James Hale recently talked with Oklahoma Head Basketball coach Kelvin Sampson to get the lowdown on his latest recruiting class and the teams' summer progress.
JH: You've put together one of the top 3-5 classes in the country depending on which service you look at. You got some good news recently when you signed Jimmy Tobias from Ft. Lauderdale to cap this year's class.
KS: "One of the things we've always been good at is making sure our kids fit what we're looking for. For us, it comes down to finding tough kids who are interested in graduating from Oklahoma and getting their degrees, and obviously do we have a need at a position.
"Jimmy Tobias may not have been a great need, but he was too good a player for us to pass up. We've always been pretty strategic in redshirting kids, and there may be one or two kids that we end up redshirting next year because of the depth of our freshmen class.
"When you think about Jimmy Tobias, Andrew Lavender, Lawrence McKenzie, Brandon Foust and Larry Turner, that's five freshmen, and they're all different type players. Larry is a 6-11 post man. Brandon is a kind of an athlete who doesn't have a position, ala Eduardo Najera and Daryan Selvy. Lawrence McKenzie is the epitome of a combo guard. Lavender is strictly a coaches point guard. And Jimmy Tobias is an dynamic wing. He gets to the rim, can make jump shots. He's only going to get better. His high school team was ranked in the top 20 in the nation in the ESPN/USA Today poll. He was the best player on the best team in the state. He was the Florida 6A Player of the Year, which is the highest classification in th state of Florida.
"A lot of teams tried to recruit Jimmy and a lot of them backed off because they didn't think he'd make his grades. We had an advantage there because we could take a gamble on a kid like Jimmy because of our recruiting class. But at the same time, he impressed me with his willingness and stubbornness toward making his grades. One of the reasons we're excited about him is because he buckled down, concentrated and got it done in the classroom.
JH: Talk about the fact that every one of these kids come from championship high school teams.
KS: "That's a great point. Jimmy Tobias is a three-time state champion at the highest level in Florida. Lawrence McKenzie is a four-time state champion. Brandon Foust and Andrew Lavender won the state championship at the highest level in Ohio as juniors and lost in the championship game as seniors. And not only that, Brandon and Drew have won AAU championships in the summer at different sites in the summer circuit.These kids are captains, they're leaders, tough kids. We feel like they're going to be great additions.
"The thing we're excited about is we'll have so many good young players. I haven't mentioned Longar Longar, but we'll get Longar back and he's another kid whose upside is scary. Longar Longar could be a special player. When you think about it, we have Lavender, McKenzie, Tobias, Brandon Foust and Larry Turner in the freshmen class, and then Kevin Bookout and De'Angelo Alexander right above them in the sophomore class. We feel like our basketball program has competed at such a high level for a long period of time, but we feel like our best days are ahead of us."
JH: It also seems like you're signing more athletic players?
KS: Our style of play is indicative of our point guard. Quannas (White) was a certain athlete with a certain style and we played around him. Andrew Lavender and Lawrence McKenzie will be different because they're a lot more athletic and quicker than Quannas.
"One of the things we've tried to do with ‘Drew is get longer around him and more athletic. We're going to have length and athleticsm."
JH: How did De'Angelo Alexander do in the summer Team USA tryouts?
KS: "He got hurt his ankle the first night and then he turned around and sprained it again. I talked to a lot of coaches who were there and they were disappointed that De'Angelo wasn't healthy because he was a kid they felt like could make the team.
The good news is that Kevin Bookout got a waiver and is invited to Orlando to work with the Pan-American team. And talking with Tom Izzo, they think Kevin has an outstanding chance to make that team. He'll be one of 17 players invited to practices where the Orlando Magic's practice facilities are. Kevin is excited about going and he's got an excellent chance to make that team."
JH: Who else from your team will be playing overseas and elsewhere this summer?
KS: Larry Turner is overseas right now. He's playing six games in Italy. Jason Detrick and Jabahri (Brown) will work the Nike camp in Indianapolis.
Johnnie (Gilbert) is a kid who is showing significant improvement in the offseason, because he's finally healthy. He had a great summer and fall last year until he got hurt. He never really got over that and lost some confidence, but I've been really impressed with Johnnie this summer.
"But De'Angelo, Jaison Williams, Lawrence Mckenzie, Andrew Lavender, Brandon Foust, Jimmy Tobias, they'll all be here in July. We'll have our whole team playing basketball somewhere the entire summer."
JH: How will the 8/5 rule effect how many you can assign in the upcoming fall signing period?
KS: It won't effect us that much. Obviously, with the class we just signed we'll be very picky and very choosy for next year. It's not like you need to sign five freshmen every year. So, with our freshmen and sophomores we'll be in good shape regardless of that rule.
"We have a few targets we've focused on here this spring and this summer. We'd still like to sign another big guard type, and we'll sign another post man. We may only sign two, but that may be all we need.
JH: Now if Blake Johnston graduates you'll also have an extra ship to give, right?
"Yes, that's a new rule. I tell you two kids I'm really proud of is what Jabahri Brown and Jason Detrick are doing in summer school. They're both going to pass between six and nine credits this summer. When we start school in August both will be within 18 credits of getting their degree. They will both graduate in May. Obviously, they won't count for the NCAA, but I'm through with that rule. I've talked about that enough. Almost every kid in our program now will graduate from college whether or not the NCAA recognizes it based on their criteria.
"These kids are working their butts off in the classroom. Quannas is close and one kid who is also close is Daryan Selvy. We're real proud of all these kids in the classroom."
Q&A: Sampson thinks the best is still yet to come
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