NORMAN, Okla. - Sixth months and two days after being hired as Oklahoma's men's basketball head coach, Jeff Capel will take the court with his team Friday night at Lloyd Noble Center for the first official practice of the 2006-07 season.
The Sooners, who just completed a six-week preseason strength and conditioning program under third-year strength and conditioning coach Darby Rich, have been participating in individual workouts since the start of school in August and by NCAA rule were allowed to hold full-squad, on-the-court practices for two hours a week beginning Sept. 16. But Friday's evening workout will mark the official full-team practice for the new-look Sooners.
Consider Capel as maybe the most anxious guy in town.
"This is a very exciting time of the year for us, trying to figure out who we're going to be, who we can become," said the 31-year-old Sooners mentor. "We will be looking for our guys to have great energy, effort and enthusiasm. I look for our guys to be focused and for them to be able to learn. This is a really important time for teaching right now - putting things in, introducing different concepts."
Oklahoma returns two starters and eight letterwinners from its 2005-06 squad that finished 20-9 overall and in third place in the Big 12 Conference. Included among the returnees is Michael Neal, a senior guard who was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Year last season after averaging a team-high 14.8 points per league game and shooting .495 from 3-point range.
Neal and junior guard David Godbold, however, are the only two players who boast a history of extended playing time as Sooners.
"During this first year, it's really going to be important for our guys to be great listeners and to learn as quickly as possible," said Capel. "Our coaching staff will have to adapt to our players. We might have to slow down a little in terms of how we teach this year because everything is new. It's like having a completely new basketball team, a team full of freshmen. Because our staff is new, everything is going to be new for the players."
Rich said the work the players put in over the past six weeks has helped prepare them for Friday night and beyond. And he said the staff was pleased with the team's effort.
"One of the goals for the preseason is to really push the guys to get into great shape for the start of practice," said Rich. "We need to be in the kind of shape that allows us to make it through a three-hour practice without fatigue breaking down the mind and body, so that coaches can get accomplished what they need to.
"We're happy with the performance of the guys. I don't know if you're ever completely satisfied, but we're going into tonight's first practice with all 12 guys healthy. With our conditioning the last two or three weeks, you can really tell a marked difference from when our guys arrived in August. And they're chomping at the bit to get going."
Rich noted that the three highest bench press figures during the preseason were turned in by Taylor Griffin (335 pounds), Nate Carter (315) and Longar Longar (285). He also commented about the health progression of three of the team's guards.
"I think the biggest thing for us the last few weeks has been the health of Michael Neal, Austin Johnson and Tony Crocker. Both Mike and Austin were still hobbling a little after the summer - Mike with his Achilles' tendon and Austin with his ankle - and Tony was just coming off of arthroscopic knee surgery. The first two-and-a-half weeks of preseason workouts, those guys were hit and miss. Over the last three weeks, though, it's been hard to tell that those guys were ever hurt."
The Sooners play exhibition games at Lloyd Noble Center on Oct. 31 against Oklahoma Christian and Nov. 5 versus Central Missouri before opening the regular season at home Nov. 10 against Norfolk State.
For men's basketball ticket information or to order tickets, call the OU Athletics Ticket Office at (800) 456-4668 or (405) 325-2424. Information is also available here on SoonerSports.com.