Capel anxious to get started

Oklahoma men's basketball coach Jeff Capel talks about the state of his team as practice officially begins Friday night. Both the men's and women's teams the will hold their annual Baseline Bash a week from this Friday at 6 p.m. at the Lloyd Noble Center. (Photo/Lisa Hall)

First-year Oklahoma men's head basketball coach Jeff Capel talks about the beginning of the 2006-07 season. Capel and the Sooners will go through their first official practice Friday night, and then hold their annual Baseline Bash next Friday at 6 p.m.

On if he's ready to get practice started

Capel: Yeah, anxious to get started. Ready to get out here and work with our guys without a lot of the hourly restrictions. It will be good to get some back-to-back days of work to see where we are, try and improve and to try to help guys improve individually and start putting our team together.

On if he has a good understanding what he has on his team because of the individual workouts that they've been able to go through

Capel: A little bit, but it's been tough. We have been able to do team stuff, as far as having everyone out here from Sept 15 on. So it hasn't been that much time.

I feel like I have somewhat of a better feel, but really until we get out there and start competing against someone else you really don't know. You don't know how much depth you really have, you don't know how guys are when the lights come on.

So that's something we're anxious to see. I'm really anxious to have an opportunity to work with our guys.

On what he's looking to establish in the first few weeks of practice

Capel: I think, first and foremost, we have to stay healthy. We have to be really smart as a coaching staff of how much we do. Obviously, depth is an issue for our team this year, especially in the frontcourt. So we have to be really smart and really do a good job of pushing our guys, but also maybe at times pulling back a little bit too.

I think we have to establish how we're going to work and the way we're going to do things. Now I think we're a little bit ahead because we've been doing that with our individual workouts and some of the team stuff we've been doing.

On if he knows who is starting five is

Capel: No, I have no idea. I don't care about it until we play. I know that's a question — (laughs) — it always amazes me everyone always wants to know that and as coaches you don't know.

You don't know how guys are going to get better, how guys are going to improve or who's going to do what. I really hope our guys aren't worried about who's starting. It's never really meant a lot who starts, it's who finishes.

I've had guys that have played with me that haven't started but actually led our team in minutes played. So it doesn't really matter. It matters about us being the best team that we can be.

That's where everyone has to buy into what we're doing, and to throw themselves into it and be part of something bigger than them. If we have guys on our team that are so worried about them, then we're not going to be as good as we can be this year.

If we have guys completly buying into it and throwing themselves into it and losing themself into the team, then I think we'll have a good season.

On him not being a traditional coach where he has to have a center or player at a set position on the floor

Capel: We're going to have five good basketball players on the floor at all times. I love guys that can play multiple positions. I think there's one position on the floor, and that's point guard. To me, that's really it these days.

There are very few true centers anymore. You have a lot of guys who can play multiple positions and we'll have that this year. We'll have different line-ups, different looks on the floor.

We're going to put the five best guys and five guys that earn an opportunity and earn the right to start, and the rest of the guys who earn the right to play. Our guys earn it. We don't give them anything.

The only thing we give our guys is an opportunity. We give them a chance. If we give everybody an opportunity and a chance, then they'll earn what they're going to get.

On his early impressions of the team

Capel: Like I said, it's just hard to tell. I think we've worked pretty hard. I think guys have great spirit and are really anxious, but it's hard to tell. I'll be honest with you, it's really hard to tell.

There's somedays when I think we look like we can be pretty good, there's somedays when we don't. We're going to have to come together. And we've come together so far, but I mean just really when we start.

What we've done in these individual workouts — I don't think anyone in the country, especially new coaches, you're still trying to learn your team. And that's what I'm doing — still trying to learn our team.

Do I think we can be good? Yes, I do. But I know it's going to take a lot of work and I know it's going to take us coming together, and we plan on doing that. We plan on doing those things, but it's going to take our guys really throwing themselves into it and losing themselves into the game.

If you do that, that's when you play better because you're not worried about you. When you're on the floor and you're worried about you then there's a lot of pressure on every shot you shoot. There's a lot of pressure on every defensive assignment.

But when you lose yourself into the team there's not as much pressure and you generally end up playing a lot better when you do that. I know from experience.

On if he knows what the identity of the team will be

Capel: I don't know. Like I said, and I know I'm probably not giving you guys a lot, but it's just really hard right now because we've had maybe seven workouts where we've had our whole team. So I'm not sure. I'm still trying to learn these guys.

We're young. When I say we're young, as far as experience-wise — you have Longar who is junior, but as far as playing experience he's young as far as playing and getting the kind of minutes that he has an opportunity to earn this year. That's different for him.

Same thing with Taylor (Griffen), who is a sophomore. He's been in the program and he's been in the Big 12, but as far as playing time, which he has an opportunity to earn (he's young). Same thing with Nate Carter. On this level, Nate did it at UC Riverside, but really Michael Neal and David Godbold are the only two guys with that kind of experience. A.J. (Austin Johnson) to some extent, but he was hurt a lot last year. The rest of our guys are new.

Chris Walker started the first seven games last year and then really didn't play that much the rest of the year. Our young guys are freshmen. They're going to be freshmen. They may look really good one night and another night they'll look like a freshman.

It's just really hard to tell right now. That's why we're so anxious to get out to practice and to really try and get an idea of who we are and find out what our strengths are and really try to coach our guys through those strengths.

On who's been running the point

Capel: We've been in multiple positions. We've had some times where A.J. has brought the ball up for us.

I don't know if we have a true point guard on this team — what I define as a true point guard. I think we have some guys who can play that position and bring the ball up for us. I would call it more of a lead guard. I think that's what you'll see from us this year unless someone establishes themselves as a point.

Sometimes in practice that's hard to tell, because you're in a comfort level.

On if it frustrates him to not have a true point guard on the roster

Capel: Yeah, it frustrates me. It absolutely frustrates me. But I'm saying, until we play against someone else when the other team has absolutely no care in the world for you, except for wanting to kill you, that's when you really, to me, find out who you are.

You have an idea who you think you are and you have an idea of who you think you can be, and we think we can pretty good. But until you actually see it against someone when they don't care about you, when they're trying to embarrass you and they're trying to rip your heart out, to me that's when you really find out who you are and what guys can and can't do.

We think we know what some guys can do. We think some guys that can do some really good things for us. But until they get on the floor and improve it, I don't want to pump these guys up. I want them to earn the right, like I said, to get a lot of playing time and to be really good.

I don't want to talk to you guys about this guy is great and he's doing this, and all the sudden that may put pressure on him. We want our guys to play, to have fun playing, to enjoy it amd really throw themselves into and just leave everything on the floor.

On the status of Austin Johnson's injured ankle

Capel: A.J.'s ankle is great. It really is. He's been doing a really good job for us and been able to be out at practice and really is showing no signs of that ankle.

It's been really refreshing because it wasn't like that when we first started working out. Maybe that's because he's playing well. Maybe it's because he's playing better and feeling more comfortable that it's making his ankle feeling a little bit better.

A.J.'s in a great place right now, as far as working, playing. It's like he's starting to get it. Hopefully he continues to mature as a player and he can have a really important role for this team this year.

On what kind of shape is freshman Keith 'Moose' Clark after not being able to enroll early and workout with the team this summer

Capel: He's in better shape than he was when he got here. Part of Keith's thing was that he didn't have the opportunity to work out with our strength and conditioning coach this summer, because he had to be in summer school. So he couldn't get here, where Bobby Maze and Tony Crocker were in summer school.

Moose didn't have an opportunity to do that, so he came in behind. To his credit he's worked his butt off, but he's still a little bit behind. The thing with Moose is that he's a really talented young man. He has major, major talent, but he has to turn that into becoming a really good player. I think he's taking the right steps right now in how he's working.

I've been really impressed with how he's been able to push himself, even at times when he's hurting or vomiting (laughs) or whatever it is. He's pushed himself to the max. He's really doing that and he's coming back and doing it again.

Those have been great signs, but we just need him to continue to get better. One of the things I've tried to talk to him about is because he's a local guy, there's a lot of expectations. In high school, he was able to get by on talent. That's not going to happen here.

He's going to have to outwork people and turn that talent into being really, really good. He has a chance to be a really phenonmenal player and we're going to do everything we can to help him become that.

On not having a midnight madness

Capel: I've never been a big fan of it. When I was in school I wanted to do it, but coach didn't want to do it.

Since I've been a head coach we've done it one year. I was excited about it because we were coming off a championship year (conference title at VCU). It was a great turnout, but we actually practiced right after. We went from midnight unitil 1 (a.m.) and then we practiced from 1:30 (a.m.) in the morning until 3 (a.m.), just because I wanted to get our work in.

I wanted our guys to understand that when we cross these lines it's time to work. It's not just about going out here and messing around. That's what Midnight Madness is, it's for the fans. And that's great, but you also have to understand we have to work.

So I like it now. We can start on Friday I think at 7 o'clock. We'll get in here and get some work in and get some work on the weekend. And we're excited about our Baseline Bash that comes in the next Friday. That's an opportunity for our fans to meet our team and meet our women's team.

We're excited about that, but more importantly we're excited about getting to work and really trying to become a very good basketball team this year. I'm anxious. I can't sit still right now.

Sooners Illustrated Top Stories