Nov. 3, 2004
Down in Oklahoma Sooners Country, it's a nerve-wracking time. There are concerns that Bob Stoops' name is surfacing for other job openings, especially in Gator Country if Steve Spurrier doesn't return to Gainesville. Florida AD Jeremy Foley liked Stoops, a former Florida assistant, before Ron Zook ended up with the job.
Wait a minute, let's stop talking football. Let's talk hoops ... and in Norman, the name of coach Kelvin Sampson pops up. Sampson has to be excited about Oklahoma's prospects for the upcoming season after his Sooners won 20 games last season and finished .500 in the tough Big 12. Oklahoma missed the NCAA Tournament, though, going instead to the NIT.
One reason for excitement in Norman is the addition of 6-foot-8 Taj Gray, one of the nation's premier juco players last season. Gray, who averaged a double-double last season, is the unanimous choice by Big 12 coaches as the league's preseason Newcomer of the Year.
Gray should have an immediate impact for the Sooners -- his explosiveness should help up front. I feel that he will make big noise out of the gate.
Oklahoma should go at a faster pace, going more to the transition game and taking advantage of the quickness and penetration ability of super soph Drew Lavender. This season Lavender won't be relied on as heavily in the scoring department, performing as a distributor making key decisions with the rock.
The Sooners are excited to have Kevin Bookout return after season-ending shoulder surgery in early February. Bookout gives Oklahoma a solid baseline performer who can really dominate on the glass.
With Lawrence McKenzie and Jaison Williams in the backcourt and Johnnie Gilbert and Larry Turner up front, this is a deeper and stronger Oklahoma squad.
Sampson and Stoops are quite a combination ... it doesn't get much better than that.
The Sooners will have a number of tests by mid-December. There's the Great Alaska Shootout -- other teams at the event include Washington, Alabama and Utah -- plus a challenge against Duke.
It should be another exciting season in Norman. Oklahoma has the talent to get back to the NCAA Tournament after falling short a season ago.
Wow, Sampson and Stoops are quite a combination -- it doesn't get much better than that. They can match their success with any basketball-football duo in America, unless Steve Spurrier goes back to Gainesville. Then a Spurrier- Billy Donovan tandem would be right up there.
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in December 1979. Send him a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.