Gilbert becoming a leader for Sampson's Sooners

Oklahoma's senior forward talks about his new leadership role and the progress the Sooners' summer workouts and pickup games.

Senior forward Johnnie Gilbert is not the best player on the Oklahoma basketball team, but according to Sooner Head Coach Kelvin Sampson he is the heart and soul of the Sooner. Sampson calls Gilbert one of the most intelligent players he has ever coached and says that Gilbert will always play a big role for his team, because he can always count on him to play hard and play well.

Gilbert is one of two seniors on this years team and he has taken his leadership role seriously. Gilbert went home this summer only for one weekend, and for the remainder of the summer he has led the Sooner squad in the weight room and in the practice gym. Gilbert has always been an easy guy for the press to talk to, and after a recent weightlifting session he sat down with for the EXTRA!

JH: How is this team coming together this summer?

JG: "I like what we are doing this summer a lot. We have a new strength coach and he is doing a tremendous job bringing us together as a unit. Everybody has been here and we have all been working as a group. We are pushing each other and working hard, and I am just loving it. I am loving the enthusiasm that our team shows every day in workouts."

JH: Talk about what your new strength coach (Darby Rich) is doing that is making a big difference with your program?

JG: "He is basketball-oriented as a strength coach and he has been around the game. He brought a different program to our program with new exercises that work on what we need for basketball. It is really helping us a lot and you can already tell on the court that we are a better conditioned basketball team and a stronger basketball team. He even goes through the workouts with us and that really means something for us. It is just exciting to have him around."

JH: How do you get the new guys involved in your program so quickly?

JG: "When people come into our program they always say this program because of our team atmosphere. So we just immediately treat every new player like they are our brother. We are all just family. I think it is easy for new players to come in and get adjusted to us because we just welcome them into our program right away. Since day one here at OU, our teams have always got along well with each other."

JH: How do some of the guys look in the gym?

JG: "The guys have looked real good in the gym. Longar (Longar) looked excellent and Taj (Gray) looked real good. (David) Godbold has looked great. He is getting better and better every day. Everybody is showing great improvement this summer."

JH: What do you think Taj and Longar are going to bring to the team this year?

JG: "Taj plays hard every time down the court and it is exciting to watch him play. A lot of people will enjoy him attacking the glass and he is very tough down low. Longar is still a young freshman. It is going to take a little time for him to get it together. He is going to be exciting to watch because of his height and his ability to alter shots and score around the basket. He is hungry to get better in the gym every day and he has tremendous talent, so he will be very good in the future."

JH: You have talked about the big guys, but how are the little guys doing?

JG: "You see a lot of improvement out of Drew (Lavender) and Lawrence (McKenzie). Their maturity level is rising and they now understand what it takes to win in this program. Going to the NIT was a big disappointment for us, and we all suffered through that. We all know what it takes to get back to the NCAA and we all know that we need to play so much better to achieve what we want to next year."

JH: One of the key returners is Kevin Bookout. How is he doing this summer coming off shoulder surgery?

JG: "Bookout has been in the gym at least three times a day getting in there and just shooting a million shots a day. He has been tying to get that shoulder in shape and trying to take care of it at the same time. He is looking real good."

JH: What are you working on this summer?

JG: "I am trying to be a better offensive player than I was last year. I know that my offensive games has been inconsistent. I have to work on my defensive rebounding because that is just a mindset, and I can be stronger mentally this year."

JH: Are you guys having a good time this summer playing rat ball?

JG: "Yeah, it is more exciting to play rat ball than just hanging out or doing nothing. It is a lot of fun to get the guys together and scrimmage or just to play some ball. In rat ball guys get lazy on defense and you don't have to worry about coach yelling at you. It is always fun to play in the summer, but I have to admit guys don't always set picks or play real hard on defense. It is pretty much an offensive game."

Sooners Illustrated Top Stories