Sampson still looking for a point guard

OU coach Kelvin Sampson talks about the emergence of freshman Austin Johnson as a candidate at point guard. Plus, a brief look at Coppin State. The Sooners and Eagles will tip-off at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Lloyd Noble Center. (AP Photo/Jerry Laizure)

When Kelvin Sampson's 8th-ranked Sooners return to the court Saturday for a 3 p.m. matchup against annual whipping-boy Coppin State (0-6), one of the more intriguiging players to watch will be freshman guard Austin Johnson.

Johnson, who has been slowed early on this season by a severe ankle injury, saw his first action against Tulsa and then showed his promise against Villanova last Saturday. Johnson came off the bench and had a nice second-half effort that helped the Sooners make a late run at the Wildcats with three points, three assists and no turnovers in just nine minutes of action.

Earlier this week, Sampson talked with the media about Johnson, OU's point guard situation and Coppin State head coach Ron 'Fang' Mitchell.

On freshman guard Austin Johnson

Sampson: The thing I like most about him is he just has a knack for making basketball players. He's a smart player, he's got a good basketball IQ. He's just slight. I remember recruiting a kid that's about 150 pounds from New Orleans that turned out alright too.

On Johnson not having as much to work to get back into the lineup after returning from his ankle injury

On finding a point guard before OU's stretch of Oral Roberts, West Virginia, Alabama and then the start of Big 12 play

Sampson: These next two weeks are critical for us. We've got to settle on who's going to run the point for us, how much help we can give Terrell at that spot.

Terrell's (Everett) biggest weakness in running point guard is what Villanova did. Last year when he ran point, nobody pressed us. They picked us up at halfcourt. If that's all you do, Terrell won't turn it over much. When you get to presses and doing that, that's where his not being a natural point guard shows.

When it got loud in there the other day, you have to keep your poise and think I've got to run the team and get us into a set. You don't have to do that in the NBA. You have to be more of a point guard in college then you the NBA.

A lot of guys can play point guard in the NBA. Look at that Delonte West kid from St. Joseph's. He was their three-man. He's the starting point guard for the Celtics. There's a 24-second clock and nobody presses, whoever gets the ball just takes it up the court, throw it and go.

In college, you've got to be a little bit more of a ... 'we're on the road, it's really loud in here and things are a little bit hectic, slow down and make sure I get us in the right set'.

Especially in the first half, because the ball's going away from us. The second half, I can call the game for them — tell them what to run and get into.

Remember the last four minutes (of the first half against Villanova)? That's what hurt us. We didn't get into our right sets and they were pressing us and we lost our poise, didn't play with a lot of composure. Had we done that, we would've held that 10-point lead.

That lead should've been seven or eight going into hafltime, and I'm not even counting Nate's (Carter) miracle shot. Although that kid (Villanova guard Kyle Lowry) made a miracle shot too — that dipsy-doo layup. That was about as hard as Nate's shot was.

I felt like we should've been up seven or eight at halftime. Michael Neal missed a one-and-one, then he missed missed one after he made another shot. That's three points we should've had there. And Taj missed two free throws, two layups. We should've been up sevaen or eight at halftime.

But you can't look back at those plays, you look at your turnovers. When you give a team 27 points, just on the road now, Villanova's probably up six or seven in that gym against anybody.

Then for us to give them 27 points, I look back and say we've got to have better composure. Composure starts with your point guard.

On if he was impressed with Johnson's composure in the second half against Villanova

Sampson: What impressed me most was the situation that he went into. It's not like he played the first half. I didn't even play him. The main reason I didn't play him the first half was he tweaked his ankle in warm-ups. He hurt it in warm-ups (laughs).

Again, his ankle's tender. That's the worst sprained ankle I've ever seen. Just like in arthroscopic surgery, some guys are out 10 days, some guys are out three months. It depends on the surgery, it depends on that knee.

But he showed me something. They went on their run and we came back and tied it at 50-50, and then they went on another run. The score was 76-71 with all of that. As good as they are, as good as they played ... blah, blah, blah, blah. The score was 76-71 and we had the ball. Austin Johnson's a big reason why we got it to that point — no turnovers, three assists, nine minutes off the bench.

If you've got Austin and Terrell, Nate, Kevin (Bookout) and Taj (Gray), if that's your lineup you've got five guys that all can make a basket. If you've got Terrell, Michael, Nate, Taj and Kevin, we're getting more and more guys on the floor who can make baskets.

That's what Austin gives us probably a little bit more than Chris (Walker). Chris is a better defensive player than Austin and plays with more energy right now.

We've got these two weeks, this game this Saturday and the following Saturday. Then after that you're right in the middle of the pork chop then.

On him not being surprised by what Austin Johnson did and can do

Sampson: I think it was the week before we played Northeastern that he just had a couple of those 'wow' practices. We had him on our first team. I don't think we had him at point, I think we just had him with Terrell and David.

He just does stuff. You can't teach vision, you can't teach someone to be a good passer. That's just what he does. And his arms are so long that he gets deflections, he gets steals.

He just needs to play. He needs minutes and time, and we're going to try to get him as much as he can.

On how much time he'll get against Coppin State

Sampson: I don't know. I know that the big three (Gray, Bookout and Everett) are going to start, and then I'm going to discipline David. Part of his discipline is not starting Saturday. I'll probably start Nate in his place, and from that I don't know what we're going to do.

On Coppin State head coach Fang Mitchell not being afraid to take his teams on the road

Sampson: I think he's a much better story than a lot of other coaches. He's at a place where he has to do this for his budget.

Fang would rather go on the road and play Oklahoma and UCLA, rather than go fundraise. It's just fundraising for them. I've been playing against Fang for 14 or 15 years.

I remember when I was at Washington State we played them in a tournament in Puerto Rico. We won that tournament and beat Coppin State, Michigan State and Marquette three straight games.

We won the tournament and our toughest game was against Coppin State. They were good. That's when they were a 15-seed and got in the tournament and beat Texas, and almost beat somebody else.


About Coppin State

The Eagles come into Saturday's matchup in Norman 0-6, with all six losses coming on the road. The Eagles lost to Charlotte (65-82), Lehigh (64-65) and Alabama State (67-68 ) to start the season at the Black Coaches Association Classic in Laramie, Wyo. They have also lost road games at Clemson (71-102), Xavier (56-81) and actually led UCLA at halftime before losing 69-57 last Sunday.

Coppin State coach Ron 'Fang' Mitchell is in his 20th season (318-249 record) with the Eagles, who are located in Baltimore, Md. and play in the Mid-Eastern Conference. Saturday's game will mark the 8th time they have played the Sooners under Kelvin Sampson. They are 0-7 against Sampson and 0-10 overall against Oklahoma.

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