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October 29, 2013

Leader is plural for OU

Untitled Document

Look at Oklahoma's roster this season. Now, count the seniors.

You'll see two. Only one of them started games during Oklahoma's 20-win season a year ago.

Now count the juniors. You'll see three. Only one of whom, point guard James Fraschilla, logged a single minute in a Sooner jersey last season.

The 2013-14 edition of OU men's basketball is filled with youth, filled with potential and promise. But those underclassmen and newcomers need leadership, need to be shown how to play the game in Big 12 country.


Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger had the luxury of five seniors on the roster. Three of those seniors -- former Sooners Romero Osby, Steven Pledger and Sam Grooms -- were counted as starters for two straight years.

Grooms was a capable point guard. Pledger proved to be one of the better 3-point shooters in school history.

Osby became OU's first NBA drafted player in three years, and the Sooners' outright leader in his final season in Norman. Kruger could count on him to pick the team up on the court and off the court.

"When you consider what Roe did for us last year, it was really remarkable that he made so much progress in the couple years that he played, especially in the leadership role," said Kruger at Oklahoma's Media Day. "His rebounding production, his scoring was obvious. But the security that he gave the other players, the leadership he gave them, was even more important."

This year it's more likely several different Sooners will have to take on pieces of that leadership role with at least one of them being a redshirt sophomore who hasn't played competitive collegiate basketball in over a year.

Ryan Spangler has described by Kruger as a hustle man as Spangler's talent is out-working his opponent, and making big men who don't like to run slog up and down the hardwood.

He's also one of those men Kruger will ask to show younger players, players who didn't spend a year in the program, how to practice and play in Kruger's system using lessons he said he learned from Osby.

"He worked hard ever day," Spangler said. "I want to be like that. I want to come in every day and work hard."

The Sooners will run the floor more this season and put an emphasis on guard play. It's telling that two of the three men Kruger's staff brought in during the offseason are guards, freshmen Jordan Woodard and Frank Booker.

Kruger said Woodard will figure into the rotation right away, which is good as the Sooners will have just one other man playing point guard in Je'lon Hornbeak.

Hornbeak saw game time at point guard early last season but was moved back to playing on the wing as the season progressed. This season he's being moved back to point guard, so sophomore Isaiah Cousins can play on the wing exclusively instead of being a combo guard like was as a freshman.

Cousins is a capable shooter but was rattled bringing the ball up the floor during Big 12 play last season. He, along with Booker and sophomore guard Buddy Hield, make the wing position arguably the deepest position on a team full of new faces.

But those new faces had 10 extra practices and a trip to Europe last August to play with one another, become used to one another. They had 10 extra practices to create the chemistry needed to win.

That's one of the reasons Hornbeak is encouraged by what he's seen and felt during OU's last three months of preparation when the season begins on Nov. 8.

He's seen the Big 12 projections, how the Sooners are picked to finish in the middle of the league. He's heard the rumblings of this being a rebuilding year without Osby there to lead them; how this year might be used to prepare to make a run in 2014.

He also sees the benefit of having new energetic teammates; of no one being able to scout the team; of playing the underdog in a conference with two teams that have national title aspirations.

"We just see it as a chip on our shoulders," Hornbeak said. "We understand last year that we were in a position where people counted us out. We understand that this year it's pretty much the same thing. We either can fold under the pressure or we can excel from it."

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