April 12, 2000
NORMAN, Okla. - Junior college center Jozsef Szendrei (pronounced YO-sheff SEN-dray) and high school point guard Blake Johnston have signed national letters of intent to attend the University of Oklahoma, Sooner head coach Kelvin Sampson announced today. The pair joins four other highly touted recruits signed by OU last fall.
"We signed two outstanding players today and both of them will help raise us to another level," said Sampson.
Szendrei is a 6-9, 240-pound sophomore center at Northeastern Colorado Junior College in Sterling, Colo. He was a first-team All-Region 9 selection last year after averaging 15.4 points and 14.8 rebounds per game. Szendrei, who is from Budapest, Hungary, also shot .610 from the field and .740 from the free throw line. Northeastern finished 26-12 and earned a seventh-place finish at the national junior college tournament in Hutchinson, Kan.
"When you lose a front line consisting of Eduardo Najera, Renzi Stone and Victor Avila," said Sampson, "you lose a lot of experience and you lose a style of play. We think Jozsef is a big, strong, physical player who is highly skilled and can rebound. He can play either post position and can shoot the ball from as far out as the top of the key. His greatest strengths are his rebounding and his attitude. I think he fits Oklahoma basketball. The things that we've done to win here at Oklahoma, Jozsef is good at. He has a great nose for the ball and can really, really rebound. I think he'll be outstanding for us. We targeted him in September and have wanted him for a long time. We felt he was a kid we had to have."
Northeastern head coach Lowell Rumph said, "He's about as good a player as I've ever had a chance to coach and I've been here 32 years. Jozsef is the best rebounder we've ever had. He has tremendous potential. He works at everything he does and just takes care of business. If three guys go up for a rebound, he comes out with it. And I'm pretty sure he can do the same thing at Oklahoma. I really look for him to get 10 or 12 rebounds per game. He's a physical guy like (Eduardo Najera).
"One of the best things about him," continued Rumph on the international marketing major, "is that he is such a great person. He's a great student and has a tremendous personality. People on campus love him to death and I'm talking about everyone from the president to the people in the serving line at the cafeteria."
Johnston, a 6-1, 170-pound point guard from Midland High School in Midland, Texas, earned first-team All-State and honorable mention McDonald's All-America acclaim after averaging 23.3 points, 8.0 assists, 5.4 steals and 4.8 rebounds per game. The conference and district MVP led his squad to a 29-7 record last season. During his four-year career, Midland amassed an amazing 127-16 record.
"I've always liked Blake. I remember seeing him play when he was a sophomore and thinking, `Wow, what a great guard.' I thought he was the best player on the floor. He has a great ability to make everybody better. He can really pass, he sees the floor well and he's a great decision-maker. He'll remind our fans a lot of Jason Williams of the Sacramento Kings in that he has a flair about him. He's an entertaining player who's fun to watch. He has a great love for basketball and is a tough kid. He can score and is a good shooter, but his greatest ability is making the game so much easier for everyone around him. He comes from a great high school program in Midland."
Jack Stephenson, Midland's head coach, commented, "I've said from the get-go that I think this is a tremendous match. Blake is a tremendous man and if he does half the things for Oklahoma that he did for us then this will be a great fit. He's special. His leadership qualities are what gave us the chance to win as many games as we did the last four years. You want the ball in his hands at the end of the game and he won three games for us last year just with that special talent. He can make good players out of some who may not be so good. The bigger the moment, the better he is."
Szendrei and Johnston join four players who signed with Oklahoma last fall. Junior college players Aaron McGhee and Daryan Selvy, and high school players Johnnie Gilbert and James Wright comprised one of the most highly rated group of fall signees in the country.
McGhee, a 6-8, 250-pound forward at Vincennes (Ind.) University, earned first-team junior college All-America honors this past season by averaging 26.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.6 blocked shots per contest. He averaged 34.5 points per game during the national junior college tournament to earn MVP honors and guided his team to a 32-5 season record and fifth-place national finish. He was also named the Region 12 Player of the Year.
Another forward, Selvy, 6-6 and 215 pounds, also earned first-team All-America honors for Carl Albert Junior College in Poteau, Okla., and was named the Region 2 Player of the Year. Selvy averaged 23 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 steals per game in guiding his squad to a 23-7 overall record and first-place region finish.
Gilbert, a 6-7, 220-pound forward from Minneapolis, Minn., was named the city's player of the year and defensive player of the year after leading Patrick Henry High School to a 29-1 record and Class 3A state title. Gilbert averaged 17 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks per contest. The first-team All-State selection and member of the state tournament's all-tourney squad surpassed both the 1,000-point and rebound marks for his career. Patrick Henry finished the season ranked 22nd by USA Today.
Wright is another forward who stands 6-6 and weighs 210 pounds. A very athletic wing player from Milwaukee, Wis., who set the state's high jump record, Wright led his team to a four-year 97-10 record and three state championships. He spent this past year working on academics.
Oklahoma is coming off an impressive 27-7 campaign in which it finished the season ranked 12th nationally in the Associated Press poll. The Sooners competed in the Big 12 championship game and made their sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.