Sampson excited about his new crop of Sooners

Oklahoma head coach Kelvin Sampson talks about his recruiting class, Nate Carter and the transfers of Drew Lavender and Lawrence McKenize. (AP Photo/Laura Rauch)

With the signing of Chris Walker, the Sooners' basketball recruiting class for 2005 is in the books. OU signed four players and have put together one of the top 20 recruiting classes in the country.

And to find out just how good the class is and how it all fits within the OU program, OU Head Coach Kelvin Sampson joined Bob Barry Jr. and I last week on the Sports Animal for a quick look at the future of Sooner basketball.

BBJ: Has the last month been a challenging one for you?

KS: "Well, it makes you realize that if you stay in this business long enough you may not necessarily have year's like this, but you will have months and weeks like this. Things just kind of go haywire on you. You have to go back and look at the program that you have and realize that our program is always going to be bigger than any individual.

"Whether we need to go back and correct some mistakes that we have made, or players that decide that maybe it would be better if they played elsewhere, our program is going to be fine. We are always going to have kids that are going to want and come and play with us. We will have a tough Big 12 schedule and tough non-conference schedule next year, and we are going to have a good team on the floor. That has always been important to us."

JH: Even before Drew Lavender decided to transfer you thought you needed another point guard so you signed Chris Walker pretty late in the recruiting process. Tell us about Chris Walker?

KS: "Chris is solid. I don't want people to run around thinking that Chris is a great player, but I think he is solid. With Terrell Everett, Nate Carter, David Godbold and Michael Neal on our wings along with Austin Johnson, we have three guys in the program now that can play point guard. That is a true point guard in Chris, and then Austin Johnson and Terrell both can play the position.

"We didn't want to go into the year with Terrell and Austin being the only two point guards because Austin is a freshman and he has to develop, and we are not quite sure there although we do feel that Austin is going to be a very good player. Our teams have always done better when we have had a point guard instead of a guy that plays that position like a Terrell Everett. We can get by with a guy like that.

"Bobby, you and James can remember the year when Corey Brewer played point guard for us and you just have to change the dial and adjust and make it where he can play that position. Terrell could have done that too, but Terrell is a lot better if you can throw the ball up to him on the wing and let him transition and make plays. That is why we wanted a point guard.

"Chris will be solid for us. He is not a great scorer or a great shooter, but whatever he averaged in junior college he is capable of averaging here. He will be one of those eight, 10 or 11 point guys or whatever you need. Some games you may need him to score more and some games he may not. His points per game is not going to be as important to us as him playing that position right."

BBJ: I know a lot of people were surprised that Lawrence McKenzie and Lavender left, and it has to be frustrating to you that players leave your program?

KS: "We live in an era where kids are leaving all over. They are leaving Kansas, Marquette and many other programs. I was talking to some coaches this past week and it hasn't been announced yet, but there is going to be some high profile kids transferring once exams are over.

"I don't know the answer as to why more kids are transferring today than they used to. Our first seven or eight years here I don't remember so many kids wanting to transfer, but if they did it was strictly because they weren't getting to play. You can't blame a kid for transferring if he is not getting to play. There are so many kids today that are getting to play a lot of minutes or contributing, and yet for whatever reason they are not happy. I have always said if a kid is not happy we need to get him where that he is. If he is not happy here we need to go get somebody that will be.

"It seems like it is a trend here nowadays that kids seem to think about this more. It is a lot easier to transfer, and with all the rules that we have with the academic reform rules where graduation rates are going to be tied into retention of kids, you get concerned about that.

"Lawrence and Drew never really gave us hints that they were going to transfer, but you can read into certain things. You always here the locker room gossip. Some days a guy is happy, but on other things don't go so well, so I need another school. All young kids go through that."

JH: You signed three guys in the early signing period, so please talk about those three and how you see next year shaping up?

KS: "The three players we signed early were Michael Neal, who was the Player of the Year in his junior college conference. He was named first team Junior College All-American. He is 6-foot-4, and one of the ways that you can tell if a kid has good instincts in basketball is how he plays when a ball is not in his hand. Can he screen, can he cut? Does he come up with loose balls and chase down rebounds? Some guys are never open and then there are guys that it seems like they are always open. Well, Michael Neal is a guy that seems like he is always open. He knows how to use screens and he is a lot better coming off screens than he is with a ball in his hands. He will work well with a kid like Chris Walker or Terrell Everett because they are a lot better with a ball in their hands. Michael will help us a lot.

"I really like our two freshmen. Just like our two freshmen last year, David Goldbold and Longer Longer, I love those kids. I thought they were contributors last year and feel they are going to be contributors for many years to come. I think the same way about Taylor Griffin and Austin.

"They are high IQ kids, great kids, they are 3.0 students. They take care of the maintenance things. They are no maintenance, and I like that about them. They are also really good basketball players.

"Taylor is going to play next year. I don't anticipate redshirting any of our kids. I think they will all play and they will all have their nitch. Some may not play as much as others because of playing time at that position. I expect Taylor and Austin to come in here and compete for playing time and help us next year."

BBJ: Is Nate Carter as good as I keep hearing? Everybody said he was really good this past year when he was sitting out. Is he going to be special for you?

KS: "Oh, I don't know if he will be special. He is a good solid player. I don't think he is a great player. I think Nate has his strengths, and his greatest strength is probably his strength. Pound for pound he might be the strongest kid on our team. Nate is a good athlete, but not a great athlete. His strengths are that he can put the ball in the hole, he can make a jump shot and he can rebound.

"I would say that Nate is a good, solid player. I don't know if we had any players that I would call great. We have had some great players here like a Hollis Price. I would say that the guys on this team that we have coming up are more in the good range."

Sooners Illustrated Top Stories