Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
Je'lon Hornbeak is a young player who at times as struggled to find his identity on this Oklahoma Sooners squad. Thanks to a few events, both fortunate and unfortunate, Lon Kruger has this kid ready to maximize his potential as Hornbeak and on the verge of breaking out.
Something was amiss as Lon Kruger had been attempting to find the position best suited for the Oklahoma Sooners' freshman guard, Je'lon Hornbeak. Initially, this was an inexperienced kid who found himself taking on the majority of the ball handling as senior Point Guard Sam Grooms was relegated to coming off the bench. Through the non-conference schedule, this notion and idea was a pedigree for success as Isaiah Cousins proved to be a viable outside shooting threat.
All of that changed, as Oklahoma hit conference play. Over the past few years, the Big 12 Conference has garnered some attention as being one of the better basketball conferences in the nation. Of course, the perennial power Kansas Jayhawks are what most of the eyes are focused on. Yet, the Big 12 has produced solid first round draft talent like Perry Jones, Kevin Durant, and Blake Griffin from other schools not named Kansas.
Cousins was eventually dropped, after the Stephen F. Austin loss in order to promote Buddy Hield, a highly vocal and energetic player into the starting five. Hield quickly became a staple of this Sooners squad and a fan favorite of many. It was the energy and communication strengths that propelled this team to a few unforeseen victories. However, no change came for Hornbeak as he was still stuck will the ball handling responsibilities while his production suffered.
After shooting 100% from the field against in-state rival, the Oklahoma St. Cowboys and collecting eight points, Hornbeak became to backslide. The manifestation was realized as turnovers became commonplace, often times outnumbering the point total. It soon became clear that Hornbeak did not have the same vision of a player like Grooms and at times lacked the know how of getting the ball across the timeline on the collegiate level.
The backcourt began to experience some tinkering as Grooms was put into the starting group against the Iowa St. Cyclones. The result was a 19 point loss and back to the drawing board. This very well could have been the foreshadowing of Hornbeak relinquishing his ball handling duties. Next up, Cousins got his chance to prove his worth at point guard while Oklahoma down conference favorite, Kansas in stunning fashion.
Where was Hornbeak during all of this? Coach Kruger has made the executive decision to keep him on the bench while moving him over to a wing position. With the change came success for the budding freshman who netted seven points, two rebounds, and 2 assists in 16 minutes of play against the Jayhawks. Following the same formula against the TCU Horned Frogs, Hornbeak poured in nine points to go along side two rebounds, two assists, and two steals in 19 minutes of game time.
Subsquently, Hield would fracture his foot during the TCU game. As updates were made available, the team learned that Hield would be out for 4-6 weeks. The solution to the Hornbeak equation could not have come any sooner. Heading into a sold-out Gallagher-Iba Arena, the Sooners would need someone to pick up the slack in productivity of Hield's absence.
Oklahoma found their man at the wing in Je'lon Hornbeak as he finished with 10 points (3-of-6 from beyond the arc), three rebounds, and zero (yes you read that correctly, zero) turnovers! As it were, it appears that a natural position has become readily available for Hornbeak, who once struggled to find his identity on this squad. Over the past three games, this is a kid who is averaging 8.7 points per game, which coincidentally picks up exactly where Buddy left off!