Still a lot of football left to be played, but it’s about that time for basketball to start for Oklahoma. And the start to year No. 3 of Lon Kruger.
OU is coming off a surprising trip to the NCAA tournament last season but with a cast of new characters the national expectations aren’t for the Sooners to make a return trip.
“Hard to believe it’s here already,” Kruger said. “This is a great time of year. We have a lot of minutes, rebounds and points to replace from a year ago. The guys work really hard. They are a bunch of gym rats. They love being in the gym and they love playing.”
OU begins the exhibition portion of its schedule 2 p.m. Saturday against Washburn in Norman. The Sooners got a quasi-start to this season with a five-game European trip during the summer. OU went 4-1 on the trip, losing the final game.
With this being a much different team out there with familiar names like Romero Osby, Steven Pledger and Sam Grooms all graduated, the trip was much needed for OU.
“With so many new guys and 10 days of practice, we had the opportunity to identify roles and try to develop an identity and personality of the team,” Kruger said. “It was a jumpstart on that more than anything else.”
It’s tough to identify those roles right now for the Sooners. The leadership mantle carried so well by Osby is going to have to be absorbed by somebody or a plethora of OU players.
Osby led by example and was a vocal presence for the team. It might take a while before the Sooners find that vocal leader.
“Naturally, with Cam (Clark) and Tyler (Neal) being seniors they have done a nice job,” Kruger said. “Cam is not the most vocal, but he brings it every day in practice. All of the other guys appreciate how hard he works.”
The frontcourt will look a lot different as Ryan Spangler and D.J. Bennett will both get a chance to play after sitting out last year.
But the strength of this team appears to be in the backcourt. Three sophomores and two freshmen anchor the guards, a spot the Sooners should be strong at for some time to come.
It starts with the sophomore trio of Isaiah Cousins, Je’lon Hornbeak and Buddy Hield.
“The period between freshman year and sophomore year often times is one of big change,” Kruger said. “Coming out of high school you don’t really know what to expect. And after going through Big 12 basketball for a year, you focus a little differently in preparation for the next year with how fast the game is and how big and strong the opponents are.
“Je’lon, being a combo guard, will probably play a little more point than he did last year. Isaiah will play a lot more wing. Buddy has gotten bigger and stronger.”
And lookout for Frank Booker and Jordan Woodard, especially Woodard.
“Jordan will figure into the rotation right off the bat,” Kruger said. “He’s a true point guard. He’s very quick off the dribble and likes to push it, which fits right in line with what we like to do.
“He’s a scoring point guard which we love. He’s able to create for others and is very active defensively as well. He has a very good blend of skills that should translate very well into Big 12 play.”
The only injury of note right now is Bennett. A slight tendon tear will keep him out of the lineup for both exhibition games. Kruger said he hopes Bennett will be ready to play against Alabama in the season opener Nov. 8 in Dallas.