Sampson anxious to see OU take on Duke

Former AAU teammates Kevin Bookout (left) and Shelden Williams (right) will collide on Saturday at 4 p.m. CST when Oklahoma (6-1) takes on No. 7 Duke at Madison Square Garden in New York City. See inside for a preview with OU Head Coach Kelvin Sampsons' thoughts on the matchup.

Kelvin Sampson's basketball team may still be a work-in-progress, but the opportunity to play Duke was too good to pass up.

The Sooners' schedule was already set, but while Sampson was coaching the U.S. Junior Olympic team in Halifax, Nova Scotia this summer, he received a call from Oklahoma Athletic Director Joe Castiglione with news that an offer to play Duke was on the table.

Sampson jumped at the opportunity, thus Oklahoma (6-1) will get its shot at the seventh-ranked Blue Devils (7-0) on Saturday at 4 p.m. (CST) in a nationally televised game on CBS.

"I said, 'Heck yeah, let's play Duke,' Sampson told Castiglione. "Too many positives can come out of this game for us to pass it up. The Duke game is a great opportunity for us.

"I'm glad our kids are getting to go to New York. I'm glad they're getting a chance to play the school that's been the face of college basketball over the last decade and I'm anxious to see how we're going to do against them."

Senior Daniel Ewing and juniors Shelden Williams and J.J. Redick are Duke's top three scorers.

Reddick, a three-point marksman with seemingly unlimited range, leads the Blue Devils with 20.6 points per game. Ewing, who played with former Texas point guard T.J. Ford and Oklahoma State forward Ivan McFarlin in high school, is a heady combo guard averaging 17.9 points a game.

Williams, a product of Midwest City High School, played on the same AAU summer league team as Sooner forward Kevin Bookout and is an enforcer inside. The 6-foot-9, 250-pounder is averaging 15.9 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.6 blocked shots per game.

If the Blue Devils have a weakness, it could be their depth, which is thin due to the loss of freshman forward Luol Deng and incoming recruit Shaun Livingston to June's NBA draft.

Nonetheless, Sampson said he doesn't consider Duke's lack of depth to be a weakness. All five Blue Devil starters are former High School McDonald's All-Americans, which is three more than Sampson has had during his 10 years in Norman.

"Duke's starting five is as good as anybody's in the country," he said. "Sometimes that depth thing is misunderstood. Duke's always never played more than seven and that's what they have. That means the other guys just play longer."

The key to success for the Sooners vs. Duke could be getting Williams and forward Shavlik Randolph in foul trouble, Sampson said.

"Our goal is we've got to find a way to get it inside to Kevin and Taj (Gray) so we can get some guys into foul trouble and get into their bench," he said. "If we don't get them into foul trouble, I just don't think the depth will matter.

"Our guards have to play well. We have a very good frontline. Our frontline can play with anybody in America. But for our frontline to help us our guards have to play well."

Sampson said another key factor for his team will be overcoming the atmosphere of Madison Square Garden.

"It still comes down to handling the stage," he said. "We're playing against America's team here. The first two timeouts at the 16- and 12-minute mark is handling the stage, not getting nervous or jittery. Our program has played in huge games, bigger games than this over the last four or five years, but this group hasn't.

"Terrell (Everett) and Taj have played seven college games in their life. We've still got a bunch of sophomores we're depending on. You want them to settle down and get into the flow of the game and get going, and that's why it's important to handle that first four or five minutes of the game."

Duke is 3-0 all-time against the Sooners, but each of those games was decided by single-digits. The Blue Devils won the last meeting in 1993 in Durham 88-84 in overtime.

Oklahoma is 4-11 overall and 0-1 under Sampson at Madison Square Garden. OU's last appearance in the Garden came during a 68-62 loss to Alabama in the AT&T Wireless Classic in the 2002-03 season opener.

F--Taj Gray (6-9, 235, Jr., 14.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.7 apg)
F--Kevin Bookout (6-8, 259, Jr., 13.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 0.7 apg)
G--Jaison Williams (6-3, 181, Sr., 9.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.9 apg)
G--Drew Lavender (5-7, 153, So., 9.8 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 4.3 apg)
G--Terrell Everett (6-4, 185, Jr., 12.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.7 apg)

F--Shavlik Randolph (6-10, 240, Jr., 7.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.7 apg)
F--Shelden Williams (6-9, 250, Jr., 15.9 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 0.7 apg)
G--J.J. Redick (6-4, 190, Jr., 20.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.7 apg)
G--Daniel Ewing (6-3, 185, Sr., 17.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 4.4 apg)
G--Sean Dockery (6-2, 185, Jr., 6.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 2.9 apg)

Sooners Illustrated Top Stories