NORMAN, Okla. - Jeff Capel recently returned to Norman following a chaotic July recruiting period. After scouting high schoolers in cities such as Las Vegas, Orlando and Kansas City, the OU men's basketball coach is back on campus. It's only natural, then, with the first day of OU classes beginning on Aug. 21 that Capel is starting to focus more and more on the Sooners' 2006-07 season -- his first at Oklahoma.
How does Capel see his initial campaign shaping up? What will be the team's strengths? What players are poised for breakout seasons? The 31-year-old mentor offers his insight in this question-and-answer session.
Q: What's your assessment of the players returning from last year's team?
A: "I think we have some very talented young guys coming back. These guys have had a great summer and I think people will be surprised with some of the improvements they've made. Obviously, Michael Neal will be a guy who's at the forefront of some of the things we do. Mike's a guy who's accomplished some great things already in this league and we're definitely looking forward to using his experience and his experience of being successful to help us.
"Guys like Longar Longar and Taylor Griffin, players who maybe people haven't seen that much of, have talent. Nate Carter is a young man who has some talent. It's our job as coaches to put those guys in positions to showcase that talent.
"The one thing we've talked about a lot with all of these guys is that players always feel like they can have a bigger impact. Every player always wants a bigger role. Now, these guys have opportunities they've kind of been dreaming about since they came to college.
"I think the most important thing for our guys is not to just think that it's going to happen. We have to prepare like we've never prepared before and prepare to make positive things happen. So this spring and summer has been about preparation - preparing yourself to be great and learning how to prepare yourself. I've been really proud of these guys. They've worked very hard this summer with our strength and conditioning coach. They've been in the weight room, they've been conditioning, they've been in the gym playing. I think a lot of our guys have improved since our two-week individual workout program in the spring and we're really looking forward to the season."
Q: Last year, seniors Kevin Bookout, Terrell Everett and Taj Gray accounted for more than 50 percent of the team's scoring and rebounding. Does losing that kind of production affect how you approach this season?
A: "It does. Anytime you lose a trio like Bookout, Everett and Gray it does affect your team for the following season. But I've always been a big believer that each team is different. Even if those guys were coming back, we'd be different because hopefully they'd have worked and gotten better.
"Although those guys accounted for a lot, scoring is not such a big concern. I think other guys will be able to score. After my second year at VCU when we went to the NCAA Tournament, we lost our two leading scorers. The next year we actually averaged as many points. I think we'll have some guys who are able to step up in the scoring area.
"The main concern is losing a great playmaker in Everett. He not only created things for himself but he created things for other guys. And Bookout and Gray provided experienced post presence and post depth. That's where there's a bit of a concern. But we have some guys coming back who are capable of being really good players for us."
Q: What do you foresee as strengths of this team?
A: "We're going to have some guys who are very versatile with the way that we play - guys that play multiple positions. We may have times when we have four guards on the floor and one bigger guy - not necessarily a post guy. We may have five guards out there on occasion. So I think this team can be a very versatile team. I also think it's a team that will be able to shoot the ball very well. Everyone knows about Mike Neal but Nate Carter has really worked on it and I thought he shot the ball well in the spring. Taylor Griffin really worked on it in the spring. He shot it very well during individual workouts and from the reports I've heard he's continued this summer. David Godbold and Austin Johnson are guys who can shoot it, Tony Crocker and so on. So that could be a strength of ours as well.
"I think a big key will be our ability to defend and rebound. I know that's been a hallmark of this program over the years and it's something we'll really have to concentrate on. I think we'll be a good defensive team. But rebounding, that's where losing Bookout and Gray hurts. We're going to have to rebound by committee and have all five buys blocking out and going to the defensive glass. I think this team can be one that's pretty athletic and can get up and down the floor. So, I do think this team will have a lot of strengths. It's just trying to figure out exactly what they are and then play to those strengths."
Q: How do you describe the type of style you like your teams to play?
A: "At VCU we were always known as a team that was very athletic. We got up and down the floor. Now that may not have resulted in high scoring numbers, but we really liked to get out and push the ball, take advantage of easy opportunities. I love guys who are versatile and can play multiple positions. I'm a coach who in the past has liked to find mismatches and take advantage of them.
"I like to allow our guys to play. I like to teach them how to play offense and then allow them to have the freedom to make plays. The two words that are very important with that (philosophy) are 'trust' and 'honesty.' I have to be able to trust that these guys are going to do the things they're capable of doing and they have to be honest about what they can and can't do. It's a style that's very exciting to watch. I think this team will be really fun to watch for our fans. It's a team that hopefully everyone will rally around and watch grow. As the season goes along, I think it could be a really fun and exciting group to watch progress."
Q: Is that philosophy of teaching guys how to play and then letting them do it a product of your Duke days?
A: "It really is. That's one of the things that attracted me to that program. When I was being recruited I liked how they allowed guys the freedom to make plays and to play to their strengths. There's a great saying in basketball: 'If you give guys freedom to shoot you also have to give them freedom to miss.' You're not going to make every shot. I don't want our guys playing tentative or playing scared. I've played scared before and you can't play effectively when you're afraid to make a mistake. As long as we're playing hard and playing together and doing the things we're supposed to be doing at the level we're supposed to be doing them, I have no problem (allowing freedom). And I think winning is a byproduct of that."
Q: What are your goals for your first season at Oklahoma?
A: "Our goal this year - and it will be the same every year - is to become the best team we can be and to put ourselves in a position to compete for championships. Whether we're in a preseason tournament, a postseason tournament or the conference regular season, that's what it's going to be. We want to grow each day, get better each day, get closer as a unit and as a family, learn how to depend on each other, how to trust each other and do it at the highest level possible. I think teams and programs that learn how to do that are the ones who have a chance to become special. That's what we're going to try to establish this first year, and then we'll try to build on that."
Q: Can you comment on your coaching staff as a group?
A: "My coaching staff is great. I think it's as good a coaching staff as there is in college basketball. I feel very lucky to have been able to assemble this group of guys. Each guy has his own strengths and we complement each other really well. Everyone is hungry and we already have a passion for OU.
"You look at a guy like Mark Cline who's been in this business for 17 years and the experience he brings to me with his knowledge. He's a guy who should be a head coach by now. As much as I'd hate to lose him, hopefully that opportunity comes sooner than later.
"Rod Barnes was a head coach at a high level at Ole Miss for eight years and was a national coach of the year. He was also a heck of a college player and the experience that he brings to us and to me has been very beneficial."
"Ben Betts has been in the profession for a while and was a heck of a college player himself. He was head coach at South Carolina State for three years. And then Bryan Goodman is our director of basketball operations. He's from Oklahoma and was a big part of Bucknell's success the last few years as an assistant coach there. Darby Rich, our strength coach, has been terrific."
"I just feel really lucky to put together this staff of really, really good basketball guys. They love the game, they love teaching it, love helping guys become successful. It's a big-time staff and we're excited to be representing this university."
Q: Multiple OU football players had quality high school basketball careers and there's been speculation that you'd welcome their services after the football season ends. What are your thoughts on that?
A: "I've heard about that speculation. It's something that if guys are good and they want to try it, they're more than welcome. Obviously, we have some incredible athletes already on our football team, but I've also heard that some incoming freshmen are pretty big-time basketball players, too. If they want to look into that and pursue it, then we're more than happy to have them as long as Coach (Bob) Stoops is okay with it. If it does happen, it likely wouldn't be until sometime in January and that would mean that our football team has done something pretty special. That's something we're all rooting for. But it's something we'd be very open to visiting about."