Nov. 13, 2002
NEW YORK - The same day espn.com announced Oklahoma as its No. 1 team in the nation and a day before his team opens its 2002-03 regular season against Alabama in the Coaches vs. Cancer AT&T Wireless Classic at Madison Square Garden, OU men's basketball head coach Kelvin Sampson announced the reception of national letters of intent from four highly regarded high schoolers. Andrew Lavender, Brandon Foust, Lawrence McKenzie and Longar Longar will join the Sooners for the 2003-04 campaign.
"I've never been into recruiting rankings," said Sampson before OU's afternoon practice at John Jay College in New York. "I look at how the players a team recruits fill the needs of that team. We will lose three starting guards after this season in Quannas White, Hollis Price and Ebi Ere. Lavender, Foust and McKenzie will not only form a great backcourt, but they're all freshmen. And Longar will be a freshman in the frontcourt. He's an investment who possesses two things you can't teach -- size and athleticism.
"These kids all come from great high school programs and learn from great coaches," continued Sampson. "Lavender and Foust are defending Ohio state champs. And Lawrence McKenzie's team will be going for its fourth straight Minnesota state title. They're winners and they're great leaders. You recruit players, but sometimes you also recruit a program."
Lavender and Foust are teammates at Brookhaven High School in Columbus, Ohio. Coached by his step-father, Bruce Howard, Lavender averaged 11 points and 10.8 assists as a junior in leading his team to a 27-1 record and state championship last year. The 5-7, 155-pound point guard's assist total led the state. Lavender is generally regarded as one of the nation's two or three best point guards and a top-20 national recruit.
"Andrew is extremely quick, has a tremendous basketball I.Q. and is a born leader," said Sampson. "He's the type of player you give the ball and say, 'Go run this team.' He's a great lead guard. Size is not a factor with him because of his head. He just knows how to play. Plus, he's a great passer and shooter."
Foust is an athletic 6-6, 200-pound swingman who averaged 12 points and 8 rebounds for Brookhaven last year. In addition to the 27-1 record he helped his team post last year, Foust played a major role in Brookhaven's 26-1 season his sophomore year. He is generally considered one of the nation's top-60 high school seniors.
"Brandon was simply the best offensive rebounder we saw during recruiting," commented Sampson. "His greatest attribute is his athleticism. The first time we went to see Brookhaven we were there to watch Lavender. But then we got to see Brandon and we said, 'Hey, this kid's going to be a big-time player.' He's the type of player who really doesn't have a position, sort of like Daryan Selvy the past two years. That can be a good thing. We think Brandon has a bright future with us."
A one-year teammate of OU's Johnnie Gilbert at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis, Minn., McKenzie is a 6-1, 165-pound combo guard. Coached by his father, Larry, McKenzie averaged 15 points, 8 assists and 3 steals per game last year. The third-year starter has helped guide Patrick Henry to three consecutive state titles. McKenzie is regarded as a top-75 national recruit and appears in some analysts' top 50.
"Lawrence is comfortable playing the point," said Sampson, "but he is also a scorer. He's a lot like Hollis (Price) in that he's more of a combo guard. His strengths are his shooting ability, his quickness and his outstanding athleticism. He's smart and he knows how to play."
Longar is a 6-10, 210-pound center who attends John Marshall High School in Rochester, Minn., and plays for coach Eric Plitzuweit Originally from Sudan, he averaged 15 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocks last year for his 17-6 squad. Longar is considered to be a top-50 national recruit by most analysts.
Said Sampson, "Longar is an excellent shot-blocker who can really rebound and run the floor. You can't teach size and you can't teach athleticism. He's got both. He needs to improve his offensive skills and get stronger. He'll gain weight and he'll get bigger. We've been good at developing confidence and skills in players. He's probably looking at a redshirt year but we're real excited about him down the line."
Sampson summed up his class by saying, "These four high school seniors, along with current freshmen De'Angelo Alexander, Kevin Bookout, Matt Gipson and Larry Turner, will keep Oklahoma basketball on the national map for a long, long time."
The third-ranked Sooners, who finished 31-5 last year and reached the Final Four, will face eighth-ranked Alabama Thursday night at approximately 8:30 p.m. CST. The game will be televised nationally by ESPN2 and will follow the Memphis-Syracuse contest.