NORMAN, Okla. - University of Oklahoma men's basketball head coach Jeff Capel and seven of his returning players met with local media Thursday in Norman to discuss the upcoming season.
The Sooners begin their first year under Capel -- and 100th overall -- with an exhibition game on Halloween night (Tuesday, Oct. 31) against Oklahoma Christian. A second exhibition game Nov. 5 against Central Missouri will precede the regular season opener on Nov. 10 against Norfolk State at Lloyd Noble Center.
A transcript of Coach Capel's Thursday media conference is below.
2006 Men's Basketball Media Day Video
Jeff Capel's opening statement:
"We're 13 practices into our season thus far. We are excited about next Tuesday, our upcoming game against Oklahoma Christian. We're excited to play against someone besides ourselves and excited to see where we are as a basketball team. Our guys have worked very hard to this point on adjusting and adapting to a new system, new terminology and a new style of play. There have been some bright spots and there have been some times where we've had a lot of work to do. We understand this is a journey and we look forward to taking the proper steps each day to becoming the best basketball team we can be. We think with a lot of hard work and effort and guys really throwing themselves into it, our chances of becoming a really good basketball team will greatly increase. We look forward to doing that every day."
On who would make up the starting five as of right now:
"If we started tomorrow, I would probably go with some of our veteran guys. Michael Neal would be in there. If Austin Johnson is healthy, he'd be our point guard. Probably David Godbold, Taylor Griffin and Longar Longar.
"When we go next Tuesday, I'm not sure yet who will start. Michael Neal is probably the only guy that would (definitely) start and Taylor Griffin is the other guy who has earned that as of right now. The other three spots are still open."
On the team's strengths and weaknesses:
"I'll talk about our strengths first. I think if you spend too much time talking about weaknesses, you're going to get beat. I like the potential of our team defensively. I think we can be a team that can really get after some guys. I think A.J. (Austin Johnson), with his length, can get the deflections. He leads our team when he's practicing in deflections. He does a very good job of just getting his hands on passes.
"Obviously, Taylor Griffin, down low, does a good job. He's athletic and I think he has the potential to be a really great defender along with David Godbold. Bobby Maze can do a really good job of putting pressure on the ball.
"Our freshmen are lost defensively when they're away from the ball. They're absolutely lost. I think most freshmen in the country are that way. When their guy has the ball, they do a pretty good job. Maze is as good as any guy we have. I think when those guys get in the game, whether they start or get in, maybe our pressure will pick up.
"I think we're a team that can be somewhat versatile. We have Taylor, who hopefully can be a really tough matchup with his ability to put the ball on the floor and shoot the ball, which he's done. Taylor and I had a conversation after practice yesterday. He made two of the best moves we've had in practice all year. One was in our motion. He caught it at the top of the key and as soon as he caught it, he ripped through two hard dribbles to the left, got to a spot, pump faked and Nate Carter went for the pump fake. (Taylor) kind of up-and-undered him and went in and scored. The other one he caught in the post, faced his guy up and made a really great move. He didn't have a great finish. He went with a weak finish trying to avoid contact. After practice, I talked to him about both of those moves. I said, 'Do you understand what I'm trying to tell you? Those are the moves we've been trying to work with you on.' He said 'Coach, I understand, it's just taking some time to get used to because all I was ever asked to do was screen and rebound.'
"That's what I mean about guys getting used to stuff being different and being in different roles. We have a team full of returning role players. That's what all these guys were last year and Michael Neal was a specialist -- a 3-point shooter. These guys have to get adjusted not only to a new style, but being in a different role. You're talking about guys who were maybe afterthoughts offensively last year now being guys that we need to get offense from. We need to generate that from them. As excited as players are about that, it does take some getting used to because your roles have changed.
"But I do like our ability to get up and down the floor. I think Godbold has got to get out and guard and I think all three of our (scholarship) freshmen are guys who can do that. Longar can really run. Taylor can really run and be athletic, so I like our ability to do that."
On how things are going to change for Michael Neal now being the team's first option:
"It will be more difficult for him, to be completely honest with you. That's something that we've talked about. I remember as a freshman I was the fourth or fifth option on our (Duke) team, and we were pretty good. We played for a national championship. Then that next year, when I came back as a sophomore, I was the second option and it changed. Everything was harder, because you're not an afterthought on a scouting report. You are one of the main guys.
"Last year Mike shot and made a lot of 3s and also shot a great percentage. It looks like he got a lot of looks because of (Taj) Gray, because of (Terrell) Everett and because of (Kevin) Bookout. Those guys are gone now, and so I think it is very important for Mike to really expand his game and I think he has done that. He's putting the ball on the floor a little bit better. He's being a playmaker. That play may be to shoot the shot, but it also may be to create something for someone else.
"Where he has to really grow, and I think he has taken steps to do this, is trusting his teammates and trusting that they are guys who will make the plays that he draws. Mike is going to draw a lot of attention that will allow for opportunities for someone else."
On the development of Keith Clark and Tony Crocker:
"I think both of those guys certainly have the potential to be starters. They are two very talented young men. Tony and Keith, they have had good practices, but at times they look like freshmen. They look like what they are. We need both of those guys to be good for us, we need them to grow up very fast. We need all of our freshmen to do that.
"Keith Clark is as talented as anyone we have on our team. He has worked really hard to get himself in better shape. He has to understand how hard you have to work, day in and day out, every minute of practice, to maximize the talent that he has. He has to understand that intensity and the effort on defense. He's a terrific offensive player, he can do a lot of different things. But he is having to understand the ways of defense.
"Tony Crocker is a guy that is extremely talented, as well. He can do a lot of things and is very athletic and I think he has potential to be a really good defender. There are some little fundamental things he has to work on to get better. He has to become a better and more consistent shooter, he has to become better at handling the basketball."
"I think with work, which both those guys are willing to give, they have a chance to be really, really good players. They definitely have a chance to start, or play a lot of minutes even if they aren't starters."
On the possibility of freshmen starting:
"Well, our guys, I told them this, will get what they earn. The only thing I give is opportunity. Right now our numbers are low. We have 10 scholarship guys. With A.J. out right now (with an injured ankle), we have nine. We hope we will have A.J. for Tuesday. We think we will. We hope we have a 100 percent A.J. -- that's my goal even if that means we don't play him on Tuesday and just rest him. It's more important for us to have him at 100 percent. He was never 100 percent last year from what everyone says and we can't afford to not have him at 100 percent or close to 100 percent as possible this year. But in saying that, our freshmen will have every opportunity to play. They may start. One, two of them, maybe three of them will start. I don't know, we'll see. But they will certainly have every opportunity to earn the right to play and play a lot. We need them to. We need them to grow up very quickly."
On Longar Longar's skills:
"Longar has had some good practices for us. He's had some good moments. I think what you are dealing with with our guys -- and this is just the head coach looking and observing -- I think we are dealing with some confidence issues. Longar is not a guy who has played a lot of minutes during his career here at OU and we need some really good things to happen for him. It would be great if those things could happen earlier. He has shown signs and flashes of the player that we think he can be, which is a good player for us, a very productive player for us. He can do some things defensively with blocking shots and altering shots. He is getting to be a really good rebounder for us. He's a guy that we think can score the ball for us and he needs to continue to work on his offensive game and catching the ball and making strong moves to the post. He has very good touch on his shot away from the basket and he's a good free throw shooter who shoots a good percentage at practice. We just need to keep encouraging Longar because we need him."
On Nate Carter's ability on the court:
"Nate has really played well this past week at practice. He's really done some good things. We scrimmaged last Saturday, and we got reps in, which I thought was Nate's best day. Each day from there he's had really good days and he's done a great job at being a vocal leader for us. Nate's a guy that we think can play different spots for us. He's going to have to play inside for us some this year. He's also a guy that can do stuff around the perimeter as far as shooting the basketball. He's a guy that we can put in different positions for us to create some mismatches, because he's as strong as any guy we have on our team."
On who will back up Longar Longar at center:
"I don't know. That's a good question. Keith Clark, Taylor Griffin, we don't have many options there. Really I think the center is a lost art in college basketball. There aren't many centers anymore, and so you may see us at times with five guards on the floor. You may see us with Taylor Griffin and four other (guards). Taylor (might be) our biggest guy on the floor. One of the things that is going to be imperative for this team is we have to gang rebound. I would love for us to have a guy that averages nine to 10 boards a game. Will that happen? I don't know. It hasn't happened yet for any of these guys that are in this program. In saying that, we have to understand that we have to gang rebound. Hopefully our lack of size doesn't mean that we can't be really good rebounders. When I was an assistant for my dad, we had a guy who was 6-5 who led the conference in rebounding by averaging 11 a game. It was just because he had a desire to rebound. He blocked out, he had good timing. We need some guys to do that for us."
On who besides Michael Neal will supply perimeter shooting:
"We think that David Godbold is good at putting the ball in the basket, and A.J. has shot it really well at practice for us. As for our freshmen, Keith Clark can shoot the ball, Crocker is a streaky shooter and Maze is more of a mid-range guy. We're working with him on shooting the ball. Taylor Griffin is a guy that has shot the ball well for us in practice. That's primarily where it'll come from."
On if he will look to play primarily man-to-man defense:
"We'll be a team that mixes it up from man to zone, maybe a couple different types of zone like 2-3, 1-2-2, 1-3-1. That's what I've done in the past. I think it's going to be important for us defensively to mix things up and kind of keep teams off balance a little bit and change the pace of the game. Also, we can't afford a few guys to have foul troubles, especially our post guys."