Sampson: "This team is full of promise"

Oklahoma Head Men's Basketball Coach Kelvin Sampson talks about the Sooners' recent trip to Costa Rica.

NORMAN, Okla. — OU Men's Basketball Coach Kelvin Sampson once again showed that he is always a step ahead of the college basketball curve. Sampson took advantage of an NCAA rule last week that allowed a college basketball team to travel abroad and play in exhibition games as long as the players don't miss any class time.

For the first time Since Sampson has been the head coach, the Sooners took advantage of this rule taking his young basketball team to Costa Rica over the Labor Day weekend, where the Sooners went 4-0 against Costa Rica international competition. Coach Sampson wasn't back home long when he agreed to sit down with for the basketball version of our two-minute drill.

JH: You took advantage of a great opportunity to get ten days of extra practice and four games with your brand new young basketball team in Costa Rica. So, how was Costa Rica?

KS: "You know James, you hit the nail on the head with the ten practices. You can always tell a lot about you team just being seeing how they react with each other. The camaraderie, the team chemistry and who is a potential ego problem or a potential ‘I' instead of ‘me' guy are things that you want to find out early. The fact we don't have any of that is going to be a strength of this team.

"This is going to be a good team and this team is going to fit well together. Our two seniors are showing great senior leadership. One of thins in player evaluations that I like to do is ask our players who they think played the hardest or who are the two guys who played the hardest? The kids thought that Jabahri Brown really, really played hard. His numbers didn't reflect it because I was trying to get a better look at Larry Turner, and then Johnnie Gilbert was playing so well so I let them play a lot of minutes. That was especially true when Jabahri sprained his ankle.

"Jason Detrick and Jabahri Brown are really stepping into the leadership role, but I thought our three best players on this trip were Andrew Lavender, Kevin Bookout and Johnnie Gilbert. I thought those three guys really played well. Jason really played well in games two and three and had a lot of good things in game four, but you could tell that he was a little bit rusty for not having played for a year. That was another positive for this trip. Not only did the three freshmen and Jaison Williams, who are brand new kids, get important minutes and important experience going through the nine practices, but so did Jason Detrick and Larry Turner, because both of those kids redshirted last year.

"This team is full of promise and full of hope, but it is still so full of inexperience. We are going to be a good team at some point this year, but not necessarily early. The foreign trip is always good if you do it at the right time. We have had our opportunities the last four or five years and we have thought about this, but it just never made sense. It didn't click with me to go with those other teams, but it did make sense with this team. We decided to do it after school started so we could take all of our new guys with this team. I just couldn't have asked for a more perfect scenario.

JH: All we had was the box scores to look at, but it appears that true freshman point guard Andrew Lavender had a great four games. In fact, he didn't miss a free throw did he?

KS: "We knew that Andrew could score, so don't get carried away or don't get astray by his size (5-foot-6). Sometimes dynamite comes in small packages, and this kid is a dynamite basketball player. One of the things that I had to make sure is that when you recruit a 5'6 or 5'7 point guard you have to be married to him. There can't be any dating process. Once I decided that we were going to sign Andrew I was totally committed to him. The timing of this was good, because I knew that we didn't have a kid who was coming back, especially after Blake (Johnston), who would start at the point.

We committed to Andrew from day one. When we started out that first Monday, the 25th of August, at 6:00 AM I put Andrew Lavender out there as our point guard and our team totally embraced him. They realized quickly that if they would run the floor and have good spacing and get to there spots that this kid could deliver the ball. He knows how to distribute the ball, is a good passer and he has a high level basketball I.Q. He is also tough.

Andrew really showed me a lot in the last quarter against that pro team we played against Sunday night. We get up 21 and I am tinkering with the lineup moving guys here and there and experimenting with our people. We have some turnovers and made some poor decisions, but the good thing about that is that we have it on film. We can now bring them in and say that we can work on these things. However, Andrew was a great leader down the stretch in that game and he was certainly a bright spot for us.

"Now, don't take for granted how good Kevin Bookout is. He is a much better basketball player this year than at any time last year."

JH: You mentioned Larry Turner earlier, which is great news that you seem so high on him. What about true freshman wing Jimmy Tobias, who also posted some nice numbers for you?

KS: "For our returning players the kid that seems to have improved the most for us is Johnnie Gilbert. Holy Smokes, he was 8 for 10 from the free throw line. What does that tell you man, that was Johnnie Gilbert going 8 for 10 from the stripe? However, he has really worked on his game this summer and he is playing with a lot more confidence on offense and he was really pounding the boards. I thought he was kind of standard fare for us in terms of being consistent all four games.

"Larry Turner had a game where he had 16 rebounds and that was encouraging. I don't care who you are playing against, getting 16 rebounds is significant, especially for Larry. Jaison Williams is going to be a solid guard. He is probably not great at anything, but he is pretty good at a lot of different things. He is a pretty good shooter, pretty good passer, pretty good defender and pretty good at a lot of different areas. He is not a one trick pony. He has a lot of variety to his game.

"However, I also saw a lot of things we need to work on. Jason Detrick is a talented kid, but he has to be a better decision maker and has to use better judgment and be more consistent in his play. I don't want Jason to be a great player one game and then have a severe drop off the next game. We want him to be a good player each and every night. We need that from him.

"Andrew Lavender has to get a lot better at harassing ball handlers and putting pressure on the ball, as well as coming up with more steals. Actually, there is a whole litany of things we need to work on, but it is a lot easier to have an idea and explain that to the kids after going through nine practices and four games. They have a better idea of what we are talking about now.

JH: Do these exhibition games and practice put you ahead of the curve for this upcoming season?

KS: "It does put us ahead of the curve, but it doesn't eliminate the fact that we have, including Kellen (Sampson), twelve kids on the team right now. And it doesn't make up for the fact that of those twelve players, eight of them are freshman and sophomores.

"This is by far the youngest team that I have had and it is probably the toughest non-conference schedule, because the preseason number one and two teams in the nation are going to be Michigan State and Connecticut. Then, the start of our conference schedule is going to be tough. In a four game stretch we have to go to Connecticut, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and then play Missouri, who will probably be picked number one in conference.

"We have some tough stretches, but I really like this team. I really do. They are a group of great kids and they are easy to coach. They are tough kids and they get along well. This team is going to lose some games, because our schedule is so tough and our inexperience will rise up and bite them at times. However, our goal is to be playing our best basketball when we get to February and March.

(Note: Freshmen forward Brandon Foust didn't play in the exhibition games, because Coach Sampson plans to redshirt him this year.)

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