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July 31, 2013

Freshmen adapting to college basketball life

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Former Sooner Sam Grooms was amongst those in the gym when Oklahoma resumed its foreign tour practice at Lloyd Noble Center last Sunday.

Grooms, who is biding his time in Norman while waiting to join the professional ranks, has tried to stay in the gym as much as possible to help this young Sooner men’s basketball team acclimate to the rigors of the college basketball life. Along with a decent crowd of spectators on hand for OU’s open practice, Grooms sized up the team from a courtside seat.

“It’s going to be difficult at first,” Grooms said. “They’re young. They don’t really know what to expect right now. They think it’s going to be the same level as what they’re doing right now -- it’s not. It’s going to get a little bit harder.”

Grooms knows more than a little about adapting to Big 12 basketball. During his first season at Oklahoma, the Sooners lost more games than they won, but this squad will have an advantage he never did.

OU’s youngest players will receive a taste of how tough it is going to be to play a power conference team’s schedule during their 10 days in Europe this August. The Sooners plan to play five games in France and Belgium against professional European teams, and they’ll play by Federal International Basketball Association rules during those games.

The only drawback for the Sooners is missing 6-foot-10 Edson Avila and 6-foot-10 Keshaun Hamilton. The junior college transfers have academic obligations to finish before they arrive in Norman this August.

The coaches and staff have laid blue tape on the court to mark the wider lane and larger 3-point arc. The markings looked outsized on the Division I court, as were the eyes of true freshman Jordan Woodard when he first stepped on campus.

“It’s a different experience,” Woodard said. “It’s real different from high school, and the intensity is different on the court, in the weight room. The classroom is different, and it requires a lot more work from me, but I like the challenge.”

With just two returning players who handled the point guard duties for Oklahoma last season, Woodard will be asked to contribute right away. Grooms is trying to prepare Woodard for the level of competition he’ll face just four months from now.

“I’ve been trying to tell him it’s going to move kind of fast,” Grooms said. “He’s just got to understand that there’s going to be a lot expected of him really fast. He’s going to have to grow up really fast. He doesn’t have time to be a freshman.”

True freshman Frank Booker needs to learn on the fly, too.

A 6-foot-4 wing with a shooter’s touch, he’s going to be asked to spot up and score from 18 to 23 feet. In time, he could become one of the better shooters on this 2013-14 roster, but first he’ll have to get into college basketball shape.

“The first practice, it was bad,” Booker said. “I was tired. I was barely breathing, but I’ve gotten used to it, and I’ve gotten better at it.”

With time, Grooms believes this team could better than last year’s NCAA tournament squad. The potential is there.

“They’ll run a lot, and if you’re watching them practice you’ll see that they’re more athletic,” Grooms said. “They’re a more athletic group than we were, and that’s kind of hard to say, but they are. They all can move, and they all can defend.”

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