The Norman Transcript

March 25, 2013

After tourney exit, Sooners looking ahead

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

PHILADELPHIA — After Romero Osby answered the last question Friday night, he asked the moderator if he could have the placard.

With that, the 6-foot-8 forward exited Oklahoma’s basketball stage after Friday night’s 70-55 loss to San Diego State. The job OU does replacing him will define whether it is able to sustain this season’s achievements.

“He’s one of the funnest players to play around and he’s done a great job,” forward Amath M’Baye said. “He gave his heart and soul to this program, and he’s an amazing player, probably one of the best college players I’ve seen and I’ve played with, and all credit to him and his work ethic. He’s been amazing. He’s been holding it up for us all season, and I just want to give him a lot of credit for that.”

Osby was much more than OU’s leading scorer and rebounder, he was its leader in the locker room and everywhere else this season. Finding a role model for how to get better was always easy — just watch and listen to Osby.

“What Ro has done in points, rebounds is pretty obvious, but in terms of setting that bar for leadership off the court, on the court, classroom, community, Amath will benefit greatly from that going forward,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “Young players that are fresh into the program benefit greatly from watching how Ro carried himself and how he represented — certainly as a player they appreciate what he did.

“But as much as he did there, they are also very appreciative of how he led them otherwise, too.”

Statistically voids can always be filled. It’s the other intangibles that aren’t as easy to find.

Nonetheless, the process has begun.

M’Baye is OU’s most athletically-gifted player, but there’s a major leap that must be made in terms of consistency. OU (20-12) went 0-3 in its final three games. M’Baye only scored 19 points in those three games.

He wasn’t the only player who struggled, but he has to become more reliable, or a lot more like Osby.

“Romero did an amazing job and it’s my job to get in the gym and get myself prepared to assume a role like that, and that’s what I’m going to do,” M’Baye said. “I have no doubt I’m going to be in the gym all summer working on my game and hopefully do the same thing.”

The Sooners lose 53.9 percent of their scoring, 87.7 percent of their rebounding and 50.2 of their assists played its last game with point guard Sam Grooms, shooting guard Steven Pledger and reserve forward Andrew Fitzgerald.

“This group did a remarkable job. They stated as a goal back in November and October that they wanted to play in the tournament. I don’t know that a lot of people really gave them a lot of attention to that, and yet they just kept grinding and kept improving,” Kruger said. “I think just the progress they’ve made is great for the program, just absolutely terrific. The freshmen are going to get better, the guys coming back, a couple guys sitting out, they’ll all benefit. They’ll all benefit from what these guys have done, and many of these guys are back even though we lose five seniors. Many of the guys that are back got key minutes in ballgames and they’ll benefit greatly.”

The long-term future of OU basketball resides with guards Je’lon Hornbeak, Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins. The freshmen trio had excellent games and were mixed in with some struggles. They were typical freshmen.

“We gained a lot of experience this season,” Hield said. “We have a lot confidence.”

The program took the step it had to this season. It finally got back in the NCAA tournament and that’s a level OU should be at every season.

OU’s front court will benefit from two players who spent the year in the practice gym. Ryan Spangler had to sit out after transferring in from Gonzaga. The 6-foot-8, 230-pounder will give OU a rebounding presence that will rival Osby’s effort on the glass. Junior to be D.J. Bennett redshirted after transferring in from Indian Hills (Iowa) Community. The 6-8 Bennett is still a raw product on the offensive end, but his ability to rebound and block shots will give the Sooners something it lacked this season.

Kruger has two players signed for next season. Edmond Memorial point guard Jordan Woodard will join big man Keshaun Hamilton from Labette (Kan.) Community College on the roster next season.

Woodard has the ability to become OU’s point guard of the future. Hamilton will add more size to the post.

Last week, OU picked up a commitment from Augusta (Ga.) Westside guard Frank Booker. The 6-foot-4 guard has a reputation for being an excellent outside shooter.

The Sooners still have a scholarship available, but next season’s team is pretty much in place.

“We’ve learned what it takes to get here and what it takes to win,” Hornbeak said. “We know we have to get better from here.”

John Shinn

Follow me @john_shinn

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