Ryan Spangler has no plans of crying when his named is called for the final time at Lloyd Noble Center on Tuesday night. Neither does Isaiah Cousins, who came to Oklahoma initially to just get away from New York City but found a love – however slight – of country music in ‘House Party’ and Eric Church.
There’s no speech planned for the boisterous Bahamian, the All-American guard who has changed the face of Oklahoma Sooners basketball, but Buddy Hield knows that his mother is probably going to cry. She’s always crying, he said with a laugh Monday.
It’s all coming to a close for a trio of seniors that made Oklahoma relevant again. They started their careers in Norman after two losing seasons and an eventually vacated season. They’ll play their final home game against Baylor having led Oklahoma back to the NCAA Tournament for four straight years, the first time since 2003.
Hield, Spangler and Cousins helped lead Oklahoma to the No. 1 ranking in the country for the first time in more than 25 years.
“We’ve been here for four years together with each other,” Hield said. “We’re probably the rebuilding group, trying to get the program back to where it was in the 80s and early 90s. We’ve been wanting that since we were in the program. The best is yet to come for us.”
C.J. Cole, junior college transfer Dinjiyl Walker and walk-on Austin Mankin will also be honored for their contributions to the program as seniors. But it’s really a night meant for a trio that has made a lasting impact on the program and the community.
In his early years, Hield walked into Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger’s office and called the veteran coach of three decades, ‘Daddy-O.’ Kruger had never been called that before, and he didn’t know if it was good or bad. As they walked and Kruger found out that it was a term of endearment, he heard Hield call someone else ‘Daddy-O.’
Kruger was disappointed, but without missing a beat, Hield turned to his coach and said, ‘Oh no, you’re big Daddy-O.’
Cousins, who didn’t even know about country music before he got to Oklahoma, wouldn’t spill any juicy stories on his teammates as the three met with the media as a group – a fitting way.
“We’ve had a lot of fun together,” Hield said. “We’ve been through a lot together. We’ve shared good memories. We can’t get these days back. Living with Isaiah and having fun with him and Ryan, it’s going to be different going into the real world. You won’t get to see these guys every day of your life. I’m just going to miss their physical presence around me.”
The Oklahoma Sooners (22-6, 10-6) are bound to miss them as well.
Even Kruger couldn’t have predicted the impact of the three. He pulled Cousins from the suburbs of New York City and accepted Spangler back from Gonzaga after Jeff Capel didn’t even recruit the Bridge Creek product.
Hield will leave the program as a 2,000-point scorer and possibly the first National Player of the Year since Blake Griffin. He’s an almost guaranteed consensus All-American. And he was just a dusty kid that made it out of an impoverished section of the Bahamas.
Cousins, who first met the Oklahoma coaching staff at 6 a.m. during a high school workout, will graduate as a 1,000-point scorer and a career 40-percent 3-point shooter. Spangler is inching closer to 1,000 points and could reach it by the end of the season – needing just 50 more. He’ll be more remembered for his rebounding tenacity. He has 43 10-rebound games in his 96 career starts with Oklahoma and 27 double-doubles.
They have been the three-hardest workers that Kruger has ever coached. They’ve put Oklahoma back on the map in college basketball, but they’re not done just yet.
“As soon as the year ends it'll be really real,” Kruger said. “But we've got a few more together and just want them to enjoy every one of them. They've just done so much and they've done such a great job and love for them and the program and everyone to see them finish really strong. They're going to feel good about what they've done regardless but I'd like to see them feel really good about what they've done.”