We should all be so lucky to have a team full of Keitons.

Don’t misunderstand…I’m not wishing for a starting rotation of 5′ 8″ guards.

I’m wishing for 5 guys who will work hard EVERY practice, and bring 110% every game, every minute they are on the floor.

Talent is wonderful, but effort is the great equalizer.

Give me mediocre talent that gives great effort and I’ll show you a BUNCH of wins over teams with great talent that give questionable effort.

Character and desire are often overlooked in the quest for talent.

Want to see what effort gets you? Take a look at Justin Blackmon and Dez Bryant. Talk about opposite ends of the spectrum. Dez Bryant, without question, has more physical ability than Justin Blackmon. But JB brings it 100+% every time. Practice. Game. Doesn’t matter.

That is why Blackmon left college as one of the greatest WR’s to ever play the game. Could single-handedly take over a game. Almost unheard of.

Keiton Page should have his jersey retired.

This kid from Pawnee, OK, lived his dream. Short in stature, but with the heart of a giant. Never quit, never said “Well, I’ll play my role because I’ll never be good enough to be the man.”

How ’bout his last five games?

This should be rewarded.

Enough of only holding up for praise and admiration the guy who scores 20+ every game and helps lead your team to tournament play and possibly championships. Sometimes a player comes along who embodies EVERYTHING that is good about sports, and just because he doesn’t qualify as one of the most exciting athletes to wear the school colors, we say “Oh, that kid, we really loved him. We will miss him, but he really wasn’t that great.”

Ok, fine. You need something to hang your hat on? Keiton Page is the greatest individual on the court “leader” that OSU has ever had. Leaders do what is necessary. Page could answer all those calls. Play point, run the offense, handle the ball, keep things calmed down. Score if necessary. I really like Gottlieb, incredible handler and passer, but he couldn’t throw it in the ocean.

Did he have the talent to carry this team? No. Did he have the will to carry this team? Ten times yes.

Give me 8 kids like that, and I’ll win a championship if the chips fall right. Give me 8 kids like that, a couple of whom have the talent, and I’ll win championships. Period.

Keiton Page deserves to be recognized as one of OSU basketball’s all-time Cowboys.

 

Travis Ford and the complexities of coaching.

Coaching is more art than science. Some would argue it’s ALL art. Some would say it is the world of the mad scientist.

Whatever it is for Travis Ford, I wish he would figure it out, because many of us on the outside feel like we have a pretty good idea.

For me, it seems pretty obvious that Ford is a pretty good evaluator of talent, except for some strange reason with point guards. We will see if Marcus Smart changes that idea.

He seems to have embraced the “Mike Gundy” approach to talent evaluation…value character more than ability. While ejecting some dissatisfied players, nobody mouthed off about the program, and the ones that stayed have played hard and towed the company line.

But, in my amateur opinion, when it comes to putting players on the floor and drawing up x’s and o’s, he ain’t so hot.

Basketball is, in my opinion, the greatest example of the mesh between individual and team sports. Just enough players that they have to work like a group, but just few enough that a great individual can take over the action. Players know AND value their individual roles and how those roles benefit the team as a whole.

And the goal is for the TEAM to win games.

When I was coaching, I didn’t care one bit about egos. Don’t get me wrong, I cared about how the players felt, but if you were going to get your feelings hurt because you weren’t happy with your playing time or opportunities to score, I had one answer…work harder and prove you are worthy of the opportunity. I wanted athletes that valued ANYTHING they could do to help the team, regardless of how it appeared on a stat sheet. Show me the willingness to do whatever was necessary for the team to be successful and other opportunities would arise.

My main job as a coach was to figure out what combination of players provided the right mix to create a “flow.” Movement away from the ball…communication and help…a group of players that, when on the floor together, were connected to each other.

And at least one person in that group had to be a leader, and that person was preferably the point guard.

Coach Ford had three, none of which seemed to fully satisfy him, resulting in a rotating door of point guards. This equals bad unless all the PG’s have the same style of play. Dowell, Gulley, Guerrero….uhhhhhh, no. Add to that a freshman everybody raved about, but who Ford could not figure out how to incorporate his talent into the “flow,” and schizophrenic would be the kind description of the OSU offensive identity.

How you set your rotation depends on the identity of the team…

Defections and injuries paired the rotation down to the point that Ford had no choice but to continuously play a certain group of players, and PRESTO….we have an identity, we start to see a flow.

And we start to see some wins. One against a top 5 team.

The Cowboys start protecting GIA.

Actually ended the conference road losing streak.

Now we start to see what we should see from a VERY young group of players…inconsistency. Bad halves followed by spectacular halves. The ability, for periods of time, to go toe to toe with the toughest opponent.

And a leader emerged, and predictably, he was a senior.

And that is why he often ran the point, despite the fact that he was NOT the best option at that position. And also the reason why he set the record for minutes played.

Then, suddenly, disaster struck. The star freshman (Nash) fractures a bone in his non-shooting hand.

OMG, THE SEASON IS SUNK!

Really? The team was struggling to reach a .500 record. Post season play? (channeling Jim Mora)

Then a funny thing happened on the way to a shrinking rotation…

Three bench players, knowing significant minutes would be required, stepped into the identity of the team and embraced their roles.

Result? First blowout win over anyone with a Div I basketball program since….

I like Travis Ford. Seems like a genuine guy who loves basketball and his players. The players seem to like him, and want to play hard for him.

He seems to know talent, and has succeeded in bringing some of that talent to Stillwater.

But it seems to me that he is demonstrating that he doesn’t know how to put that talent on the floor.

Unless Coach Ford is planning on bringing North Carolina, Duke or Kansas caliber talent at every position to GIA, then he better figure out how to mold the pieces he has into a “flow” on the court.

If he doesn’t, then it will be up to Marcus Smart, Phil Forte, and the returning players…and there is a reason they are called players…and there is a reason we have coaches…

Good coaches get players to overachieve…players tend to underachieve in a vacuum of leadership.

Let’s hope next season brings the first.

GO POKES!!!

Now, about that schedule…

Much has been written about the schedule that FINALLY came out, thanks to WVU and the Big East for finally working out the inevitable.

So, without a lot of hocus pocus, here are my amateur thoughts on the upcoming 2012 slate of opponents…

  1. Sept. 1 – Savannah State…Have to agree with Pistols Guy on this one. Given the QB situation, what better way to start the season than with an opponent that would allow for some experimentation, if necessary, and definitely provide a soft environment for the new QB’s to get their feet wet.
  2. Sept. 8 – at Arizona…Experiment over. QB decision needs to be made. This will be our first true taste of what life will be like without Weeden2Blackmon.
  3. Sept. 15 – Louisiana…Ok, what should be a nice break before the bye week. But anyone with a decent memory recalls recent struggles with teams like this, so don’t take anything for granted. The atmosphere for this game will depend GREATLY on what happened the week before.
  4. Sept. 29 – Texas…The goods news is OSU will have had 3 games and a bye week to get things in order before playing one of the best defenses in the conference. We will also have some idea as to the improvement, if any, for our defense…the one that was gouged for over 200 yds rushing last year in Austin. Here’s hoping the turnovers keep coming. Oh, and think about this…any one of our 3 QB’s could step in and start for the Longhorns.
  5. Oct. 13 – at Kansas…At first glance, this will be only slightly more competitive than last year’s massacre in Stillwater. The Pokes have another bye to recover from UT and prep for the Jayhawks. At second glance, I have no clue what to think about this game. Weis is definitely a better coach than Gill (I think), and they do have some athletes. Even still, probably an easy win for OSU.
  6. Oct. 20 – Iowa State…If the Cowboys don’t DEMOLISH the Cyclones on shere principal, I will be sorely disappointed.
  7. Oct. 27 – TCU…Who the heck knows. Patterson is a good coach, but even without the drug scandal, the Frogs will be making their way through a MUCH tougher season. Not a gimme, but OSU should take care of business at home.
  8. Nov. 3 – at Kansas State…The Cowboys could very easily be 6-0 when they arrive in Manhattan. Reality, however, comes a callin’ on Nov 3rd, 2012. This game starts a BRUTAL home stretch for OSU that could easily result in a 7-5 record. Wonder what the Wildcat’s attitude will be coming into this game? Any guesses? This will be the true indicator of whether or not the Cowboys are rebuilding or simply reloading.
  9. Nov. 10 – West Virginia…Depending on what leads up to this game and the opposing schedules on that weekend, if this isn’t the sight for ESPN Gameday people at the mothership need to be fired. Red Bull Express returns to Stilly. Seriously.
  10. Nov. 17 – Texas Tech…The Red Raiders will definitely show up ready to make amends for the slaughter in Lubbock at the hands of OSU. Their efforts should result in a slightly less embarrassing beat down.
  11. Nov. 24 – at Oklahoma…All we need to remember for an indicator of what’s in store when the Cowboys head to Norman…44-10. This will be a brawl.
  12. Dec. 1 – at Baylor…DANGER! DANGER! DANGER! RG3 is gone. Kendall Wright is gone. But Briles has proven he can recruit and win. I hate not playing OU for the last regular season game…this is ripe for a let down, and Baylor will be fired up.

This all depends, of course, on what happens…to the QB’s, injuries, what other teams turn out to be. Hard to really put anything meaningful in writing because it could all completely change BEFORE anyone has played a single game.

The potential for this season is at the extremes…things better than expected, breaks going our way, and we could be looking at another undefeated run. Flip that, and OSU could easily be 7-5. Three of our last 5 games are on the road (KSU, OU, Baylor)…I think I recall those being the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th best teams in the conference in 2011.

Last season I thought OSU’s schedule, while considered rough by many, played greatly in their favor after the A&M game. The upcoming season has a whole different flavor for me right now.

But, we have a LONG way to go before any of this really starts to take shape. For now, I’ll eagerly anticipate the start of spring practice.

GO POKES!!!

The tough road ahead in 2012.

I said in a post last year (which, of course, I can’t find so I could link here and be really smart) that OSU’s schedule was not as bad as so many experts thought.

Well, this year I go the other way, with some hesitation.

The biggest factor will not be the schedule.

It will be the quarterback…and maybe the wide receivers.

I posted more than once last season that we knew we would miss Weeden next season, we would have no idea how much until it actually happened. Get ready, it’s about to happen.

I have been feeling bad for the current crop of QB’s in Stillwater. Clint Chelf has been the dutiful backup, patiently waiting his turn.

JW Walsh was heavily recruited and highly regarded by the Cowboys, but as the ESPN special showed last fall, his arm wasn’t ready for the pass heavy system OSU deploys.

Wes Lunt enrolled early, and everyone knows what he did in Illinois during high school.

High profile, championship programs are lucky to have ONE workable backup. The Cowboys look to have 3. One of these guys is going to feel REALLY left out, and could easily transfer. But that is what happens with championship programs. Not all the recruited talent gets to be a star.

Gundy has demonstrated the willingness to stick with a QB not capable of running the offense instead of handing the keys to a QB that showed moxy and a winning attitude in saving a season (see injured Robinson/Cate vs Weeden, 2009).

If I am anxious about anything, it is about the QB position.

We have running backs galore. We have WR’s coming out of our ears. We’ve got returning leaders, as well as highly regarded recruits, on defense. We have the college guru of offensive line coaches.

But we never had anyone like Weeden at QB. He wasn’t recruited…he was a walk-on. A walk-on who was 3rd string until that fateful Thursday night in 2009. Even then, Gundy stuck with a completely debilitated Robinson to finish the two most important games (at that time) in OSU football history.

The schedule will be whatever the schedule will be. Nobody knows how teams are going to turn out, so knowing more about the schedule will have to wait until the end of September.

We will know about our QB before then.

And I hope we are smiling…

GO POKES!!!

Revisiting an earlier assessment of Coach Ford and the Cowboys

Some time ago, while the Cowboys were wallowing their way through the first half of their season, I wrote this.

What a difference a few players make…a few less players.

Coach Ford was absolutely befuddled in attempting to find a combination of players that resulted in chemistry.

The departing players helped him out with that.

Left with no choice but to give Page a break at the point, and having to sit an uncooperative, immature Guerrero, OSU ended up with their own version of the human highlight reel at point guard…and started looking like a TEAM that had some idea what they were doing as a TEAM…on both ends of the floor…

Forced to play unheralded teammates due to foul trouble, we suddenly discovered what could be the best pure shooting stroke in the conference in Soucek. Too bad he averages 1 foul every trip down the floor.

Add to that an injury to Jurick and continued issues with Guerrero, and the main players…Page/Brown/Williams/Cobbins/Nash…are logging a lot of minutes, even in foul trouble.

Sometimes “baptism by fire” yields excellent results…this seems to be one of those times.

Brown is proving more than serviceable at the point, providing a threat off the dribble. This threat is simple, but very deadly…beat his man off the dribble, and the defense must help or give up an easy basket. Help, and if teammates don’t identify and rotate quick enough, an easy dish leads to a layup or wide open shot. Page/Williams/Nash/Cobbins have feasted on many of these situations.

BTW…Brown can elevate…REALLY elevate. Just google Markel Brown. Enough said.

This revelation came in a loss at Iowa State. (I won’t talk about how losing at Iowa State sucks)

It continued with a HUGE win over Missouri in GIA. That was #4 ranked Missouri…

It should have continued with a win at A&M, but the Cowboys couldn’t hit a bull in the ass with a handful of rice. Old Confucius saying…”Ball that does not go in basket in sport that counts points for ball going in basket usually results in less points than opponent.”

OSU didn’t miss a beat…and was very fortunate…in visiting the worst team in the league in Lubbock, bringing home their first Big 12 road win since the 2009-10 season.

They almost caught the magic again, losing a close game at home to #6 Baylor.

Iowa State, after taking away a likely road win with a buzzer beating, dagger 3 in Ames, got to be a part of LOTS of highlight reel stuff in GIA. Nash paid them back with a beautiful catch-dribble-fade away game winner with 4 seconds left. Brown and Williams were dunk-o-licious, inspiring #LobStilly t-shirts. OSU put FOUR players in double figures.

The Cowboys have a tall order on Saturday, traveling to Lawrence, where they haven’t won since 1989.

But Cowboy Nation now believes…just as I said they would…because OSU is giving it EVERYTHING they have…1 possession at a time, 110% every possession…

And all this from a team with a coach that couldn’t figure out the rotation. It took 2 established point guards leaving the program to get things moving. Here’s a given in team sports…CHEMISTRY IS EVERYTHING.

Rotating QB’s doesn’t work…constantly shifting starting lineups is a recipe for exactly what we saw in the first half of the season. Ford should have picked a group and stuck with them until they proved they couldn’t “get it.” Instead, players had to defect to produce a situation where Ford had no choice…and guess what…a funny thing happened on the way to the gym….CHEMISTRY…

There’s a lot left to the season. If the Cowboys don’t run out of gas due to the minutes, they will keep Ford’s coaching seat at a comfortably lukewarm temp, allowing us to see if the addition of another very high profile recruit can restore GIA basketball to it’s proper place.

If that’s what they manage to accomplish, I’m all in.

GO POKES!!!

Trash talking and the current state of Cowboy basketball.

Nash says it is “Upset Saturday.”

Our star freshman tweeted that comment this morning.

Really? On the road at #4 Baylor….

I replied “One possession at a time. 110% every possession. GO GET ‘EM!”

My unheard comment…”If you are going to call for Upset Saturday, then I better see you flying around the floor like this is your last game of basketball EVER.”

With all the drama of departing troops creating a manpower shortage, this was a fairly brave comment from someone who has yet to play at full power for the entire time he is on the floor. We have seen flashes, even some sustained production, but then again we still see periods of uninspired play, and noticeable absences at the end of games when the result is still in question.

Loved the article about Coach Ford actually throwing on some gear and attempting to show his players exactly what it was he wanted them to do. Wish he was in better physical condition to do that more often. I used to do that.

Had a chance to coach on several levels, but my favorite was a private HS JV boys team. Was fortunate to have a couple of good young athletes, but the rest were like me when I was in HS…not really good athletes, but generally good attitudes. All I ever preached was team….be a team…ALL the time…even off the court.

The stars knew who they were, and the role players knew who they were. And we ALL knew our team’s identity…NOBODY would ever beat us because we didn’t give 110%. Relentless. NEVER stop trying to do your best.

We were 12-0 before our first loss to a very small “special” private school varsity team. We found ourselves 14-1 when we traveled to play our hated rival, Brunswick (the KU of our league).

We were down 19 at the end of the 1st quarter.

In the huddle, without yelling or pointing fingers, I remember saying “One possession at a time. 110% every possession. GO GET ‘EM!”

We came within a last second missed 3 of tying the game.

One of the starters, who had fouled out in the final seconds, kicked over his chair on the sideline.

He was suspended for the next game. No tolerance for bad sportsmanship. He, and everyone else, understood.

When Brunswick came to our house, I thought my boys were going to have to be restrained. You would have thought Brunswick had massacred all their families. It was the night after my son was born.

Back in the hospital after the big win.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We handled them easily, eventually winning by 10 with the outcome never really in question. First time anyone could remember either the varsity or jv beating Brunswick. And it was all because of attitude. We ended the season 18-3.

So here’s my advice for the Cowboys…

Play hard, every possession. And even if you don’t know where you are going, go there at 110%. Never stand still, always know where your teammates are, and NEVER give up anything easy.

Effort is EVERYTHING. Too many other things you can’t control, so focus on the one thing that can bring the most basic and profound satisfaction…effort. In games AND in practice. Effort.

Do that, and Cowboy Nation will respond.