NORMAN — Lon Kruger has a four-decade reputation of rebuilding programs. The job he begins after his second season at Oklahoma got a little tougher this week.
Amath M’Baye’s decision to forgo his final year of eligibility caught OU off guard. It leaves OU in the precarious spot of having to replace four of its five starters from this past season — Romero Osby, Steven Pledger, Sam Grooms and now M’Baye — and without the scorer it planned to build next season’s team around.
Kruger wasn’t hitting the panic button after M’Baye’s decision Wednesday.
“Amath would have played minutes that are now available to others,” he said.
Ryan Spangler and D.J. Bennett are both coming out of redshirt seasons. Cameron Clark seemed like he was ready for a bigger role this season. He now has one.
Clark, who averaged 6.5 points a game this season, is the one player on OU’s current roster who can pose a serious matchup problem. He’s quick enough to get around big forwards and big enough to post up smaller ones.
“I think Cam is going to have a breakout year. I really do,” Kruger said. “He’s just got so much there. He became a really good shooter this year. He’s still more comfortable inside and catching it than catching it 25 feet out and attacking, based on results. But I think that versatility will be there next year. He’ll be able to do a little of both. We expect him to have a great year.”
But OU will look drastically different because of the absence of Osby and M’Baye. Both could drag low post players away from the basket. The Sooners were built around that advantage this season.
Spangler and Bennett are both the kind of traditional low-post players OU lacked this season. But neither is going to blow by a defender or make 3-point shots.
“Our bigs this year were so mobile. Our drive and kick and our penetration was more from our bigs than our wings. That’s something we’ll make a big priority for our wings, being able to drive the ball, get into seams, make plays off the dribble and do things we didn’t do too much of this year,” Kruger said. “I think our perimeter guys are capable of doing that next year. They’ll be more likely to do that than our bigs. This year the roles are kind of reversed.”
Make no mistake, having guards Buddy Hield, Je’lon Hornbeak and Isaiah Cousins back for their sophomore seasons is big for the Sooners. The trio all showed they can help OU get to an elite level. All three had the inconsistent stretches that freshmen typically have.
They will be better next season.
The Sooners have three scholarships still available for the April signing period. OU has a commitment from Augusta, Ga., guard Frank Booker, but he will likely be the last player the Sooners sign for next season.
Kruger said the other open scholarships could be used on at least one transfer currently on a Division I roster.
“At this point in time it’s not like there’s a big pool out there. The transfer pool starts becoming more clear at this point,” he said. “Now is when young guys from other programs talk about leaving. That’s a possibility, not that we have anything earmarked there at all. That starts taking shape here the next few weeks.”
If the Sooners do bring in a transfer, he wouldn’t be eligible until the 2014-15 season.
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