Sampson says Sooners can be better next year

Oklahoma head coach Kelvin Sampson talks about his Sooners' disappointing loss to Utah and why next season could be even better than this year's 25-8 Co-Big 12 Championship. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The Oklahoma men's basketball team had their season come to an unexpected halt when they were upset by Utah, leaving the Big 12 Regular season champs 25-8 on the season.

At the beginning of the season, nobody felt the Sooners would be good enough to win the Big 12 crown or earn a No. 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Sure, the experts felt the Sooners would return to the NCAA Tournament, but nobody felt they would win any title at all.

While there is disappointment in the Sooners' loss to Utah, in all the 2004-2005 season was a great success. Today on WWLS, OU Head Coach Kelvin Sampson talked with yours truly and Bob Barry Jr. about this past season and what could be a great year next season.

JH: I know the loss to Utah is disappointing, but you had a great run this year didn't you with this basketball team?

KS: "It is always disappointing to lose in the NCAA Tournament, but we did have a great run this year with this team. We got better, better and better as the season went along. We did have a dip in the middle of the season, but this group of kids came all the way back to win a Big 12 Championships and earn a No. 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

"How we lost that game is going to hurt. I hurt for our kids and our coaching staff, but I also hurt for our fans who really support and pull for us and who are sincere about our program. That is what the game is all about. It is about our fans and our players, and I know that both of them were hurt because of the outcome of that game on Saturday.

"However, it is my job to pick up the pieces and get into the off-season and get to work. In the off-season, we'll add a piece here and a piece there, and we feel we can come back and have a better year next year."

BBJ: When you talk about adding pieces to your team, you are one of the best in the country in doing so. You added Taj Gray and Terrell Everett to this team, and you always seem to get the maximum effort out of your players?

KS: "It was almost surreal watching them shoot against Utah because we had shot the ball so well from the perimeter against Niagara. Our practice on Friday was loosy-goosy and we were having fun. We were loose when we went into the game to play on Saturday. In the locker room, we were cracking jokes and everybody was loosy-goosy before the game. Then when the game started we were down 16-4 before I could get my coat off and we were already playing uphill.

"The key part in the game was when we got it back to 20-16 and we are at the free throw line shooting a one-and-one. We make both shots and it is 20-18. I felt that the one advantage that we had over them was after made baskets that we could get into our full court man-to-man press, which has been so good to us recently. We made them turn it over 20 times, but do you know how many times we scored off turnovers? We scored two points. They turned it over 20 times and we had six advantage breaks, which are two-on-one or three-on-one fastbreaks where we had numbers, and we score two points.

"A lot of those were shots that we made all year long. You don't have an answer for those kinds of things, and everybody is going to have their reasons on why that happened. That is OK, and it is important I guess to point a finger at somebody or something. What it comes down to is that it was just a tough day for us.

"I don't have an explanation. I wish I did. I feel bad for our kids and our fans again that we couldn't play better in that 40 minutes. This is just a young team that accomplished a lot and most of them will be back next year. I think we are going to be better."

BBJ: You saw Andrew Bogut up close and personal, what are your thoughts?

KS: "He is the best player that we played against this year. It is not necessarily because he is the best shooter, best rebounder or the best passer, but he was all those. Most of the guys are good in two or three areas, but there wasn't one area where he wasn't good.

"We probably didn't need five days to get ready for Niagara. I wish we could have played Utah first so that we could have five days to prepare for them. They are not an easy game to prepare for when you only have one day in between.

"Looking back, I wish we would have had more time to work on a couple of things because of Bogut. We had them a lot of times in a late shot-clock situation and we would go double in the late shot-clock and we probably shouldn't have. We were trying to make that adjustment on the bench during the game. You know the game starts with that kid making that three off the glass as the buzzer was sounding and it just started going downhill from there.

"Again, we didn't quit. We made them turn it over 20 times, but failed to get anything out of that. Had we made more baskets I think we could have created more turnovers. Where our pressure defense was helping us during the year was after made baskets by denying and forcing turnovers in the backcourt."

JH: You have most of this team returning and you already have signed three outstanding recruits. Are you still active in recruiting for the second signing period?

KS: "Well, we are still recruiting, and that means that there is a good chance that we will be active during the second signing period. I like the kids that we have coming in already. I like the Michael Neal kid from Lon Morris. He is a Terrell Everett type player. We knew that Taj and Terrell would both impact us this year and I think Michael Neal and Nate Carter are going to impact us next year.

"The one area where we have to get better is in that we have to upgrade our guard situation. We knew this year that we would go as far as our guards would take us. Drew was awfully good a lot this year. Lawrence McKenzie shot almost 44 percent from three-point range all year. Terrell Everett was absolutely our best guard and David Godbold really helped this team. I don't know if this team would have achieved what it did down the stretch if it wasn't for David and what he did for us.

"Jaison Williams certainly had his moments and he was a tremendous boost for this team at times. Our strength was our frontcourt with Taj, Johnnie (Gilbert), Kevin (Bookout) and Longar (Longar). Probably the guy that improved the most and just couldn't get him there was Longar.

"With Johnnie leaving Longar will be in the mix next year with Kevin and Taj. Those are the three guys coming back inside, and Nate Carter is a guy that can play inside and he can play in the backcourt or the frontcourt. Nate can be a tough match-up at the four. He is not as good as Joey Graham obviously, but Nate can play the same way that Joey can at the four. He is a tough match-up there, and I think Nate can be the same way. Then he is a tough match-up in the backcourt as a big three.

"We have good pieces and we are going to try to add a piece to that and see if we can't make it better."

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