, how hard we play, which guys can run the plays that we do have in because a lot of these guys are struggling with remembering things right now. This exhibition game is going to be more an experiment than anything. I just want to see which guys can get out there and play without me having to stop it every three minutes (like I do in practice) and correct them. Can they play through some of the mistakes when people are in the stands? It's been a long two weeks.

Which players have impressed you the most in the first few weeks of practice?
Ford: All the returning players. Every one of them has gotten better. James Anderson is a better basketball player. He's quicker, he's faster, and he jumps higher. His 15- to 16-foot game is so much better. He's just in so much better condition.

Keiton Page is not even the same player from last year. He's finally getting some positive comments out of me, which is unusual for him. He's playing really, really good right now.

Marshall, I thought he was playing as one of the 10 or 12 better players in our league before he got hurt. He was playing that good. He's not showing that right now.

Obi (Muonelo) has made strides as far as learning our defenses and being in the right place. He's concentrating and we want to see more of that. You know what you're going to get physically out of Obi. He's in ultimate shape, he's been living in the gym. He's improved. All these guys have improved so that's what's impressive.

As far as the freshmen, they've all got their strengths. Jarred Shaw is a very skilled individual. He's just very weak. Right now he's having trouble remembering things and we're teaching him things that are new. Torin Walker is physically ready to play. Torin Walker will get out there and bang with anybody. He just needs to work on his foot speed, and he needs to get a little bit quicker. Torin and Jarred are very similar to Fred and Ray. They both have different strengths and different weaknesses.

Roger (Franklin) is coming along. He's a guy that's coming along and will play minutes for us. He's just got to learn the plays. We're asking him to play a different position than he's every played. We're asking him to handle the ball more, similar to the way we play Obi.

All these guys have their strengths but some of these guys have weaknesses that they get better at.

How is Marshall Moses adjusting to having another post player like Matt Pilgrim on the floor with him?
Ford: Last night and the Sunday before that we had intrasquad scrimmages, (and) we brought in referees and all of that. I put Matt and Marshall together last night for a while, and they're struggling playing together. Last year Marshall didn't play with another post player. He always played with Obi or James at the four.

But with both of them in there it's a little bit more crowded down there. We're trying to get them to play in a lot of high-low situations where we can spread the court out a lot.

I really believe for us to compete at the highest level you need two physical bodies in there – two big guys who can defend and who can rebound. That's taking some time. It didn't look great last night. But we're going to force-feed that, and that's going to work eventually. I don't know how long it's going to take, it may be ugly for a while but we need those two playing together. That will allow Obi to play some three but he is a four. He can play some three but he's still more effective at the four spot.

How is Pilgrim adjusting after redshirting last year at Kentucky?
Ford: What he brings to us we need. He's just been sitting out a year and he gets a little frustrated. I told him I was a player who transferred and sat out a year, and it takes some time to come back. He's seeing a little bit of that right now. He's frustrated especially with his offensive game. But what he brings to the table we desperately need.

Do you see Keiton Page replacing Byron Eaton as the starting point guard?
Ford: He's still got to handle the pressure. He's better than he was last year but he doesn't have the quickness of Ray or Fred, but they don't have his game either right now. He can do it. It's not definitely what I want (because) he's so dangerous at the two right now. I don't want to take him out of his game.

Again, if I had to start tomorrow I probably would start him at the point, and probably James at the two, Obi at the three, and Matt and Marshall inside. That's not the lineup that I want because that's not where I want Keiton, and that's not where I want Obi, but if you just want to get experienced guys out there, that's why I'd be doing. I'm not going to give any freshmen (a starting position) until they've proven that's my spot. And I hope they do that. We're looking for some consistency from them, and show me instead of just say it.

What does this team miss without Byron Eaton running the show for the first time in four years?
Ford: Byron was a great leader. I don't know if you guys saw it as much … in the locker room he was a great leader, at practice he may not have had the best practice habits all the time but when he said something, guys listened, and he wasn't afraid to speak up.

When he ran the team he knew everybody's position and he knew where everybody was supposed to be, and then obviously he had great skill level. There's no question that it's different (without Byron) because now you have to manufacture more shots off the screens and things, rather than Byron just breaking people down. But Ray Penn has that ability … he's just got to get the mental aspect of the game down, and know when the drive. Byron was a leader, there's no question.

Who takes over the role as the leader?
Ford: We want James and Obi to, and they're doing a good job right now. Nick is doing a good job, and Marshall is doing a good job. I don't know if they all have embraced it as much as Byron but Byron was like an old guy around here.

Now James Anderson has come a long way, and he's really speaking up. That's a big difference. James Anderson is not the same person. He's developing into a very good leader who is outspoken. There's no question everybody on our team knows how good James Anderson is and what he means to our team. That demands respect and can help you be a great leader. If you have a great player who can speak and demand things (from his teammates) then that does make a great leader. He's embracing that. And, obviously, he has the ultimate respect from his teammates because everybody loves James.

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