NORMAN, Okla. - By just about every standard, Longar Longar is having a breakout season. The junior center on Jeff Capel's OU men's basketball team is averaging 13.3 points and 7.8 rebounds a game, both team highs, while ranking fourth in the Big 12 with his .591 field goal percentage.
Longar, who was named Big 12 Co-Player of the Week after his 20-point, career-high-15-rebound performance against SMU on Dec. 28, is averaging 11.2 more points a game than he did last year. That's the second biggest improvement in the Big 12 from a year ago.
So what have been the keys to success this year for the 6-11, 228-pounder who was born in Sudan and came to the United States at age 14? Find out in this SoonerSports.com Q&A...
Q: You've had a very good start to the season, averaging more than 13 points and almost eight rebounds a game. How would you rate your season so far?
A: "I think I'm off to a good start, I just have to continue to work. I just have to keep working with the coaching staff and continue to do what they ask me to do. Coach Capel always tells me that if I want to become a big-time player it's important for me to be consistent every practice and every game. You have to leave it out on the floor every day, whether it's in practice or in a game.
"The day before the SMU game, I got a little frustrated in practice and Coach (Capel) was riding me a bunch. The best way to respond is in a positive way. When the coaches yell at you it's because they know you can do better. So the coaches have really done a great job of motivating me so far."
Q: Besides the coaches, what else do you think has been a key to your individual success this season?
A: "I stay focused. I avoid a lot of things. I'm a college student, but I hardly do anything besides go to class and go to the gym. It's winter break right now so all I do is go to the gym and go back home. I don't associate with a lot of people besides my teammates. These are the only people I know and I dedicate my work here. I don't really do much. I don't go out, I don't go partying or anything like that.
"Also, I'm very motivated after what I've gone through the last couple of years. My opportunity has arrived and the only person that can stop me is me."
A: "Oh yeah. I always used to think about making my move or looking at the rim before I caught the ball. But now (strength) Coach Darby (Rich) does a lot of things with me to help me catch it better. He'll throw a tennis ball at me with my back turned and I'll have to catch it, or sometimes he'll throw a football at me. (Assistant) Coach (Mark) Cline tells me to reach out and catch the ball away from my body. My reaction time has really improved since we began doing all of those things. And the other thing that has really helped me is being patient with the ball once I catch it. I have to be patient when making my move."
Q: How else has Coach Cline helped you this year?
A: "He's helped me a lot, especially with my confidence. He's a player. He played ACC Basketball at Wake Forest. He tells me that when I go out there I can't be thinking about making mistakes. He says that I'm a ballplayer and that I'm going to make mistakes. But it's how you make mistakes that's important. If you make a mistake when you're going 100 miles per hour, it won't even look like a mistake. When I'm out there I have to play as hard as I can and have confidence in every shot I take.
"It starts in practice - he always tells me, 'Don't shoot the ball just to shoot it. Feel like you can make every shot, whether it's a hook shot, a mid-range jumper, whatever.' Last year I didn't have the confidence to make a 15 or 16-footer. Now, if I catch the ball and my guy backs away from me, I'll shoot it. So Coach Cline and Coach Capel have really helped me in many ways. They've been really patient with me and really given me confidence. That's helped a lot."
Q: What was going through your head your first two years on campus when you were stuck behind Kevin Bookout and Taj Gray?
A: "It was very difficult. I came in my freshman year and had a couple of talks with Coach (Kelvin) Sampson. I heard some rumors that he might redshirt me, but he told me he wasn't going to because he thought I could help the team that year. As the season went along, it seemed that he didn't have the confidence in me to go out and help the team. I understand that I was learning, but to learn you have to be on the floor. I never got much of a chance to get on the floor and get comfortable with the game's speed. So I would get in the game but would get subbed out pretty quickly."
A: "That was probably the only game I played big minutes. I contributed in that game. I got comfortable because I didn't worry if someone was going to replace me from the bench. So as soon as I knew I was starting that night, I took charge. I played really well and Terrell Everett told me that's how I had to play every game. But it wasn't up to me because there were guys in front of me. I gained a lot of confidence in that game and played well the next game against Texas-Pan American. But then a couple of games later it was right back to where I started - Kevin and Taj were still in front of me and I didn't get to play much."
Q: Regarding this year's team, it appears as though you guys have started clicking pretty well lately, especially defensively. Is that because you guys are getting more comfortable with Coach Capel and his system?
A: "Yeah, Coach Capel has been very patient with us. When he got here he knew that we didn't know his system or style of play. He's up-tempo and he's an intense guy. But he's been patient with us and we started to realize the more we buy into what he's telling us, the easier the game is going to be for us.
"When we come to practice, the first thing we do is defensive breakdown. We work on defense, defense, defense, defense. We've built an identity. We didn't really see it until we began playing games and started stopping teams. We have to play great defense - that's the only way to win. If you get stops on defense, it makes things easier on offense. You might get a steal and then get a basket in transition. Playing good defense helps you build momentum."
Q: How good do you think this team can be?
A: "This team can be as good as we want. It's up to us. It's up to how hard we play every game. If we show up and play together and share the ball like we've been doing the last four or five games, our chances of doing well really increase. I'm confident that we can do some big things in the Big 12. We just have to keep building on things we've been working on and just carry those things from practice to games and then from game to game to game. I feel like we have to improve in every area. If we continue to do that, good things will happen."