They are skilled, athletic and each have potential to play at the next level at this point. That’s not the problem with the Sooners.
Oklahoma has to find depth.
While there is more depth in Norman than in the past half-decade, it is proven yet and each player has his own set of flaws.
It’s there and it helps, but it needs to be better.
“There’s a fine line,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said of being a bench player. “It’s like a pinch hitter in baseball. You don’t get as many reps. You don’t get as many opportunities. It’s a tough role.”
Back-up point guard Dinjiyl Walker, who was a shooting guard before coming to Oklahoma, is really still learning to play point guard. He’s had some good moments – and some great moments – but needs to let off the gas on occasion.
Frank Booker, the team’s best shooter off the bench, can disappear for games, only to come back and knock down one – or three – big shots for the Sooners. Forward D.J. Bennett has a spectacular defensive game, but he’s prone to foul trouble and can be non-existent on the offense end. Freshman Khadeem Lattin has potential but is still too skinny. He still looks and plays like a first year player.
“You want to try and continue to encourage confidence out of guys,” Kruger said last week. “If they’re not playing well, you still want them to stay confident. Yet at some point, you reward guys for getting production.
On one hand, if the guys steps up you applaud that. If one guy falls back a bit, you encourage him to stay after it and get aggressive, keep working at it and get that confidence back.”
That depth will be tested sooner rather than later at this point in the season. No. 15 Oklahoma travels to Las Vegas on Saturday for a neutral site matchup against No. 16 Washington in another test for the Sooners with Big 12 play right around the corner.
There’s only two games in between.
“When the subs are in, we know our bench is going to help us,” Oklahoma guard Isaiah Cousins said. “It helps a lot to have a deep squad.”
Of the group coming off the bench, Walker has had by the far the toughest transition. He didn’t play almost any point guard at Iowa Western Community College.
“When we moved him over to the point, it’s different set of responsibilities,” Kruger said. “That’s what he’s working on right now.”
Walker hasn’t had a turnover in two of the past three games and has scored in double digits twice thus far this season. But he hasn’t made a field goal since Oklahoma’s victory against Missouri – probably Walker’s best game as a true point guard.
Much like Lattin and occasionally Booker, Walker occasionally tries to do too much with the limited minutes he’s given. He leaves the throttle full engaged instead of easing off it at times, like an experienced point guard.
That’s something much of the bench deals with and something that will be needed with just three games until Big 12 Conference play, where Oklahoma is being expected to battle Kansas to the league title and end the Jayhawks run.
“The temptation is to want to go in a do a lot right away,” Kruger said. “When the reality is in general, not just this team but people coming off the bench need to play those minutes effectively. Not that you want to approach it from a negative standpoint, but if you don’t screw up, you probably have a better chance to go back in than if you go in a try to do too much.”