Nov. 17, 1999

NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma begins its 1999-2000 regular season at the eight-team Top of the World Classic in Fairbanks, Alaska, this weekend. Though the tournament begins with a pair of games Thursday, the Sooners don't hit the court until Friday when they take on Montana State at midnight CST. OU will face either George Washington or Indiana State at 5:15 or 11 p.m. on Saturday, and on Sunday will play California, Houston, TCU or tournament host Alaska-Fairbanks. Sunday's 4 p.m. CST championship game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports Net. All three of Oklahoma's games will be broadcast on the Sooner Basketball Radio Network (flagship KOMA 1520 AM in Oklahoma City). Mark Mathew (play-by-play) and Mike Houck (analyst) will call the action.

About Montana State

Under the direction of 10th-year Head Coach Mick Durham, Montana State has recorded five straight winning seasons and is coming off a 16-13 campaign. The Bobcats, who tied for third in the Big Sky Conference with a 9-7 mark last year, return starters Jeff Riggs and John Lazosky. A senior guard, Riggs averaged 9.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game last year while Lazosky, a junior forward, compiled averages of 7.1 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists per contest.

Montana State split its two exhibition games, beating Mount Gambier Nov. 4 (108-81) and falling to Ural Great, one of Russia's top professional teams, Nov. 12 (99-86). Lazosky averaged 16.0 points over the two games to lead the team in scoring, while junior forward Germaine Chase paced the squad in rebounding with 6.0 boards per outing.

Player Personnel (Exhibition Averages)

OKLAHOMA PROBABLE STARTERS                 PPG     RPG   APG

F    5   Nolan Johnson (6-4, 215, Jr.)     11.0    8.5   1.5   

F   21   Eduardo Najera (6-8, 240, Sr.)    24.5    8.5   3.0

C   33   Renzi Stone (6-10, 250, Sr.)       6.0    7.0   1.5

G   11   J.R. Raymond (6-2, 175, So.)      13.0    0.0   2.5

G   14   Tim Heskett (6-1, 185, Jr.)       11.0    0.5   1.0

MONTANA STATE PROBABLE STARTERS PPG RPG APG F 24 Aaron Rich (6-6, 205, So.) 12.5 5.5 3.0 F 52 John Lazosky (6-7, 230, Jr.) 16.0 3.0 2.0 C 44 Kyle Stirmlinger (6-10, 245, So.) 6.5 3.0 1.5 G 10 Jeff Riggs (5-10, 170, Sr.) 9.5 3.0 4.5 G 20 Justin Brown (6-4, 175, So.) 13.5 2.0 3.0

Oklahoma Versus the Field

ALASKA-FAIRBANKS
Series: First meeting

CALIFORNIA
Series: Tied at 1-1
Last Meeting: California won, 108-81, in 1966 in Berkeley

GEORGE WASHINGTON
Series: Tied at 1-1
Last Meeting: OU won, 32-28, in 1941 in Washington, D.C.

HOUSTON
Series: OU leads 1-0
Last Meeting: OU won, 55-51, in 1960 in Houston

INDIANA STATE
Series: OU leads 2-1
Last Meeting: OU won, 65-55, in 1973 in Terre Haute

MONTANA STATE
Series: First meeting

TCU
Series: OU leads 9-1
Last Meeting: OU won, 78-73, in 1991 in Oklahoma City

Oklahoma Update

The Sooners notched exhibition victories over El Basquetbol Mexicano Nov. 6 (103-48) and Athletes First Nov. 13 (92-87). Preseason All-American Eduardo Najera averaged 24.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists per contest to lead the Sooner charge, while junior college transfer guard Nolan Johnson averaged 11.0 points and 8.5 boards per game.

OU is coming off a 22-11 campaign that saw it tie for second place in the Big 12 Conference (11-5 league record) and advance to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16. The tournament berth was OU's fifth straight under Head Coach Kelvin Sampson.

This year's squad returns 45 percent of its scoring and 48 percent of its rebounding from last season. The team's lone returning starter is Najera, a senior forward who averaged team highs in points (15.5) and rebounds (8.3) last year. OU also returns the services of senior big men Renzi Stone, Victor Avila and Oleg Reztsov, as well as junior guard Tim Heskett. Heskett is the Sooners' career leader in three-point percentage (.422) and set a school single-season record in the category last year (.473).

Junior Kelley Newton and sophomore J.R. Raymond are a pair of guards who were in the program last year but did not play. Both are expected to see significant court time this season. Newton, who was a projected starter last year at the 2-guard spot, tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee during an October intrasquad scrimmage and missed the entire campaign. Raymond, OU's starting point guard this season, sat out as a partial qualifier last year but practiced with the team until a January ankle injury sidelined him for the rest of the season.

New to the squad this year are junior college transfers Jameel Heywood and Johnson, as well as freshmen Jarrett Hart and Hollis Price. All were highly regarded recruits and are expected to contribute throughout the year.

Back for his second season is guard Michael Cano. Joining the sophomore as walk-ons are freshmen James Osborne and Justin Roye.

Recapping the Exhibition Season

Eduardo Najera scored a game-high 18 points and added eight rebounds, three assists and four steals in 26 minutes of action as the Sooners manhandled El Basquetbol Mexicano, 103-48, Nov. 6 at Lloyd Noble Center in front of a paid crowd of 9,283. Oklahoma raced to 10-0 and 22-3 leads before heading to the locker room with a 48-12 halftime advantage. Mexico shot a mere .174 in the opening 20 minutes compared to OU's .553 mark. Junior college transfer Nolan Johnson contributed 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting and a game-high nine boards in 19 minutes. First-year guards J.R. Raymond and Hollis Price scored 13 and 12 points, respectively, and shared game-high honors in assists with five. Junior guard Tim Heskett was the team's fifth player who scored in double figures (11 points). All told, OU's six newcomers accounted for 58 points and 24 rebounds.

Though they led by as many as 17 in the second half, the Sooners' second exhibition contest versus Athletes First was anything but a cakewalk. Last Saturday's 92-87 exhibition victory before a paid crowd of 9,478 was OU's 25th straight, but the team had to withstand a late rally to secure the win. Najera scored 31 points, his most ever in a Sooner uniform, hauled in a game-high nine boards and added three assists. He canned 12-of-21 shots and was 4-of-8 from three-point land. Heskett contributed 11 points, all in the first half, and freshman guard Jarrett Hart added 10 thanks largely to an 8-for-10 performance at the free throw line. Raymond was suspended for violating a team rule and did not suit up for OU. Athletes First shot .714 from the field in the second half when it scored 54 points.

OU Looks to Break Tournament Hex

Oklahoma has participated in three tournaments outside the 48 contiguous states in five seasons under Kelvin Sampson and has finished 1-2 in each. The Sooners look to break that trend as one of the Top of the World Classic favorites.

During the 1994-95 season, Sampson's first at OU, the Sooners lost to defending national champion Arkansas, 86-84, and 19th-ranked Georgia Tech, 89-85, at the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii, before downing Boston on the final day of action, 75-70.

Two years ago, Oklahoma participated in the Big Island Invitational in Hilo, Hawaii. OU lost its opening game to Butler, 73-63, and its second-round game to Wisconsin, 75-64. It rebounded for an 86-70 win against host Hawaii-Hilo.

Last season, the Sooners began the Puerto Rico Holiday Classic with a forfeit victory against American-Puerto Rico after officials stopped the game in the first half following a punch by an American-Puerto Rico player to the jaw of OU's Tim Heskett. In the second round, OU lost a tight 75-72 decision to Mississippi. The third game saw another close contest result in a Sooner defeat, 62-58 against North Carolina State.

Back on Track at the Line?

In its first four seasons under Kelvin Sampson, Oklahoma never shot worse than .701 from the free throw line. The Sooners won the conference free throw shooting title in 1995-96 (.708) and finished second in 1994-95 (.744), 1996-97 (.724) and 1997-98 (.701). Last year, however, OU shot just .651 from the charity stripe to rank ninth in the Big 12.

Though the team's exhibition statistics don't figure into the regular season numbers, the Sooners are off to a good start at the line this year. In two exhibition contests, OU made 41-of-53 free throw attempts for a healthy .774 mark.

Preseason Predictions

In the annual preseason Big 12 media poll released Nov. 2, Oklahoma was picked to finish fourth in the league race behind Kansas (first), Texas (second) and Oklahoma State. Conference coaches predicted the same finish for the four teams a few weeks ago. The preseason media polls have been fairly accurate the past three years regarding the Sooners' predicted finish. In 1996-97, OU was picked seventh and finished sixth while the 1997-98 team tied for second after being tabbed second in the poll. Last season, OU was predicted to finish in third place and ended up tying for second again. Following are this year's preseason Big 12 media and coaches polls:

Media Poll   

Team (first-place votes) Points 1. Kansas (17) 327 2. Texas (8) 318 3. Oklahoma State (4) 298 4. Oklahoma 252 5. Missouri 232 6. Nebraska 172 7. Iowa State 169 8. Colorado 143 9. Texas Tech 132 10. Kansas State 108 11. Texas A&M 70 12. Baylor 41

Coaches Poll

Team (first-place votes) Points 1. Kansas (6) 116 2. Texas (5) 113 3. Oklahoma State (1) 103 4. Oklahoma 89 5. Missouri 84 6. Iowa State 55 7. Nebraska 54 8. Colorado 50 9. Texas Tech 47 10. Kansas State 42 11. Texas A&M 23 12. Baylor 16

More Preseason Predictions

Preseason publications have the Sooners ranked anywhere from 12th nationally (Basketball News) to 34th (Lindy's). Here's a sampling:

Publication    OU's Nat'l Ranking

Basketball News         12

College Hoops Insider   17

Blue Ribbon Yearbook    20

Playboy                 25

The Sporting News       28

Street & Smith's        32

Lindy's                 34

Najera Ready For Stellar Senior Season

Senior forward Eduardo Najera, one of 25 candidates to receive the 2000 John R. Wooden Award as the nation's most outstanding collegiate basketball player, has been named to several preseason All-America lists. The 6-8 Mexico product already has 1,021 points to rank 29th in school history and has a legitimate chance to become one of OU's 10 all-time leading scorers. If he repeats his 266-rebound performance of a year ago, Najera will also become one of the top-five rebounders in school annals.

Last year, Najera averaged team highs in points (15.5 ppg) and rebounds (8.3 rpg), and ranked second on the squad in assists (2.2 apg), steals (1.8 spg) and blocks (0.8 bpg). He also made 51 three-pointers, 35 more than in his freshman and sophomore seasons combined.

A preseason first-team All-Big 12 selection by league coaches and media this year, Najera led Mexico to a fourth-place finish in the World University Games over the summer by averaging 20.1 points per game, the second-highest figure in the tournament.

Sooners Ink Four Standouts

Head Coach Kelvin Sampson announced last Wednesday that four players have signed national letters of intent to attend Oklahoma next year. Expected to join the Sooner program are prep players Johnnie Gilbert and James Wright, and junior college players Aaron McGhee and Daryan Selvy.

Recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons said, "This class will be ranked no lower than 15th nationally. And it should wind up being a top-10 class."

A third-team All-State performer last year at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis, Minn., Gilbert, 6-7 and 220 pounds, averaged 14.5 points, 14.3 rebounds and 6.0 blocked shots per outing while leading his squad to a 21-4 record and an appearance in the state championship quarterfinals. This preseason, Patrick Henry is ranked No. 1 in Minnesota's 4A class. Gibbons rates Gilbert as the nation's 88th-best senior.

An athletic wing player, Wright is the Wisconsin state record holder in the high jump. He averaged 10.0 points, 13.0 rebounds and 4.0 blocked shots as a senior last year at Vincent High School in Milwaukee, Wis. At 6-6 and 210 pounds, Wright experienced tremendous success in his four years at Vincent, helping his teams to state titles as a freshman, sophomore and junior, and a four-year 97-10 record. Following his junior season, Vincent was ranked seventh nationally by Street & Smith's and ninth nationally by USA Today. This year, Wright is attending The Winchendon (prep) School in Winchendon, Mass. According to Gibbons, he is one of the 10 best post-graduate prep players in the country.

The 6-8, 250-pound McGhee, who hails from Aurora, Ill., was regarded as one of the 50 best players in the nation his senior year at Aurora East High School where he was a two-time All-State selection. As a senior, he earned honorable mention All-America honors from USA Today and The Sporting News after averaging 25.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.9 blocked shots and 2.3 steals per game. He guided East to a 24-3 record that year and went on to earn MVP honors in the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association state all-star game. He originally signed with Cincinnati and sat out the 1997-98 season. Last year with the Bearcats, McGhee played in 30 games and averaged 2.8 points and 1.9 rebounds in 8.1 minutes per contest. Against Southern Mississippi, the forward scored a career-high 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Gibbons considers him one of the country's top 15 junior college players.

Selvy, who attended the same high school as former first-team All-Big 12 guard Corey Brewer, is a sophomore at Carl Albert Junior College in Poteau, Okla., also the same junior college Brewer attended. Last year, Selvy averaged 18.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. As a senior at West Memphis, he guided his team to a state championship. Greg Swaim of Midwest Basketball rates him as the 20th-best junior college sophomore in the nation. Selvy stands 6-6 and weighs 215 pounds.

Model of Consistency

Oklahoma has registered a winning record in 22 of its last 23 seasons. No other Big 12 team can boast as many winning campaigns since the 1975-76 season as the Sooners. OU has posted a 504-232 record over the span for a .685 winning percentage.

OU Boasts Nation's Fourth-Longest Postseason Streak

Oklahoma has now made 18 consecutive postseason appearances (14 NCAA and four NIT), the fourth-longest streak among Division I programs. Only North Carolina, Georgetown and Indiana own longer postseason streaks (North Carolina and Indiana made last year's NCAA field while Georgetown competed in the NIT). The last time Oklahoma did not compete in the postseason was in 1980-81. The four longest current postseason streaks are as follows:

Team            Streak   NCAA   NIT    Started

North Carolina    33      29     4     1966-67

Georgetown        25      20     5     1974-75 

Indiana           22      20     2     1977-78

Oklahoma          18      14     4     1981-82

Individual Player Notes

3MICHAEL CANO (6-1, 170, SO., GUARD)

  • A walk-on who played in eight games last season.
  • A unanimous first-team all-district selection at San Antonio's Tom C. Clark High School as a senior.

5NOLAN JOHNSON (6-4, 215, JR., GUARD)

  • Averaged 11.0 points and 8.5 rebounds in two exhibition games while making 8-of-14 shots from the field.
  • Earned second-team junior college All-America honors as a sophomore two years ago.
  • Played at Kilgore (Texas) Junior College but wrapped up academic requirements at Garden City (Kan.) Community College.
  • Named Brooklyn (N.Y.) Player of the Year as a high school senior.

10HOLLIS PRICE (6-1, 165, FR., GUARD)

  • Regarded as one of the country's 50 best high school seniors last year at St. Augustine High School in New Orleans.
  • Earned first-team All-State and New Orleans Metro Player-of-the-Year honors as a senior when he averaged 25.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game.
  • Hit game-winning shot in 1998 17-and-under AAU national championship game and was named tournament MVP.

11J.R. RAYMOND (6-2, 175, SO., GUARD)

  • A product of Durham, N.C.'s Mount Zion Christian Academy, one of the nations most prolific basketball prep schools.
  • Practiced with the team under "partial qualifier" label last year, but was not allowed to play in games.
  • Averaged 18.1 points, 6.1 assists and 3.2 steals as a senior at Mount Zion.

14TIM HESKETT (6-1, 185, JR., GUARD)

  • Set single-season OU record with his .473 three-point mark last year and is the career leader in three-point percentage (.422).
  • Ranked second in the Big 12 in three-point percentage and in three-pointers per game (2.5).
  • Shot .529 (27-for-51) from three-point land over last 11 games.
  • Made 7-of-9 three-pointers and scored a career-high 23 points versus Western Carolina in third game of last season.
  • Was granted a medical hardship following the 1997-98 season after he missed the last 31 games with a bulging disc in his back.

20KELLEY NEWTON(6-2, 190, JR., GUARD)

  • Tore ACL and MCL in his left knee during Oct. 31, 1998,scrimmage and missed the entire season (had surgery Nov. 20).
  • Was expected to start at the 2-guard spot before his injury.
  • Averaged 17.7 points and shot .448 from beyond the arc as a sophomore in junior college.

21EDUARDO NAJERA(6-8, 240, SR., FORWARD)

  • A preseason Playboy All-American.
  • Averaged team highs in points (15.5) and rebounds (8.3), and ranked second in assists (2.2) and steals (1.8) last year.
  • Averaged 18.5 points and 14.0 rebounds in first two NCAA Tournament rounds to lead OU to Sweet 16.
  • Registered 20 points and 15 boards at Missouri and tallied 19 points, career-high 17 rebounds and four assists in OU's home win over Oklahoma State.
  • Ranks 29th on OU's all-time scoring list with 1,021 points.

22OLEG REZTSOV(7-2, 230, SR., CENTER)

  • Scored four points in five minutes of action in first exhibition game this year.
  • Played a total of 22 minutes in nine games last year.
  • Scored only career basket last season versus Texas A&M.
  • Is the tallest player in school history.
  • Maintains his own web site (http://i.am/sooner).

30JARRETT HART(6-3, 210, FR., GUARD)

  • A first-team All-State selection at Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., last year.
  • Led team to 6A state title and was named tournament MVP.
  • Averaged 17.4 points, 8.5 boards and 7.3 assists as a senior.
  • Helped Arkansas Hawks AAU team to national title over the summer.

32VICTOR AVILA(6-10, 255, SR., CENTER)

  • Averaged 3.3 points and 3.0 rebounds in 8.9 minutes per game (40
  • minute averages were 15.0 points and 13.4 rebounds).
  • Registered a career high 12 boards versus Baylor.
  • Made 11-of-12 free throws and scored a career-high 17 points versus Texas A&M Feb. 13.
  • A second-team junior college All-American who averaged 23.7 points, 15.3 boards and 2.8 blocks per contest in 1997-98.

33RENZI STONE(6-10, 250, SR., FORWARD/CENTER)

  • A starter in 18 games a year ago who averaged 3.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.1 assists per contest while shooting a team-high .531 from the field.
  • Grabbed at least four rebounds 17 times last year.
  • One of seven OU students nominated this past September for a Rhodes Scholarship.
  • Has missed just one game during his Sooner career.
  • Brother, Grant, is a junior on the Long Beach State basketball team.

34JAMEEL HEYWOOD(6-6, 220, JR., FORWARD)

  • Transferred from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College.
  • A second-team All-Jayhawk Conference selection as a freshman and sophomore (averaged 17.0 points both seasons).
  • Named the 1995 Bronx (N.Y.) Player of the Year as a junior at Evander Childs High School.
  • Voted 1996 New England Player of the Year at Salisbury(Conn.) Prep School.