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November 14, 2012
The travelling men of Oklahoma State's basketball team took their talents international again on Tuesday.
Earlier this fall, it was a trip to Spain to face a few of the local teams there. This time, their destination was the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in Bayamon for a first-round match up with Akron.
"It's a lot of fun unless you're playing the hometown team," freshman guard Marcus Smart laughed. "You still get a little bit of cheers. Every basket that's scored they love and the chants they do are crazy. It feels like the whole place is on top of you, it's something you can't simulate in practice."
This trip will be a measuring stick for the Cowboys, as they're reeling from both early-season and lingering issues in their front court.
Forwards Brian Williams (wrist) and Michael Cobbins (foot) will not be available to play in the tournament, while center Phillip Jurick and forward Jean-Paul Olukemi will be somewhat limited as they continue rehabilitating from injuries suffered during last season's campaign.
With those injuries, rebounding issues arise for Oklahoma State, and any good basketball fan knows that grabbing rebounds is a huge part of the game.
"That's what coach (Travis Ford) brought me in to do," Smart said. "I'm 6'4, I'm an athletic guard, I'm not typical. He wants us to crash the boards instead of getting back like a normal guard. It's a real big deal for us."
The injuries have taken guards like Smart and Markel Brown out of their usual roles. Both of the players are used to the 1 or 2 spots, yet this season they're finding themselves guarding mid and low forwards on the opposite end.
"We have a team that can guard any spot," Smart said. "We may have trouble with (Phil Forte) and (Kirby Gardner) guarding those spots, but we can do it all."
The lone low-post forward left is freshman Kamari Murphy, who wasn't expected to contribute a ton this season, but has been thrust into a starting role already.
Murphy was the team's leading rebounder during their trip to Spain, and has shown promise in the first two match ups of this year.
"He's got a great future ahead of him, there's no question," Ford said. "He plays hard, brings us some size and athleticism around the rim."
Even with that presence down low that has seemingly surprised everyone, Ford knows how to play his hand with a freshman grabbing early playing time.
"What we don't want him to get caught up in his thinking this thing is easy because he's kind of fell into a spot," he said of Murphy. "When a freshman falls into a spot like he has, you don't want them to think that it's automatically theirs and they're going to get to play."
"There's a lot of things he has to learn in order for him to reach his potential. It's a lot harder to teach a guy that when he knows he's going to play."
Oklahoma State will face Akron on Thursday morning at 9:30 a.m., and will play again Friday morning at the same time or at noon, depending on the result of their first game. They are set to begin their trip home Monday morning, and will have their next home game a week from Sunday (November 25th) against Portland State at 1 p.m.
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