Below are excerpts from OU head coach Kelvin Sampson and seniors Terrell Everett, Taj Gray and Kevin Bookout at Big 12 Media Day Thursday in Dallas.
SAMPSON: I like our team.I have liked most of our teams at Oklahoma. I think we have been blessed with good senior leadership. Those teams tend to practice well. They tend to get it.
Kevin is a fourth year guy, he's been a stalwart in our program for four years. Taj is from Wichita, Kansas, which is kind of like North Oklahoma, only two hours and 15 minutes away.
Lots expected of Taj this year. We tell our guys, embrace it. What is the worst thing that can happen to you? We're still playing basketball here and I think Taj is going to have a great year.
Terrell, I thought last year was our best player was, depending on which part of the year it was. Early on I thought it was Kevin and then Taj kind of took over toward the middle, and then it might have been Terrell at the end. But all three of those kids as seniors will be expected to have big years, and I think they will.
A lot of teams in the Big 12 have a lot of underclassmen, freshmen, sophomores. What kind of advantage is having an upperclass-laden team?
SAMPSON: If you asked me would I rather have talent or experience, I will always rather have talent. Last year this time the most experienced teams in our league was Oklahoma State and Kansas. We didn't start any seniors most of the year -- Johnny Gilbert or Jason started starting, but we were an inexperienced team last year.
So this league is so talented I don't know what advantage it gives you. It depends on how good the other teams are. There is about 4, 5 teams in this league that are good enough to win it.
Who would have ever thought that we would come up on the outside last year and stay for the first place? And some of the more experienced teams didn't win the league. So, experience is relevant to talent. If your experience is really good players, then that's an advantage.
Thing about basketball unlike some other sports is that you have got October, November, December, you have got three months before you play a conference game. So once you get to January, I am not sure there's such a thing as freshmen anymore. A lot of experience gained in those three months.
You are being picked pretty high this year, near the top. What would have to happen, what area would have to happen for your team to get over the top?
Sampson: I think that Rick (Barnes) will have had to have upset a couple of guys and have them quit. That would probably help. I think P.J. is probably going to go to class now.
I don't know. For us, believe it or not, we don't really talk a whole lot about winning the league Championship. We didn't even know we won the league championship last year until the last game of the last day the buzzer. But this year, you know, I don't know that we worry a whole lot about that.
I understand you are asking the question, but the new guys will have to come in and really impact us in their way. They don't have to be our best players. Our best players are going to be one of these three guys sitting beside me (Gray, Bookout and Everett).
But Michael Neal has to come in and do the things that we have recruited him to do. I think he's a very good offensive basketball player. He can really shoot. He's really a non-typical junior college kid in that he is a much better basketball player than he is an athlete.
Chris Walker has got to play some point guard for us. Everybody wants to know who your starter is, I don't know if it matters who your starter is, but who plays.
The second leading assist guy in this league returns this year in Terrell Everett. He averaged over 5 assists a game last year. Just about every big game down the stretch he was our point guard, so we'll be fine at the point guard, just depends on what we decide to play there. Both of them will be pretty good.
Then health, we have got to stay healthy. And Taj has got to stop picking up stupid fouls early in the game. Can you guys write about that and tell him to stop doing that? I have tried to talk to him and it doesn't work. Foul trouble and health.
Coach, in a conference that seems to be laden with a lot of guards, very talented guards, how important is it having two big men that are so talented pick up the bulk of your scoring?
SAMPSON: Kevin is kind of like a dinosaur. (Laughter.) But I don't know. If size was so important, whatever happened to them? Where did they go anyway?
Size only helps you if they are good. I referenced to Oklahoma State, I thought that they were -- for most of the year probably the best team in our league. Who was their big man?
It's a different era. We still want to hang on to who is Wilt Chamberland and Bill Russell and who is Shaq. Those guys, nobody is like them. I don't know who is. Size is important, but athleticism seems to be carrying the day in college basketball, maybe more so than size.
Kevin has certain things that he's good at and, you know, he's not going to allow you with any Tracy McGrady type dunks anytime soon. Can you still dunk Kevin?
SAMPSON: Haven't seen him dunk lately. Then again, haven't seen him play much lately. Always been hurt.
I don't know, I think our size, Kevin's size hurts him, when Kevin's size hurts people, when we can get him in half-court situations. But teams that play fast, and we're going to try to play as fast as we can this year, but Kevin is good at that too. He just does different things well.
Taj, the faster you play the better for him. So but everybody in our league has good big men, but their big men are good at different things.
Kevin, Baylor doesn't play a game for 13 weeks so they got 13 weeks of practice. Can you imagine 13 weeks of practice with Coach Sampson?
BOOKOUT: I'd enjoy every second of it. (laughs).
SAMPSON: Spoken like a true senior. Ask Terrell that. Terrell just fainted. (Laughter).
How about that Terrell, 13 straight weeks of practice, no games? You think we have had a problem with transfers, whoa. (Laughter.) They won't make it to Halloween.
Terrell, what are your opinions of Chris Walker so far? Is he going to be able to take the ball out of your hands some of the time?
EVERETT: Yeah, I think he would. He's a pretty tough point guard, smart point guard.
He doesn't really look to score a lot. He just wants to run the team, plays good on-ball defense. Really helps us on the defensive end.
So, yeah, I think he will log in a lot of minutes at point guard.
Taj, Coach Sampson mentioned how much better you'd like to play when the team is getting up and down the floor. Could you think this is going to be a team that's going to be effective in that style of play this season and why?
TAJ GRAY: Most definitely. I think this team with Terrell and Chris Walker, who really like to push the ball, want to get easy baskets and get up-and-down.
This team wants to get down the floor. That's what we're practicing, that's what coach emphasizes in practice is try to get as many baskets as we can, so that's what we're going to go for this year.
How versatile is this team? Talk about them getting up and down. Do you feel like they are pretty good in the half court as well? Do you feel like you can answer any type of challenges you all see?
SAMPSON: Seemed like last couple of years there was a long time there where we never had a problem versus zones. All of a sudden, the last couple years there was possessions where we looked like we didn't even know what a zone was.
I think we're more prepared now versus that because we have got more guys that can probably make a jump shot. I thought our best shooter last year was (Lawrence) McKenzie, though he's left.
Michael Neal is a really good shooter. (David) Godbold really improved in that area. Terrell, I think, has improved as a shooter. But versatility, Terrell a point guard? No, he's just a guard. He's just a good guard.
You know, is Nate Carter a 3? No. Is he a 4? No. He's just a good player. You know, I think that's where versatility comes in.
Taj doesn't have a position. Kevin is just a post man. He's a good passer, great hands, can rebound, can score. He's not going to step outside and shoot 3s, but we have a lot of guys that can play up and down the line.
I always prefer those type players. But I don't know if we got an answer for everything. We'll be pretty good though.
Is Nate Carter what you would call a scorer?
SAMPSON: Yeah. Nate is a scorer. Left-handed, really worked hard on his outside shooting, has become a pretty good outside shooter. But he's a really good one-on-one player. Can create a shot for himself.
He's strong. Pound for pound, Nate is the strongest guy on our team pound for pound. Austin Johnson, he'd be in there too.
Nate is just a good basketball player, can create his own shot, can score. I think that left-handed stuff is actually something to it.
I would imagine all coaches like options. Is that the big thing about this team? It sounds like you have got dozens of them in terms of player combinations?
SAMPSON: We don't even have a dozen players. (laughs). I think we got 10 or 11 on scholarship. Yeah, you know, for a team that doesn't have a lot of guys on your team, we do have a lot of -- we have got five guards and it seems we have got four, five post guys.
That's why the gentleman asked me what are the keys. I kind of rambled there at first, but if we stay healthy, that's going to be a big key for this team. You have teams that can sustain an injury, I don't think this team can.
Kevin will be back in the next week or so practicing, and Taj. Our our main guys have to average 30 minutes a game.
I have never liked rotating guys. We're going to play seven or eight. This year we will probably play 8 and a half. The 9th guy some games will play more than others, but I think that's something that we'll be able to do more so than others because you can play small.
If Taj gets in foul trouble you don't mind playing Nate up front. Longar, the big sophomore, probably the best practice he's ever had was yesterday, so he's a kid that can be big too.
We can be small or big. So, if we can keep them healthy, that will be something that will help us down the line.
Sampson says Sooners need to stay healthy
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