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March 21, 2013

Osby provides star power and leadership

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Oklahoma point guard Sam Grooms was struggling early in the season. Not struggling to run the offense or to be a floor general for Lon Kruger, but struggling with the simplest part of basketball: taking wide-open shots.

Teams playing the Sooners would essentially drop off Grooms, giving them a literal 5-on-4 advantage when OU was in their half-court offense.

Grooms couldn't even use his best attributes, his quickness and strength, to drive past opponents toward the basket.

Fellow senior Romero Osby walked up to Grooms one day at practice and asked him one simple question.


"Are you scared to be good?" he asked.

Osby wasn't trying to get under Grooms' skin. He was trying to encourage the slumping shooter when he became frustrated at Grooms for not taking wide-open jumpers.

"Sam shoot the ball!" Osby shouted. "You work so hard and you do so much stuff after practice and you do things people don't watch. Then when you get the opportunity to do it you don't do it.

"It's like you're scared. Are you scared to be good?"

That moment stuck with Grooms. It also served as his wake-up call this season.

Oklahoma traveled to Stillwater Feb. 16, for a Bedlam Battle few gave the Sooners a chance to win.

Grooms entered the game at the 16:11 mark and scored 8 points in the first half, helping the Sooners build an improbable 35-27 lead on the road in the most raucous environment of the season.

Before it was over, Grooms would pour in 10 more points, but the Sooners lost to the Cowboys 84-79 in overtime.

Grooms' 18 points were overshadowed by two costly turnovers late in overtime, but he continued to bounce back.

Osby continued to push him.

"I always know if I don't make the play he feels I'm supposed to that I'm going to hear it," said Grooms. "Everything he does is for a purpose. He doesn't just talk to talk."

Grooms followed up the Bedlam performance with 12 points against Texas Tech, then he earned his starting point guard job back Feb. 23, before the Sooners took on Baylor.

Grooms celebrated that accomplishment by scoring a career high 23 points, which included two three-point buckets in a 90-76 thrashing of the Bears.

Grooms hasn't relinquished that starting point guard spot since.

A tribute to him, but also to Osby's leadership.

"The fact he genuinely cares about the team and not just about Romero Osby makes it even better," Grooms said. "It helps us respect him knowing we can see Ro cares about us even though he goes out every night and scores and rebounds and does a lot of stuff and gets a lot of media and press behind him. He's still the same guy."

Any player can yell and scream at his teammates.

Anyone can claim to lead. But the biggest test of leadership is how many people follow.

For OU basketball, Osby is the Pied Piper.

"You want to get comfortable being a leader but when you see guys following you it makes it a lot easier to come out every day and realize what you say really means something," said Osby.

Osby downplays the rah-rah aspect of his leadership. He, like all good leaders, downplays his own accomplishments, even though he's clearly the heart and soul of this Sooner basketball team.

He may not be Blake Griffin, but he might be Hollis Price.

He's certainly the guy his teammates lean on when a play needs to be made on the floor.

"The stuff he did this year is invaluable," said Grooms. "If we didn't have that dude this year - you think about the games he's had 29, or even the low-scoring games where he's had 13, and he's had 10 or 11 rebounds. The charges he takes, that stuff's big."

Osby's last year at Oklahoma was his best. He led his team to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. He's been named a first-team All-Big 12 selection. He's set himself up to have a career in basketball after college.

But this story hasn't ended. Osby might need to pull out those psychology books one more time to spur on his teammates Friday night in Philadelphia.

Teams usually need one or two players to have unexpected games from unexpected players early in NCAA Tournament play to advance.

Osby knows this team will need just that if they hope to make a run.

"I don't care who it is. I just want it to be somebody, you know what I mean?" asked Osby. "I want to win. That's the main thing at this point of the year. I'm excited about it and I know we've got a lot of people on this team that can step up.

"Sam stepped up big time during the end of the season and we didn't even expect that from him."

The question Osby has for his teammates is the same one he asked earlier this season. It will define how successful this run can be for this team of Sooners in 2013.

Is anybody scared to be good?

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