Hoops: Uncertainty Surrounds Off-Season

Oklahoma went through a tailspin that left the Sooners as the No. 10 seed for the Big 12 tournament. The skid assured Oklahoma of its first losing season in 29 years. Now the bigger question is who will be back again next season.

GETTING INSIDE

Typically, after a loser of a season like the one just completed by Oklahoma, it's all about next year. However, so disconcerting has the season been, it's all about the offseason instead. Just what will the team look like next season?

Tiny Gallon is coming back, but Willie Warren, currently rehabbing an ankle that required surgery, is undecided. Nobody else appears ready to jump ship, but for all the talk of coach Jeff Capel during a very trying season, it seems impossible the only turnover will be the spots left open by departing seniors Beau Gerber and Tony Crocker.

The day before the season-ending 81-67 loss to Oklahoma State at the Big 12 tournament, Capel addressed the roster situation.

"We will do things differently. What this is? I don't know yet," he said. "I don't know who that group is going to be."

If he doesn't know, then nobody else does either. What seems clear is some change is coming. It needs to. The final game of the season was another case in point. Though freshmen Tommy Mason-Griffin, Steven Pledger and Gallon combined to score 51 points, Oklahoma State shot 53.6 percent from the floor. Once again, as clear as the Sooners' talent can be, it's not worth much if the players can't play as a team. Defending is part of the problem.

OKLAHOMA STATE 81, OKLAHOMA 67: In its final game of the season, Oklahoma played as if it were ready to be done, then as if it had second thoughts, then as if it were ready to be done. The Cowboys led 45-23 at the half before Oklahoma scored the first 11 points of the second half. Yet that was the end of the Sooners' challenge. The Sooners got 22 points from Tommy Mason-Griffin and 18 from Steven Pledger off the bench.

NOTES, QUOTES


--Jeff Capel hints at problems Oklahoma has developing team concepts because of too much individualist play.

But the Oklahoma coach is also the first to accept blame for any problems that have contributed to a nine-game losing streak, the longest for the Sooners since 1969.

"You never sign a team. You sign individuals and you hope they can become a team. That's something we've struggled with all year," Capel said following a 69-54 home-court defeat against Texas A&M on March 6.

He admitted, "that falls back on me," while noting that in the past if he cited a player as being the best on one of his Oklahoma teams, others accepted the distinction and gladly fulfilled their roles. This squad appears to be different, while struggling to cope with the loss of leading scorer Willie Warren, a sophomore guard who underwent season-ending ankle injury on the last week of the regular season.

Before he was injured, Warren received the brunt of any criticism thrust at players. He was labeled as the team leader following the loss of last year's national player of the year, Blake Griffin. But Warren sometimes had trouble coping with that responsibility and clashed with Capel at times.

--The crowd for Senior Day at Oklahoma was listed as 11,074, though actual attendance was much fewer in the Lloyd Noble Center, the result of a losing streak that was extended to eight games in the 69-54 loss against Texas A&M.

--Oklahoma maintains a tradition of allowing seniors to speak to the crowd following their last home games. Two players, G Beau Gerber and G Tony Crocker delivered emotional farewells. Gerber is a walk-on. The Sooners' other senior is F Ryan Wright, a UCLA transfer.

ON THE SPOT: Credit G Tony Crocker for giving it his all on the last play he'll ever make at home for Oklahoma. The senior rushed the length of the court to commit a hard foul, his fifth, which prevented a Texas A&M layup. He received a standing ovation from the OU crowd. Crocker made just 2 of 7 shots after scoring a conference-best 24 points in a March 1 loss against Texas.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "There's a sense of entitlement with some young kids. ... Kids don't fear anything. They don't respect anything. But it goes back to me. I've done a poor job. I've always felt one of my strengths was being able to figure out what buttons to push, how to get the best out of guys. I haven't been able to do that this year." -- Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

SEASON RECAP: Oklahoma went through a tailspin that left the Sooners as the No. 10 seed for the Big 12 tournament. The skid assured Oklahoma of its first losing season in 29 years. A season-ending ankle injury to G Willie Warren robbed the Sooners of one of the Big 12's top scoring threats over the final seven games of the conference schedule. It was a blow the short-handed Sooners could not overcome.

PLAYER ROTATION:
Usual Starters -- F Tiny Gallon, F Andrew Fitzgerald, G Tony Crocker, G Cade Davis, G Tommy Mason-Griffin. Key Subs -- F Ryan Wright, G Steven Pledger.

GAME REVIEW:
Baylor 70, Oklahoma 63
Texas 87, Oklahoma 76
Texas A&M 69, Oklahoma 54
Oklahoma State 81, Oklahoma 67 (Big 12 tournament first round)

POSTSEASON OUTLOOK: Oklahoma has no postseason outlook. What it has is a nine-game losing streak to end the season and its first losing record since the 1980-81 season, Billy Tubbs' first year as coach, when the Sooners went 9-18. It was the following season that Oklahoma began a run of postseason play beginning with the 1982 NIT that lasted through the 2006-07 season, Jeff Capel's first campaign, when the Sooners went 16-15.

ROSTER REPORT:

--As the season went along, Tommy Mason-Griffin asserted himself as the biggest presence on the team, and he closed the season with one of his biggest games: 22 points and nine assists (against three turnovers) over 39 minutes on the court.

--Tiny Gallon, one of three Parade (prep) All-Americans on the roster, announced Tuesday he would return to Oklahoma. The odd thing was he said he wasn't ready for the pro game. After a lackluster freshman season, his options appeared to be staying or transferring, rather than declaring for the draft. Nonetheless, he's back, and Jeff Capel's on board with his return.

--Tony Crocker played a ton of basketball at Oklahoma. The only member of Kelvin Sampson's final recruiting class who stayed with his commitment to Oklahoma following Sampson's departure for Indiana, Crocker closed his collegiate career with nine points, six rebounds and an assist.

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