Lon Kruger's Oklahoma Sooners hit the hardwood tomorrow in their exhibition opener against Washburn and the OU head coach was kind enough to sit down for a few minutes and talk some hoops with us. With the regular season quickly approaching, there are multiple questions about the latest edition of the men's basketball team and we addressed a whole bunch of them.
CCM: From what we saw during your summer practices and the way the team played on the Europe tour, it looks like you guys are going to try to push the tempo this year.
Coach Kruger: "Our personnel this year lends itself to push the pace a little bit and try to be active defensively. Rebounding is going to be a big concern because we're not very big but we've got to do a good job at being active on the boards and have all five guys get back there and be involved in the rebounding part of it."
Coach Kruger: "The summer was good for all three of those guys. They all made significant progress and they're all three gym rats who love being in the gym. Coming of a year, as freshmen, where they got a lot of experience in Big Twelve play, they contributed a lot to the success of last year's team and then in the off season they've worked on improving their game even further."
CCM: Is Cam Clark an x-factor for you because of his versatility on the offensive end of the floor?
Coach Kruger: "Cam is a big key for us! Not only with the pace (of the game) but with his ability to be versatile on both ends of the floor. He needs to be a big time rebounder for us and he needs to score for us. He's going to be involved in every part of the game on both ends of the floor, so he's a huge key."
CCM: I know that he spent the summer working on his jump shot. How much has he improved from mid-range?
Coach Kruger: "A lot. Cam spent a ton of time in the gym and it's shown in early season practices. He's shooting the ball very well and his range has improved and his confidence has improved, so we need him to be aggressive on both ends."
CCM: Two guys that I think Oklahoma fans are going to have a lot of fun watching are freshmen Jordan Woodard and Frank Booker, who I believe will be impact players this season. What can you tell us about them?
Coach Kruger: "Both guys benefited greatly from the trip (to Europe). Jordan is a true point guard who had very good coaching with Coach Cowherd at Edmond Memorial so he knows how to play. He's a guy that's thinking about his teammates all the time and he's a scoring point guard, so we like that a lot.
Frank Booker comes in with a reputation of being able to shoot it and he's done a good job of that in practice. Last week he probably has as good a week of practice as he's had all year so if they continue to make progress I agree with you, I think both of those guys are going to play significant minutes as freshmen."
CCM: Is it fair to compare Frank Booker to a guy like Steven Pledger?
Coach Kruger: "They're different. Both have that tag first as being shooters and certainly they're similar in that way."
CCM: I heard a local media guy describe Ryan Spangler as being a poor man's Romero Osby. I couldn't disagree more because, while not being as physical as Osby, he's able to contribute is some different was while also having the ability to impact the game under the basket. Do you feel that's a fair statement?
Coach Kruger: "Ryan does a good job in a lot of different areas. He runs the floor very well, he's a very good rebounder and he's a guy that will be a good leader for us, even as a sophomore. All four of our sophomores will provide good leadership for us but he's that great attitude and work ethic and the other players really appreciate that. He's a lot like Osby in that sense for sure."
CCM: People are going to look at your roster and they're going to see two seniors, a bunch of sophomores and some freshmen. You guys are deceptively experienced though with the amount of playing time your young guys got last season though.
Coach Kruger: "That's exactly accurate and I think that's a great way to put it. People today play so much basketball coming out of high school in the summer circuits. They're not like freshmen were year's ago where it took some time to really get comfortable. They're still freshmen and they'll get better as sophomores, but still, freshmen today are much more advanced to what they were ten years ago."
CCM: I have to ask you about a couple of injuries real quick. How has Buddy Hield recovered from his summer foot injury and what's the latest on forward D.J. Bennett?
Coach Kruger: "Buddy had surgery and is doing really well. There are no problems at all and we're very pleased about that. D.J. Bennett had a slight tendon tear a couple of weeks ago and he's missed the last ten or twelve days. He'll probably miss the next week or so, it's kind of hard to say, but he's doing very well, responding very well, and making the progress that we want to see."
CCM: You've got two exhibition games, Saturday and then Monday, and then it gets real with Alabama in the opener. What are you looking to see in your squad in the two games against Washburn and Oklahoma Christian?
Coach Kruger: "We want to get them in front of fans and see if we can transfer from practice to a game. It's a little bit different when you're lining up all of a sudden against other bodies after running into each other for the last couple of months. They really need to play someone else and see more opposition and more game like situations."
CCM: Size up the Big Twelve for us. What are you expecting in conference play compared to your first two seasons at Oklahoma?
Coach Kruger: "It'll be a very tough conference again. Just like the last couple of seasons, the early projections are Kansas, Oklahoma State and maybe Baylor with all the guys they're returning. It's totally understandable with those three being at the top the league in preseason predictions. The other seven though I think have good balance and will fight like crazy to get into the top three and we'll have a chance to do that."
We can't say thank you enough to Coach Kruger for his time, the way he's embraced the fans at Oklahoma and, most importantly, for turning the basketball program around in such a short time frame. There's no doubt that this season will be every bit as entertaining as his previous two have been.