Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What The Heck Is Going On At Oklahoma?

Everybody knows about the complete rebuilding efforts going on at schools like USC and Rutgers, but probably the most under-reported disaster in NCAA Division I basketball right now is Oklahoma. Before I get to the details, let's first look at how good the team could have been heading into the 2010-11 season: Their 2007 recruiting class featured Blake Griffin; in 2008 they added Willie Warren, Ray Willis and Orlando Allen; in 2009 they added Tommy Mason-Griffin and Tiny Gallon; and they've got a quality 2010 recruiting class. Oklahoma fans are now banging their heads against the wall.

Of course, Blake Griffin left early for the 2009 NBA Draft, and then Willie Warren and Tommy Mason-Griffin left for the 2010 NBA Draft. Ray Willis and Orlando Allen transferred out, and it soon became very clear that Tiny Gallon was going to leave the program one way or the other. He made it official last night, declaring for the NBA Draft. And that brings us to the reason that Gallon was going to leave, which is growing evidence that Gallon accepted money from an agent before the season started.

So where does that leave us? In addition to a potential NCAA punishment, Oklahoma has only four returning scholarship players. The one returning starter is shooting guard Cade Davis, who will be the team leader. The other two returning players who were key contributors off the bench, as well as fairly good 2009 recruits, are shooting guard Steven Pledger and power forward Andrew Fitzgerald. The other returning scholarship player is 6'8" Kyle Hardrick, who was lightly recruited in '09 and played all of four minutes as a freshman. They also add transfer Barry Honore, a former SWAC Freshman of the Year at Southern, and two good recruits: swingman Cameron Clark and shooting guard T.J. Taylor. Just this past week they added one more player, with lightly recruited Tyler Neal (another small forward) signing. In my opinion that leaves them with five Big 12 quality players for 2010-11: Davis, Pledger, Fitzgerald, Honore and Clark. Fitzgerald and Honore will play down low, Clark will play small forward, and Davis and Pledger will play guard. The bench is going to be dreadfully thin, and the aforementioned five players will need to eat up a lot of minutes. The top priorities for Jeff Capel right now are finding a point guard and another big man, although there's not much talent left out there that Oklahoma is going to have any shot at.

But the elephant in the room is that looming scandal. Until it's resolved the team will suffer more transfers out and will struggle to recruit elite players. And if they come down with a serious punishment then it could mean even more problems, including the possible firing of Jeff Capel, depending on if he knew anything about these payments. And so Oklahoma will remain in limbo until this resolves itself.

If the scandal fizzes out then there's no question that with Capel at the helm and with the monetary commitment that the school has made to the basketball program that they'll be able to again recruit elite players and get to a high level. But it could be several years before they're back. If they can go 3-13 in the Big 12 but resolve this scandal without NCAA punishment then that will be a successful 2010-11 season for the Sooners.

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