OU opens practice

Sooners begin 2014-15 season with greater expectations, more weapons

Oklahoma men’s basketball coach Lon Kruger opened practice Monday with higher expectations than ever and a much different team than what took the floor in Kruger’s initial season.

There’s plenty more athleticism on the court, and in Kruger’s up-tempo offense, that comes with greater potential – especially after a NCAA Tournament berth that ended with a first-round upset last season.

“We hope so,” Kruger said of the increasing expectations. “You think that would, and that’s healthy. That’s good. The guys have done a really good job of making consistent progress, yet they are hungry to do a lot more.

“Certainly that’s a big challenge. That’s healthy, and it’s something you hope to have every year, when expectations continue to rise.”

Big men, big changes

The most significant changes to Oklahoma this season comes with the players surrounding Preseason All-Big 12 honorable mention forward Ryan Spangler.

Incoming freshman Khadeem Lattin and Jamuni McNeace showed athleticism and a willingness to bang inside, even if McNeace did flop once during post-up drills.

He caught a glare from Spangler, who shot McNeace a look, almost as to say, ‘Come on, freshman.’

“I think they’re going to be great,” he said of the freshman duo before discussing McNeace’s fall. “. . . You know I don’t like that, I didn’t even touch him.”

Waiting for Thomas

There are the freshmen, but then there’s Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas.

Surprisingly athletic for his size (6-foot-8, 242 pounds), Thomas said he had lost five pounds since coming to Oklahoma after running more in practice with the Sooners than he ever did with Houston.

“I feel like the better shape I’m in, the better I’ll be,” Thomas said. “My style is playing up-tempo and that’s when I’m playing my best. I feel like here, I can be at my tip-top shape and play at the best of my abilities.”

Thomas is no sure starter for Oklahoma, though. Oklahoma is waiting to see if Thomas will be eligible after transferring. Kruger said he expects to hear from the NCAA by the end of the week.

“We’re expecting something within days now, not weeks,” Kruger said with a look of optimism on his face. “We hope to know something by the end of the week. If that doesn’t happen, it’s not in our court. The NCAA has it. They’ve been moving along pretty good. Hopefully, we’ll find something at the end of this week.”

Someone was missing

As Oklahoma opened practice, they did so without freshman wing Dante Buford.

Buford was at the open practice, but he was dressed in street clothes and didn’t stay for the duration.

Kruger said that Buford likely won’t be eligible to play this season by no fault of his own after an issue with his credits earned at Arlington County Day School (Fla.). It was not a matter of grades but of classes taken not earning Buford the proper credits, Kruger said.

Kruger is still hoping Buford will be eligible to practice.

“It’s probably to the point where eligibility to play is not available,” Kruger said. “It looks like right now, he’s looking for eligibility to practice. We’ll treat it like a redshirt.”

Oklahoma is still waiting on word from the NCAA.

Buddy’s breakout

As a freshman, Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield could score inside. As a sophomore, he developed a potent three-point jump shot.

After a busy summer that included multiple high-level camps, Heild picked out a few more things he could improve upon this year.

The preseason All-Big 12 guard point to a mid-range jump shot, a pull-up jump shot, his ball handling and finishing at the rim as things he needs to work on before this year. “I’m trying to expand and put everything together,” Heild said with his mouth freshly removed of braces. “Just help my team out. I’m trying to do whatever I can to help my team win basketball games.”

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