NORMAN — Oklahoma basketball coach Jeff Capel arrived at his office at 5:30 a.m. Monday for the first of two practices. About 10 minutes later, he was stunned.
“By 5:40, I think every guy on our team was out on the floor,” Capel said. “I was shocked to see that and really happy about that. These guys have had the right attitude every day.”
That is expected to be the biggest change in Oklahoma basketball from last season to this season. The Sooners aren’t shy about putting in the work.
Capel talked about it Tuesday during his team’s media day at Lloyd Noble Center. His players echoed it.
“We all push each other,” guard Steven Pledger said. “We all push each other to see who can get to the gym first, who can get to the locker room first, who can shoot the most shots. We push ourselves in every aspect of the day.”
It’s the kind of competitiveness that was missing last season. A year ago, the Sooners seemed like a collection of individuals more than 12 guys sharing a common visiion on the way to a 13-18 season. Turning that mindset around is one thing OU’s counting on for this season.
Exhibition play begins at 7 p.m. Nov. 2 against Northern State, but that change has already taken hold.
“Everyone is unselfish,” guard Cade Davis said. “We care about the team. We care about the program. We care about getting better as a team.”
The Sooners only have four scholarship players back from last season’s roster. They only had six going through workouts last spring. Both those who were still around made a decision.
“We’re not going to have another season like this,” guard Steven Pledger said. “I didn’t come to college, I didn’t come here to play for coach Capel, I didn’t come to the University of Oklahoma to play like we played last year. We wanted to change all that up.”
When nine new players started arriving over the summer, the goal was to integrate them into a culture where anything less than hard work is unacceptable.
Capel’s been pleased with the outcome.
“”Our guys are being very consistent with how hard they work, their attitudes and their willingness to listen and learn and try to improve each day, and that’s the first step to becoming a better team,” he said. “To have an attitude in which you want to learn and in which you want to be better, these guys have been the epitome of that.”
They need to be.
OU will enter this season without a McDonald’s All-American on the roster for the first time since 2006. Of course, the Sooners had three last season and suffered a losing season
The Sooners did bring in talent.
Freshman guard/forward Cameron Clark was a consensus top 40 recruit. Point guard T.J. Taylor was a consensus top 100 player. Junior college forward C.J. Washington was a first-team NJCAA All-American.
“We are going to have to play harder than everyone to put ourselves in positions to win basketball games,” Capel said. “We aren’t just going to out-talent teams. That’s not who we are. It’s not to say that we aren’t talented. We have to be a team that outworks you and does all the little things better than you.”
The Sooners sound like they’re buying in.
John Shinn 366-3536 email@example.com