As Lavender goes, so do the Sooners

Oklahoma assistant coach Bennie Seltzer talks with Sooners Illustrated Editor Jay C. Upchurch about the improved play of Drew Lavender and the Sooner guards. Lavender, a sophomore from Columbus, Ohio, has scored 20 and 23 points respectively in OU's last two games against Baylor and Texas A&M.

NORMAN — Oklahoma has been on a roll lately, at least where its men's basketball team is concerned. The Sooners have reeled off eight straight wins — and in the process, evolved from a major question mark into major contenders.

OU's newly-acquired contender status will be put to the test during a 72-hour period, beginning with Saturday's Big 12 battle with Texas, and concluding via a Big Monday showdown against Bedlam rival Oklahoma State. A pair of wins could potentially vault Kelvin Sampson's Sooners into the position of conference front-runner.

Either way, Oklahoma figures to be challenged on every board of the Lloyd Noble court during important the two-game set. That said, one of the areas many felt was a concern as recently as three weeks ago is now one of the team's main strengths.

Guard play.

OU assistant Bennie Seltzer took a few moments on his 34th birthday Thursday to discuss with Sooners Illustrated editor Jay C. Upchurch just why the Sooners' guard corps have turned it up a notch or two over the last month.

SI: Inconsistency was a good word for the play of your guards early in the season, but that seems to have changed in a major way recently. Why?

Seltzer: A lot of it has to do with our point guard, Drew (Lavender). The better he gets it, the better his team is going to look. I tell him all the time that this team goes as he goes. If he is playing well in terms of defending, knocking down shots, finding the open guys, then our offense is going to look a lot better. For whatever reason, earlier this season, Drew wasn't getting it.

Lately, he's begun to understand his role better. I'm not sure he really understood exactly how important he is to our success, last year or early this year. But he sees it now and I believe he's ready to take on that responsibility. That's one of the main reasons our guards have begun playing better as a whole — he has the ability to make the people around him that much better.

SI: One noticeable difference has been the offensive output of the guards...

Seltzer: When those guys worry about just those things, the game comes easier to them. Again, it's Drew. You don't want to say he was the reason for their lack of production, but he's definitely the reason for their good play. When he's penetrating and getting it to the open guy, everything looks good. And also, the addition of a guy like Terrell (Everett) has really helped Drew, because it has taken a load off his shoulders. He doesn't have to be the point guard and the main scorer — Terrell is very versatile and his presence has been a big factor for this team.

SI: Drew has enjoyed a good stretch, but is this something that you feel is going to last? Has he turned a corner?

Seltzer: I think so. We tend to forget Drew is only a sophomore, and it takes a while for a point guard in Coach Sampson's system to really get it. They usually won't get it in one season and sometimes it can take a while into their second season before they fully grasp everything. So along the way there can be a lot of peaks and valleys. There can be periods where they don't play that well because they try to shoulder too much of the pressure. That's something they have to learn how to deal with, and I think we are seeing Drew emerging out of the valleys of his struggles and really starting to play well. It's only a matter of time before he becomes a very special player.

SI: With Texas and Oklahoma State coming to town Saturday and Monday, is there a chance Drew might put too much pressure on himself?

Seltzer: Last year, I would have said ‘yes.' But this year, he has plenty of help. He doesn't have to go out and score 25 for us to win. He's capable of doing that, but he doesn't have to. We've got Taj Gray. We've got Kevin Bookout. We've got Terrell Everett. We've got Lawrence McKenzie. We've got guys who can help take some of the pressure off.

These next two games are why guys like Drew Lavender come to Oklahoma — to play on national TV against two highly-ranked teams. This will be college basketball at its best and I believe Drew will rise to the occasion. It should be fun to watch.

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