Open practice is common for Oklahoma players
SPOKANE, Wash. — The University of Oklahoma went through its open practice Wednesday at the Spokane Arena in front of a few hundred spectators. It was a routine all eight teams in the West Region went through during the day.
For the Sooners, it probably seemed like just another day.
They’ve been practicing in front of family and friends all season — something head coach Lon Kruger said he’s been doing for 30 years.
“I kind of feel like it’s not our program,” he said. “It’s the community’s program, and it’s the university’s program, and I think it’s good for the players.”
What did the Spokane fans see?
A young team that isn’t playing so young anymore. The Sooners start three sophomores and a freshman with forward Cameron Clark the senior citizen of the bunch. Clark, a senior, is 20th in school history in scoring with 1,259 points and needs 20 points against North Dakota State to surpass Blake Griffin. He’s played in all 127 of OU’s games in his career.
“We’re still a young team, but we’ve all learned,” Clark said. “Our young players have made so much progress.”
Young players like 6-foot-4 sophomore guard Buddy Hield, who leads the team with 16.8 points per game. Clark, a 6-7 forward, is at 15.3 and Isaiah Cousins, a 6-4 sophomore guard, is at 10.8.
It’s a group that has accelerated the hopes of the Sooners program that had a losing record in the two years before Kruger arrived.
The sophomores in the lineup have played full-time for two years, although Kruger said at times it still feels like he’s coaching a young team.
“We’re still relatively young compared to North Dakota State,” he said, “who has got a lot of seniors, and obviously, have played very well together.”
NDSU may have the experience, but the Sooners have the recruiting edge with their players’ resumes. Clark was ranked the 32nd-best player in the country his senior year. Sophomore forward Ryan Spangler was a fourth-team Parade All-American.
Cousins was New York’s Section 1 Mr. Basketball and Hield was a Rivals.com four-star recruit who was ranked 86th nationally as a senior.
At Oklahoma, they’ve all had to play a lot right away.
“This roster seems young, but I think everyone on this team has played a lot of minutes and I think we’re starting to be a veteran group,” Spangler said.
The group has a different practice routine than many high-major programs across the country. Oklahoma reporters will tell you Kruger never swears and rarely even raises his voice — making it conducive for young kids to be around the players at any time.
“It allows us to show how much we appreciate them,” Spangler said. “We take pictures with them, just talk to them and let them shoot with us. It shows how much they appreciate us, and (it shows) how much we appreciate them.”