Take 1: With or without transfer TaShawn Thomas, the Sooners are moving forward.
Thomas expected to hear from the NCAA almost a month ago, and although Thomas said he has been pessimistic at times, his teammates, coaches and family have helped keep optimistic.
As far as the rest of the team is concerned, practice goes on as usual.
“That’s not a distraction really,” Kruger said. “Perhaps it is for TaShawn because he wants to know. As far as what we’ve done in practice, it hasn’t changed anything. We just line them all up. We aren’t concerned about starters or anything. We’re getting everyone a lot of reps.”
Kruger still expects to hear in the “not too distant future,” which is a different perspective than when Kruger said the Sooners’ would hear “soon.”
While Thomas still works with the first team, Oklahoma will benefit from having more numbers inside than ever before, according to Kruger. The development of freshmen Jamuni McNeace and Khadeem Lattin as well as redshirt senior D.J. Bennett, who transferred from Indian Hills Community College, has given Kruger plenty to work with in preparation for a year with – or without – Thomas.
Take 2: Expectations are higher than ever.
Still missing from Kruger’s resume during his time at Oklahoma is an NCAA Tournament win, but many believe this year’s team will change that.
During Kruger’s first three seasons, there weren’t many expectations surrounding the team. That’s different this year.
“It’ll be different,” Kruger said. “It’ll be interesting to see how we handle that. It’ll be the first time we go at it from a different level of expectation. That’s where you hope the experience and understanding of the older guys will help.”
Kruger said the team will lean on junior leaders Buddy Hield, Ryan Spangler and Isaiah Cousins, citing that even without many seniors, Oklahoma still has an experienced group when it comes to Big 12 starts. Four starters return from last season.
Oklahoma’s difficult non-conference schedule, which features road matchups against Creighton and Washington as well as a home date against Missouri and the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament during Thanksgiving, should help the team grow up, Kruger said.
Keeping the players humble in the face of expectations is the toughest task though.
“Easier said than done,” Kruger said, “That’s the big challenge.”
Kruger quickly acknowledged that the loss of seniors Clark and Neal will play a big role for the team.
“Any time you lose two seniors like that, it’s going to take its toll for sure,” he said.
Replacing Neal will be easier – whether it’s with Bennett, Lattin or McNeace. Find a fifth starter, if Thomas isn’t eligible, will be a greater challenge.
Kruger and the Sooners seem to feel that it will be a group effort. Point guard Jordan Woodard will be a sophomore and has worked on his scoring game more in the offseason.
“The biggest jump comes between freshman and sophomore year,” Kruger said. “… I think Jordan will have an outstanding sophomore year.”
Hield expects to be a more balanced player, and Cousins looks to take another step as a second-year starter.