Happy Holidays everyone and welcome back to the "Mailbag."  Our players are taking final exams this week, so it's given me a chance to catch up on some of your letters.  Thank you very much for taking the time to write.  Our staff and players appreciate your support.

Hopefully the month of December brings great joy to you and your family, and I extend my best wishes for a Happy New Year. 

To submit a question for future "Mailbag" installments, CLICK HERE.

Now, to our first question...

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From: Ron Wilson (Southaven, MS)

Question: I worked as a manager under Coach Rod Barnes and I'm just wondering how he is doing.  What does he bring to the table as far as practice?

Answer: Hi Ron. Coach Barnes is doing great.  Obviously you know that he is a great coach and an incredible man.  He's been a Godsend to me because he's been at this level for so long, as both an assistant and a head coach.  He really brings a lot to every aspect of our program, from coaching to recruiting to practice to day-to-day operations.  He's a big part of what we do and I'm really blessed to have him - as well as all of my assistants and staff members - as part of the OU family.

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From: Matt Kifer (Myersville, MD)

Q: Coming from Duke, you obviously understand the importance of education for today's student-athletes.  Can you talk about what you've been telling the team in terms of making sure the kids take their school work seriously?

A: Appreciate the question, Matt.  One of the things we talk about - and I kind of got this from my dad - is the saying, "Use the game of basketball, don't let the game use you."  You can use the game to meet some incredible people, to get a free education if you're lucky enough to earn a scholarship, to travel, to maybe one day earn a living.  If you're not careful, though, you can allow the game to use you by letting it determine who you are as a person.  One of the things I tell guys is don't let 7 to 10 pounds of air - which is how much a ball weighs - determine who you are.  You're more than just a basketball player.  You're a talented guy who just happens to be good at basketball. 

I tell them to really embrace all the opportunities they have through this game, to give thanks and to honor the gifts they've been given to try to become the best people they can be - best student, best player, best teammate, etc.  I think that's the beauty of our game.  It teaches teamwork.  Really successful players are usually part of winning teams.  Any time you see a winning team you see those characteristics of trust, honesty, commitment, pride, responsibility, accountability.

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From: Bryan Mike (Jenks, OK)

Q: Hey Coach, welcome to OU - the best university on earth.  My question is what made you come to the University of Oklahoma?

A: Hey Bryan, thanks for writing.  I had a great job at Virginia Commonwealth University.  It was and is a tremendous job.  There are great people there, the commitment to the basketball program was tremendous, we were in a great conference in the Colonial Athletic Association and, to be honest, we had things going.  I had some opportunities the past two years to maybe make a move, but I chose not to.  I said that it would take something really, really special for me to leave.  When OU approached me about becoming its head coach, I looked at it as a situation that had that special quality I was looking for.  Being a part of the Big 12, the tradition at OU, the resources, the academics, the quality of life in Norman - all of those things are what made me interested in becoming the head coach here.  Once they pursued me it became a situation where I wanted to pursue OU as well.

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From: Nelson Wilson (Nowata, OK)

Q: Now that you have arrived at one of the premier sports universities that has contenders in many sports, what is your assessment of your fellow head coaches at OU and what is your relationship with them?

A: The coaches are one of the things that make OU a special and unique place, Nelson.  I had heard about the great coaches before I got here, but I judge things on my experience, not on what I hear.  What I found, though, is that the coaches here do indeed help make this a great place. 

The relationships you have with a Bob Stoops or a Sherri Coale or a Sunny Golloway, etc., are special.  The coaches here really take a great interest in each other, really support each other.  To me that's what it's like when you're a part of something bigger than you.  There's not one person here who is bigger than OU athletics and we all realize that.

I think all of us also recognize to a certain extent that we need each other.  Football is the most recognized sport here, but all of us benefit from that in a certain way.  OU is a positive household name largely because of football, but also because of the tradition of our men's basketball program, because of our women's basketball program, because of our gymnastics programs, our baseball program.  You can go on and on. 

This place is much bigger than just me and that's how I've always viewed situations since I've been in college.  That was my experience at Duke, that was the experience and the environment we tried to create at VCU, and it's really good to be a part of that here.

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From: Ken Dupree (Maryland)

Q: Coach Capel, do you ever look at kids that may be under the radar in terms of rankings to find that diamond in the rough?

A: Hello, Ken.  I don't pay attention to rankings.  When I came out of high school, there was a guy in my class named Joe Smith who wasn't ranked very high.  He ended up being national freshman of the year and then national player of the year as a sophomore.  Then he was the No. 1 player taken in the NBA draft.  If you go back and look, for instance, Dwyane Wade wasn't a guy who was ranked and look at him now.

I look at guys who are basketball players and who I think will fit the style of play and have the character that I want.  I think rankings are good for fans to look at, and are something to talk and brag about.  But I judge players on what I think, not on what someone else thinks.

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From: RJ (Richmond, VA)

Q: How old were you when you started playing AAU basketball and did you play with your age group or older?  What can I do to become a better player?  I miss you in Richmond.

A: I started playing AAU during the summer heading into my eighth grade year and I usually played up in age once I got to high school.  AAU wasn't really as big back then.  Back in North Carolina in the early 1990s, you didn't start high school until you were in the 10th grade - ninth grade was still junior high.  So once I got to high school I always played in the AAU state tournament with my high school team.  We always played together.  Then I would go to nationals with one of the two teams that qualified from our state. 

You didn't have all the AAU tournaments back then that you have now.  There was no Peach Jam, no tournament in Orlando, no event in Vegas or no shoe company events where everybody is in the same place.  You had the national tournament and that was it. 

But I think AAU is really good because it gives you an opportunity to play and to be seen by more people.

As far as becoming a better player, RJ, just work.  There's no secret formula.  You have to figure out the things you're good at and not as good at.  Continue to try to sharpen yourself in the areas where you are good, and then really try hard to correct yourself in the areas you're not so good.

I will say this - if you can shoot the ball there's always a place for you.  But really concentrate on the little things that coaches look for, like defending, ball-handling, being a good teammate.

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From: Mary Chandler (Atlanta, GA)

Q: Coach Capel, just one question - what do you want for Christmas?

A: Good question, Mary!  I just want to be able to spend a little time with my family and for everyone to be happy and safe.  I have just about everything I want, so there's really nothing material that I'd like for Christmas this year.

But I hope you get what you want!

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Thanks to everyone for writing.  Once again, best wishes for a happy and safe holiday season.

Until next time, Boomer Sooner!
Coach Capel