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October 24, 2012
There's a lot of hype surrounding the Oklahoma State basketball team as they head into the 2012-13 season, starting with an exhibition against Ottawa in Gallagher-Iba Arena on November 1st.
On Monday, the Pokes hosted their Media Day to preview the season and their team that coach Travis Ford has built. Here's what they had to say, and what we took from it.
Overall: The Cowboys were picked third in the Big 12 in the preseason poll, and come into the season with high expectations.
After a rough 15-18 campaign last year that was highlighted by big wins over No. 2 Missouri, Texas, and Texas A&M, and low-lighted by blowout losses to Baylor and Kansas, Ford and the Pokes are aiming to finally put all the pieces together and contend for a Big 12 title for the first time in awhile.
Ford is placing emphasis on the up-tempo, fast break offense that brought him so much success at Massachusetts, and ultimately landed him the OSU job, and rightfully so, as the pressure is on for him to win right now.
It should be a bit easier for him to do so than in past years, as the last round of Sean Sutton-era players have departed and Ford's team is full of the players he chose in recruiting.
Guard: Marcus Smart, 6'4, Freshman
Smart is a top-recruit from the 2012 class, and has brought a ton of excitement to the program without even playing a game. During the offseason, he was a key part of the U-18 USA team that won a gold medal in Brazil, and before that won back-to-back Texas State Championships at Marcus High School in Flower Mound, Tex.
Smart is already a complete player as he enters the year, and it showed on the team's trip to Spain at the end of the summer, as he turned in strong averages in every statistical category. The league and nation is taking notice, as Smart was named the 2012 Preseason Big 12 Freshman of the Year, an award that teammate Le'Bryan Nash took home last season. Smart was also one of ten freshman in the nation named to the Tisdale Award watch list, which is awarded to the national freshman of the year.
Guard: Markel Brown, 6'3, Junior
The high-flying, slam-dunking junior is back for another round this year after taking the nation by storm with acrobatic throw-downs last year. Due to injuries and transfers, Brown was thrown to the fire last season by having to share time at the point guard position with graduate Keiton Page. By all accounts, Brown has been one of the most improved players this offseason, and Ford said that much of that is attributed to he and Smart battling it out in practice.
After being known as a strict cutting-guard last year, Brown has added more facets to his game in a quest to become a more complete player. Ford said that the junior has made huge strides in his three-point game, as well as his jump shooting overall. On the other side of the court, Brown is expected to be one of Oklahoma State's strongest defenders.
Guard/Forward: Le'Bryan Nash, 6'7, Sophomore
The top-recruit of the 2011 class had glimpses of greatness in last year's campaign, but never quite was able to put it all together. Against Missouri, he exploded for 27 points and was the fire that fueled the upset. In other games, he completely disappeared from the stat sheet, and the court, all together. The season ended with Nash on the bench with a wrist injury, but he was still awarded the Big 12 Freshman of the Year award, and was Oklahoma State's leading scorer. When asked what he's improved on most this offseason, Nash quickly answered by saying that he's gotten more mature. Ford said that he wants to use Nash at the 2 and 3 position the most, but with the injury to swing-man Brian Williams, Nash will likely spend time at the 4 as well.
When he first came to Oklahoma State, he was quick to say that his goal is to win a Big 12 Championship. After experiencing college basketball for a year, Nash now knows that it isn't quite as easy as he thought. With the development of the players around him and the addition of Smart, a bit of pressure has been taken off of the five-star forward this season, but the Cowboys need Nash to become a more balanced, consistent player. If he can do that, the sky is the limit for him.
Forward: Jean-Paul Olukemi, 6'6, Senior
Olukemi is waiting on a ruling from the NCAA for his petition for an extra semester of eligibility after missing almost the entire 2011-12 season with a knee injury, and confusion during high school due to enrollment in a community college course. Olukemi is eligible for the fall semester this year, but not the spring unless the petition is approved. Ford has moved forward expecting that Olukemi will be available when the season tips off, as the extra year has been granted numerous times for this exact situation, including former Cowboy Marshall Moses a few years ago. Olukemi is at the power forward position due to sophomore Brian Williams damaging ligaments in his non-shooting wrist during practice. Williams, who saw a big increase in playing time last season, is expected to miss a good portion of the season, if not the whole year.
Olukemi is a mystery. In 2010-11, he averaged 11.1 points and 4.1 rebounds a game while shooting 30% from three-point range. His best game of the year came against Iowa State when he exploded for 29 points and 8 rebounds, and won the game in overtime with a handful of clutch plays. In his limited time last year, he averaged just under 10 points a game, while grabbing 4.8 rebounds. His big issue will be responding from the knee injury he suffered last season. If he can do that, he'll provide a solid role at the forward position, something the Cowboys desperately need with Williams being out.
This is a cause for concern for Ford, but it will likely pan itself out as the year goes on. Philip Jurick came to Stillwater by way of junior college transfer before last season, and served as a defensive anchor for the Pokes in the middle last season before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury. Jurick has rehabbed the injury, and was practicing with the team at Media Day on Monday. Ford said that Jurick has greatly improved on his on-ball defense, but still needs to work on it when his player doesn't have the ball. An Achilles injury is tricky, and is hard to come back from in any sport. Ford expects him back sooner rather than later, but we'll keep an eye on him regardless.
Cobbins was redshirted in 2010-11 before playing his first year of eligibility last year due to injuries ahead of him on the depth chart. The sophomore provided the occasional spark for the Cowboys, but had a rough time due to his youth and being undersized both in the height and weight department. This season, Cobbins has hit the weight room and made sure he's ready for the physical play in the Big 12.
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Guard Kirby Gardner, 6'2, Junior
A transfer just before school started this fall, Gardner is a conventional pass-first point guard. Ford spoke highly of the junior, and said that he's made great strides in his game by playing against freshman Marcus Smart in practice. Ford said that initially, Smart overpowered Gardner, but now looks like one of the best guards he's seen. We'll see what kind of minutes he earns when the season starts, but he could be a valuable player off of the bench when Smart or Brown need a rest.
Forward Kamari Murphy, 6'8, Freshman
Murphy is a long, low-post player who should help the Cowboys in the rebounding department, a category they finished last in during Big 12 play a season ago. Ford doesn't expect much, as it's nearly impossible to make an impact in the low post as a freshman, but Murphy's rebounds off the bench might be the team's biggest asset in close games.
Guard Phil Forte, 5'11, Freshman
By all accounts, Forte is the reincarnation of former guard Keiton Page. Forte is a small guard with a knack for sinking three-pointers, and was the MVP of the Texas State Championship tournament in 2012 on Smart's high school team in Flower Mound. It's unknown how many minutes Ford expects Forte to contribute this season, but it will be tough to keep his three-point game on the bench in games that need a momentum-changing play.
Forward/Center Marek Soucek, 7'0, Sophomore
He was almost nonexistent last season, but the big man from the Czech Republic has had an offseason to prepare, and will likely be able to get on the floor a bit more this season. Ford loves his height, as he played him here and there last season in the low post (basically because he had no one else to play), but Soucek can also run the baseline and sink the occasional three, much like the Dallas Mavericks use of Dirk Nowitzki. Soucek is still a mystery to all outside of the program, but we'll likely see a little bit more from him this season.
Guard/Forward Brian Williams, 6'5, Sophomore
As stated before, Williams is expected to miss a large portion of the season with an injury to his non-shooting wrist. Williams emerged as one of the leaders and better players on the 2011-12 team, averaging 9.6 points and just over 3 rebounds during the season, but his biggest asset was on the defensive end, as he was easily OSU's best guard defender. It's not likely that he returns this year, but it's not out of the question either.
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