Sampson, Sooners ready to tip season off

Kelvin Sampson talks about his team's progress in practice and breaks down Cal-State Northridge.

The Oklahoma Sooner men's basketball team opens their season Saturday afternoon against Cal-State Northridge at the Lloyd Noble Center at 4:00 p.m. The Sooners are coming off the only year under Head Coach Kelvin Sampson where they didn't earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament and are not ranked in the top 25 to start the season.

However, the Sooners are healthy and the return of Kevin Bookout and the addition of Taj Gray turn the Oklahoma into an excellent team inside.The Sooners are once again an NCAA team and they will be one of the top four teams in the Big 12 Conference.

As the Sooners get ready to tip off their season, Coach Sampson appeared on Sports Morning with yours truly and Bob Barry Jr.

BBJ: Do you know anything about Northridge?

KS: "Remember when Pacific beat Providence and went on to take Kansas to the wire in the second round of the NCAA Tournament? That game was played in Kansas City. Northridge lost to Pacific 73-71 in the championship of their conference tournament. Northridge has five starters back and their best player is a Norman kid — Ian Boylan. He has developed into an excellent player. He is now 6-5 or 6-6 and he led them in rebounding, but he also leads them in assists. He is very good with the ball in his hands at making himself and his teammates better. We are really happy for him and his family because of the way he has developed.

"Etoagwara Onyenegecha the brother of the kid on our football team. Chijioke's brother is the best player on this team and starts at the four spot, and he is a monster athlete. He has a 41-inch vertical jump. They are a veteran team and they expect to go to the NCAA Tournament. Cal-State Northridge and Utah State are picked to win that league. Most people like Cal-State Northridge will, so this will be a tough game for us."

BBJ: You received some good news lately regarding Brandon Foust when he was cleared academically. That has to be a good addition for you isn't it?

KS: "It is. He has actually been working on some academic things for some time, but he didn't miss any practice. He practiced with us every day, but he just didn't play with us in the two exhibition games. Brandon is making progress, but there is nothing like live action to tell you what you need to work on. Coaches can really help players, but during games and after practice players figure out how to make their own adjustments. As a freshman last year, Brandon got his opportunity when the Jabahri (Brown) situation went down and he made the most of it. Now, we are moving in a new direction. Before he would take the four-man off the dribble and now he has moved out to the perimeter. That will be tougher for him and I know he is going to go through some rocky times as he adjusts to playing a new position. The thing that has impressed me about Brandon is that he has improved his work ethic. I don't know how you get good or better at anything unless you really work at it with a purpose. That is where he has made his biggest improvement."

JH: You have three newcomers that will play a lot for you this year. Tell us what they will mean to your team?

KS: "Taj (Gray) and Terrell (Everett) will impact us the most early. Taj is getting better and better, and all they are getting comfortable. At this point in the year you can't get too carried away when they play great, but at the same time you can't go jump off a cliff when they play poorly. There is going to be some inconsistency with new kids. However, what I like about this team is that we are not as inexperienced as we were last year. We have kids who have played. And even though we are still young, we are evolving into what I think is going to be a pretty good team.

"Our front line is good and Taj is going to have a lot to say about that. Our backcourt is probably our youngest area because we have mostly sophomores back there, but Terrell Everett will help that. He is a long lefthander that can pass. He is kind of a slasher type of player. Kelley Newton was a shooter and Nolan Johnson was as slasher. Terrell is more like a Nolan, but he is not the bull that Nolan was. However, they are similar in he has that kind of game.

"Longar Longar is very aptly named by the way with his length. He is a very exciting freshman. He makes more mistakes right now than he makes great plays, but he anxiously wants us to correct them and to see how to get better. Then when he makes a great play he gets so excited. It is a lot of fun to be around Longar and this team."

JH: You have always said that guard play is key in the NCAA Tournament. How good are you at the guard spot this year?

KS: "They are getting better. Drew Lavender is getting more comfortable running this team, but if there is one area where we need to improve in the most I would say is outside shooting or maybe perimeter defense, and those two things are guard areas. I think Jaison Williams and Lawrence McKenzie are going to knock down open shots, and Drew is very capable. They will get better defensively. We don't have a lock down guy like a Quannas (White) or Nolan Johnson or a Corey Brewer. We have always had a guy that we could lock onto the toughest match-up and he would hold that player in check. We don't have that yet, but I see guys improving. We are going to have to depend on being a really good team defensive unit, instead of one great defender."

One other note: Coach Sampson didn't talk about Kevin Bookout or Larry Turner in the interview, but Bookout is fully recovered from shoulder surgery and he will be in the starting line-up on Saturday. Turner has improved a great deal and now weighs 255 pounds or so. He is battling Longar for the fourth spot in the post rotation. Right now that spot belongs to Longar.

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