Below are quotes from Okahoma Men's Basketball Coach Kelvin Sampson from Big XII Basketball Media day in Kansas City on Wednesday. The quotes are courtesy of Big12Sports.com.
"I think we are going to be better. I thought last year would be a little bit of a rebuilding year. It didn't surprise me. You lose a core group, Hollis Price, Quannas White, Ebi Ere, Aaron McGhee, Selvy, all of those things. They Elite 8, Final Four. That core group left and I thought last year's team would take a step back. I thought we would be pretty good.
"Then we just had too many injuries. I think where injuries hurts you more than anything else, and I knew this last year, but just having gone through the first 12 days of practice this year, our practices last year were just awful. I am one of those old boys that like to practice. We get 5 on 5 and get our stuff in and see if it works.
"Kevin's (Bookout) last day of practice was October 18th. His last game was, I think, the first of January. He never practiced any. He would go skeleton stuff the day before the game to introduce him to our little point guard, make sure he knew who the big kid was. That was about it. We never had any quality practices. I thought our team improved as the season went on and got better, but we had a low ceiling. We played about as good as we were going to play.
"I think this year will be much improved, a lot more weapons, lot more things we can do. We have always had good teams, really good teams. This year's team collectively up front, I like our front line. Our guards are still a little young. We will play four sophomores and a freshman somewhere in there, probably, but we will just be a better team, a lot more competitive this year."
On last year's injuries also hurting practice
"De'Angelo Alexander didn't start practice and got hurt in August and didn't practice until Thanksgiving. Jason Detrick got hurt over Labor Day weekend and didn't practice until after the exhibition game.
"This time last year I didn't know anything about our team. I just know we weren't very good. I knew that. This year's guys, we are going to play with, I seen them in practice. Last year I never saw them in October and November. When you start off behind the eight-ball like that, it seems like you never get going. The biggest joke of the year last year when we were 10-0. A good friend of mine, Charlie Spoonhour, he saw us on TV, and he said he didn't know what I was doing, but I should get the trickster of the year award. 'Boy, you are tricking them.'
"We were 10-0, won in Michigan State, beat Purdue, Tulsa, but it eventually catches up with you. Had Kevin been healthy, that team would have been pretty good. We weren't going to be a one or two seed like in previous years, but we could have been a five or six, seven seed last year if things had gone right.
"When you don't have a large margin of error, you need things to go right. This year if things go right, I think we will be pretty good."
On how much they missed Kevin Bookout last season
"Well, obviously, a lot. But when you have a young team, you know, if you have a bunch of juniors and seniors, or fourth- and fifth-year guys, October and November is no big deal to them. I mean, all the rigors of October, November. We require freshmen to go to 10 hours of study hall. They still have to do weights and lifting, conditioning. That was tough for those guys.
"Missing Kevin was a problem, but we also had too many freshmen that we had to count on. That was almost as big a problem, but the two most consistent guys in our program are Johnnie (Gilbert) and Kevin. Johnnie has his infamous jet ski accident. I am trying to figure out why an inner city kid from Minnesota was ever on a jet ski.
"It is just Kevin's personality and his attention to detail. I keep going back to the practice thing. When you guys saw him on game night, that's what I saw of him, too. More importantly, that's when Lavender and McKenzie and Foust and Larry Turner, all those guys, that's when they saw him, too. They never got in the flow.
"Take an impact player on any team in our league and tell them you can't practice, you can only play come game time. You only hope it goes well that night. We tricked them for a while. Kevin's shoulder through October, he didn't practice any at all, didn't even touch a basketball. He didn't play at any exhibition games. We didn't know if he was going to have surgery or not.
"He kept asking the doctor if he needs surgery now, let's go ahead and do it. The doctor's opinion was he doesn't need surgery, let's see if we can get it stable enough so he can get through the year and do surgery at the end of the year. That was the plan, but then we were 10-0 and had a brutal stretch, had to go to Connecticut and to Texas Tech, and it was right in the middle of that, you could tell he wasn't going to make it."
On how much better the freshman will be as sophomore this year
"You know, it's hard to say. I think that they are improved. Lavender can't be your leading scorer. His game is not set up to be your leading scorer. It would be like Aaron Miles being Kansas' leading scorer. There is a problem. Other guys should be the leading scorer. He is the set-up guy.
"I still think he will average 8-10 points a game, but that shouldn't lead you. If he is leading, that's a problem, which takes us back to last year, it was a problem. They are bigger and stronger and more confident. I think they have better leadership around them. Johnnie and Kevin, you can elect a captain, but you can't elect a leader. Leaders aren't inherent to the word. You have to earn that title.
"But ultimately leadership has to come inside out. If it's going outside in, there is usually a problem. But I thought that the adversity we had last year was a positive for these guys. Sometimes you learn through adverse situations more so than you do when it's going great.
"There are freshman on that Final Four or Elite Eight that I don't know if they would have been as ready for this year. Freshmen shouldn't have to play major roles on really good teams. If they are, that team isn't going to be really good. Juniors and seniors should play the dominant role, unless you have a Carmello Anthony, and I haven't seen one of those.
"Obviously, we will know better after the 10th and 13th. I like our team."
On Taj Gray's impact
"Eduardo Najera, Aaron McGhee, we have had some big guys that could play, really good players. Aaron McGhee's senior year, he was offensively as good as any post guy in the country, bar none. We don't have a post guy as good as Aaron McGhee, but collectively this is the best post group I have ever had. They are all pretty good. Maybe not a great player in the mix.
"Taj's greatest strength is when the ball is shot, he thinks it's his. He is relentless, tough, hard-nosed. He is getting better through practice every day. Johnnie was talking about it earlier, at practice every day Larry Turner, 6, 11, 250, he can bench press a small apartment building, but at some point he is going to catch it and put it in the hole. Longar Longar, Johnnie, Kevin, Taj, our practices are good. They play against each other every day. That's making them all better."
On being voted to finish fourth in the Big 12, and if he sees this team competing with the top three
"I don't know how to judge the other teams. Where did we finish last year? Last year might be skewing my answer. It just depends. I think the top two are pretty clear based on what those teams have back. I think Oklahoma State and Kansas are going to be really good. We are a little bit of a mystery.
"If we stay healthy, and this is the first year I have said that, but if we stay healthy, we are going to be okay. I don't know how it relates to the top three teams, but we can play with them."
On what other new faces could make an impact
"Terrell Everett is going to help us, too. He played at the same junior college that Jaison did. He is a left-handed, 6'4". He is a long 6'4", slithery, can make plays off the dribble. I think that our greatest improvement is going to come at the defensive end.
"Last year our offensive problems were well-chronicled, and definitely we agreed about everything that was said about the offensive problems. We have always been a team that got a lot of offense off our defense.
"We could generate some offense by getting it off the glass and going. If you are taking the ball at the net most of the time, it's hard to score, especially when teams are back set. We are just going to be a much improved team, but I like coaching this team and I like their attitudes. We have easy kids to coach, good kids."
Sampson: "I think we are going to be better"
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