It’s a state of transition when it comes to Oklahoma basketball. From the players to the assistant coaches, things are a lot different for Lon Kruger coming off a trip to the Final Four.
Nobody’s expectations are that high as the Sooners officially begin Life After Buddy Hield on Sunday afternoon against Northwestern State.
Hield isn’t the only key piece gone from last year. Other three-year starters like Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler have moved on and former assistants Steve Henson and Lew Hill are now head coaches for the first time.
What made Hield such a fascinating figure was his ability to connect to OU students who usually didn’t care about basketball. Lloyd Noble Center became a spot to be the last two seasons, and it will be incredibly intriguing to see how things go down this year.
But it is this year. Some new faces to go along with first-year assistant coaches Kevin Kruger and Carlin Hartman, and the Sooners are back to being out of sight and out of mind in terms of the national perception.
Following the first trip to the Final Four in 14 years, OU enters this season unranked. A lot of questions swirl around how talented this team is vs. how talented it could be, and we’re here to get you ready for OU and Northwestern State.
Woodard and Lattin will be the leaders
Yea, no question here. In speaking with coaches and players and watching them work, the leadership squarely falls on senior point guard Jordan Woodard and junior center Khadeem Lattin.
Woodard, after a year away from the ball, goes back to point for the Sooners, while Lattin has already been more vocal in practices and scrimmages than he was at any point last year.
“They’ve done a lot for us,” freshman Kameron McGusty said. “With Jordan, he teaches. With Khadeem, he preaches. That’s how I would describe it.”
Woodard is still not the most vocal, but he’s becoming that guy. Lattin has already found his voice in the locker room.
“The guys have definitely appointed me as a leader,” Lattin said. “At first, it was rocky just because I wasn’t quite comfortable with the new position, but I got used to it. I embraced it. Everyone has just taken a real following to it, so it’s been a nice role.”
Sophomore leap for James, Odomes?
It’s not fair to say sophomore Christian James is going to be the next Hield, but he could already become the team’s leading scorer right out the gate.
James played with a lot of confidence during the scrimmage against Oregon and the exhibition game vs. Washburn where he was the team’s leading scorer each night.
Rashard Odomes preached about waiting his turn. He did so. Never got discouraged, and now he’s ready to make an impact.
The leap is going to be oh so necessary by both, but it will be interesting to see if either one of them gets there first.
“I would say learning more aspects of the game,” said James about the improvement in his game. “I’m just looking at it differently as the coaches would see it. I think that really helped my game a lot. I’ve been working on my shooting a lot, dribbling, things like that.”
Who will provide help in the post?
Lattin seems to be the guy defensively when it comes to rebounding and blocks. He’s going to have to add an offensive arsenal as well to keep teams honest.
After that? We’ll find out. Between Dante Buford (out with a groin injury and now also suspended three games), Jamuni McNeace, Matt Freeman and Kristian Doolittle, who is going to be the most consistent performer in the post?
McNeace has the experience, but it has been Doolittle starting out the gate and should be in there for his first college game among the starting five.
Freeman seems to have the highest ceiling in terms of low post scoring so perhaps it won’t be one of them but the collective group coming together and making things happen.
“When you get good and consistent at shooting the ball, you don’t want to get stuck out there because people understand and figure out what you can do,” Freeman said. “If you’re only shooting the ball from the outside, you can become a lot less effective.
“I try to mix it up and get inside and be physical. The more assets I can have in my game, the more effective I can be as a player.”
McGusty, Doolittle ones to circle
You never know how freshmen are going to respond, but the Sooners appear to have a couple of good ones in Doolittle and McGusty.
Expectations are incredibly high for McGusty as the highest-ranked signee for Kruger since his time in Norman, while Doolittle brings that championship pedigree from Edmond Memorial.
You saw it with Hield and Cousins as freshmen. Let them learn now so they can lead later. Think it’s a safe bet to say the same thing for McGusty and Doolittle even though McGusty will be on the perimeter and Doolittle in the post.
“The biggest adjustment for me was just the mental focus that I needed to have coming into practices and games,” McGusty said. “In high school, you can get away with coming in not too focused, but at this level, my biggest thing is being focused for every practice, taking every rep seriously, and I think I’ve done a great job adjusting and making those adjustments.”