NORMAN — Oklahoma expects Cameron Clark to be its leading scorer. Its best rebounder is likely going to be forward Ryan Spangler. The presumptive leader in assists is freshman point guard Jordan Woodard.
Everything else hinges on sophomore guards Isaiah Cousins, Buddy Hield and Je’lon Hornbeak. Neither of the three enter the season with the expectation of being the best in any particular category. They just have to be good at everything.
They are the pillars OU coach Lon Kruger will lean on this season.
“They have all grown significantly,” Kruger said.
It’s that natural process coaches hope occurs for all players between their freshman and sophomore seasons. The game moves fast and the teachable moments fly at them daily.
They don’t learn from every single one of them, but they catch a lot. In the case of Cousins, Hield and Hornbeak, they played big minutes in big games and in difficult environments.
There were games when each played well and others when none of them did. Those situations create the all-important understanding of what it takes to win and what causes losses.
“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,” Kruger said.
OU doesn’t have a ton of players with full comprehension of that. Clark does. He’s a senior who’s been starting off and on since he was a freshman. But he joins senior forward Tyler Neal as the only upper classmen who’ve played for the Sooners.
The sophomore trio has to play with a wisdom beyond their years. They learned a lot from last season.
“With the grind of the season there are certain things to expect. You expect some losses, you expect some tough times and some bumps in the season,” Hornbeak said. “Now, I know how to get through that. I know to just keep grinding. Things are going to happen; it’s basketball. You’re not going to win every game or make every shot and last year I think I let that get to me. Now I feel like I’ve grown up a little bit.”
How much they’ve grown will be on display early this season. All three may not start, but two of the three will. The odd man out will likely be the first off the bench.
Last year, Kruger mainly asked them to defend and rebound. If they added offense, great. They’ll be asked to do the same this year, but all three must be bigger factors on the offensive end.
“I think everyone has added an element to their game,” Hield said. “I’ve been working on my jump shot and trying to be more aggressive. Isaiah has changed his jump shot and become more of a scorer now. Je’lon has worked at becoming a point guard. Everybody has done something to make progress for the team.”
They’re expected to display those traits beginning today. Last season they were the complementary pieces. This season they have to be reliable from the start while others can learn the lessons they did as first-year players.
“When things aren’t going your way you have to be able to keep your head and keep playing,” Cousins said. “We learned that last year.”
Follow me @john_shinn