Sampson: We're gonna get better

OU's head basketball coach talks about his Sooners' win over Alabama, the emergence of Austin Johnson and Longar Longar, and the state of the Sooners heading into 2006. (AP Photo/Jerry Laizure)

Below is a transcript from Oklahoma head coach Kelvin Sampson's press conference following the Sooners 68-56 win over Alabama on Saturday.

Opening Statement

Sampson: "The only thing I was disappointed in after the win against Oral Roberts was our rebounding effort. I just didn't think we attacked the boards like we were capable of. And I felt like if we could dominate one area of the game tonight and it could be rebounding, we had a good chance to win.

"Our team grew up Austin Johnson, an 18-year old freshman, just getting started, hasn't played much in practice because of an injury, I thought he played like a veteran tonight. His play was really important for us. He makes all these kids better – whether it's a deflection or making the right angle pass into the post, knocking down a three, knocking down free throws – he does a lot of good things. The more he gets to practice with us, the more reps he gets with the first unit, the better we're gonna be.

"I think we have a good team –not great by any stretch of the imagination – but I think we can be a lot better. And I've had teams as we head into January that probably weren't going to get a lot better. We just didn't have the, whatever your want to call it, I don't like to use the word talent, but that's probably it. This team can get a lot better, though. That's the thing that's encouraging."

What was the difference in your defense in the second half? They shot 63 percent in the first half and 33 in the second half.

Sampson: "Davis is a tough match up. The difference that we did on Davis is that we tried to go trap him on the first bounce. Not on the catch because he's too good a passer. On the first bounce we tried to go trap him and changed our defenses up. I mean a lot of times we'd show one defense on the first pass and then go to another defense. When teams are shooting 80 percent against you, you've got to mix and match. Second half we just kind of did a lot of things. That may be the way we have to play.

"I thought our young guys were good tonight. One thing we've told Longar over and over is when you get an offensive rebound, if you can't dunk it or have an easy lay-up, kick it back out so we can get a fresh possession. And I thought he played with some poise tonight. I was really pleased with Longar. And then Austin was good."

Longar got the minutes in the rotation tonight instead of Taylor Griffin. Is that something that came out of practice the last couple of days?

Sampson: "No. Just length. No other reason. I mean, they're so long. Davidson is almost 6-11, Hendricks is 6-8, 270, Davis is 6-8, but he plays 6-10. I just felt that Longar's length would help us. I didn't know how Longar would play tonight, but I wanted him to get a look early. And we've been really encouraging to him in practice. Longar's a kid that needs to be encouraged. But playing well tonight might be the best thing that could possibly happen to him.

"Teams that are long, really athletic and long, Longar matches up with them. When we play a team like a Coppin State or a team like a Southern or Belmont, there's absolutely no one on the floor for him to guard. He can't guard 6-5 guys that can shoot threes. Now Taylor can. So you think about when we play Belmont, why didn't Longar play good in those games? Longar can't guard 6-4 guys that shoot threes. He can guard the Alabama guys. There's somebody for him to play against.

"Longar can play against size. He can't guard Terrell (Everett) and that's what a lot of these other teams have. Four guys that were guards."

You had so much confidence in him you left him out on the floor in the final minutes instead of putting Taj back in.

Sampson: "Yeah, I just wanted Taj to just watch. I thought his shot selection wasn't real good on one possession and then Davidson caught it too deep, then he left his feet. Gotta play smarter."

You mentioned Austin hasn't had much practice. How much has he practiced in the last week?

Sampson: "None."

So still you have to rest him?

Sampson: "No, I think his ankle is getting better. There's no way he could have played against Oral Roberts. He didn't practice Thursday at all. He did some skeleton stuff yesterday. You know, his ankle's better today than yesterday. Now tomorrow, if we had a game tomorrow, I doubt he could play. So he'll be up here early in the morning getting treatment. He'll probably get treatment three times tomorrow and we'll see what he can do on Monday. We'll leave Monday and bus to Dallas."

Kevin Bookout had a good offensive week. He's shooting the ball a lot better.

Sampson: "Confidence. Kevin's really good. I don't know how you would evaluate him post-college, but Kevin's a helluva college basketball player. You know, there's a lot of people that really don't get this game. They evaluate people on how tall they are and how fast they are and how they dunk the ball. Basketball is a game where the really good players are good from the shoulders up. That's where Kevin is better than most people.

"Kevin is like Old Man River. He's just as solid as he can be. He's always there. There's an old saying, one time I read this in a poem, it said in the battle between the river and the rock, the river will always win because it's a constant, it'll wear it down. Kevin's the river. He's just always there, every day he's always going. Kevin may not ever be great. But you know what? He's never average.

"Sometimes we take guys like that for granted. Unless they go hammer a dunk or go block a shot up in the fourth row and the other team takes it out of bounds and scores. Everybody remembers the block, but they scored on the same possession. Kevin goes and takes a charge. You see, some guys don't like that kind of basketball. But you know what that basketball does? It wins. And that's what he is, he's a winner.

Your big guys are shooting free throws really well

Sampson: "When last year ended, that was our goal. Think about how many teams we've had here that led the Big 12 in free throw shooting. You know why? Because the guys that shot most of the free throws shot a high percentage. Team free throw percentage will be driven by the guys that shoot the most free throws. We didn't have a bad free throw shooting team last year. But we had two guys shooting all the free throws that weren't good free throws shooters. Not hard to figure out.

"Right now, we have a good free throw shooting team. You know why? Because Taj and Kevin are making their free throws and they're gonna shoot most of them. You get to the point where you can work with them and work with them, then it's over for you. Now it becomes them. They have to have the confidence to make them.

"When Kevin went to the line tonight at the end, when it was six point game, never a doubt in my mind. Last year, would have been thinking ‘OK, we're up by six, he's probably going to miss this, and they'll get the ball'. We've got to start thinking two plays ahead. Tonight I was thinking ‘OK, he makes these two, we're gonna be up eight, don't foul ‘em'. So his confidence has changed and so has mine."

What are your thoughts on your offense right now?

Sampson: "The thing that's different with our offense is that we have two fives. We have two big guys that are both fives. We don't have a perimeter four man. When Aaron McGee was our four man, we could do so many things. That's because Aaron could step out and shoot threes and he could shoot jump shots. But Kevin and Taj are pretty much landlocked.

"I think we have a versatile offense but not one that's free-flowing because of the two posts being fives. We have a hard time when guys can match up with Kevin and Taj. Then we have to start doing other things. The big thing is, if Austin gets healthy and Mike (Neal) gets healthy that will help us."

Has this been kind of a learn and see how it goes type of thing?

Sampson: "That's a great observation. It hasn't been easy. It's easy to find what the problem is. It's not always easy to find the solution. Most of the things that are wrong with this team, you don't have to be real smart to figure it out. Like Taylor. If he was on the floor with Kevin or on the floor with Taj, we could do a lot more things. We could look cuter, look pretty. But I don't know if we would be better.

"I'd like to run more. Honest to goodness. I don't care what anybody else thinks about would Coach Sampson like to run. What difference does that make if you can't. I thought that what broke it open tonight, though, is that we got some transition baskets. And the more transition baskets we get, the better. But to get transition baskets, you've got to have a lot of guys that can run. When Austin gets healthy and when Michael Neal gets healthy and Nate Carter continues to get comfortable, we can do more things. That's why this team still has a ceiling above us. We have a lot of room to grow.

"We're gonna get a lot better. When we played Villanova, we weren't quite good enough to beat Villanova. West Virginia, I'd like to think that was an aberration. They were just better than us. People forget that West Virginia team was just a basket away from going to the Final Four last year. We're not quite that good yet.

"But I'm anxious to see how much we grow here in the next month. And our offense, what you're asking about, we talk about as coaches all the time. Why do we look this way and this way? And you know we'd like to do more things like we did with the '02 team and other teams. With Kevin and Taj on the floor, they operate better six feet and in, and you have to make more passes to get them the ball because of where they have to have it to score.

Was this the best you've played all year?

Sampson: "I thought we were real good the first sixteen minutes against Villanova. We had a 10 point lead, then we had four turnovers. Yeah, the second half tonight. The first half, we just hung in there and fought and scrapped. Second half, though, our guards played good. When your guards play good, you're always gonna be better. So we just haven't had very good guard play this year, but there's a reason why. Austin gets healthy and Mike gets healthy and Terrell, if he can just throw it in the ocean from the shore, we'll have a chance to get a lot better."

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