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Capel Leans on Experiences
November 04, 2006

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) -- It could be after a mistake in practice or just in a casual moment with his new players when the stories come flowing from Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel.

In a moment of weakness, the tale begins like this: "When I was at Duke ..."
 
In their first few weeks and months under Capel, Sooners players have discovered that their new coach has racked up quite a bit of experience, even at a young age.

"I've been around a lot of interesting things in these games, so I have some pretty interesting stories," said Capel, who at age 31 is the second-youngest coach in Division I. "I've been around really good players and been to some interesting places."

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Capel was a starter on Duke's team that was the 1994 national runner-up. His father, Jeff Sr., coached at the Division I level for eight years and now is an assistant in the NBA. His brother, Jason, helped North Carolina reach the Final Four.

And his experiences are still fresh in his mind. He still remembers vividly how he felt during his first week of practice.

"I think part of me deep down inside always kind of thinks of myself as a player still. That's what I loved doing more than anything was playing," Capel said. "Now, it's transferring that love into helping these guys become really good, becoming the best players they can be."

Capel started all four of his seasons at Duke and averaged 12.4 points. He ranks in the top 10 at the school in 3-pointers and assists.

"Everybody knows where he's come from," said sophomore Taylor Griffin. "He's gone through the exact same stuff on the highest level. I guess it gives a little bit of credibility to whatever he's saying. None of us ever forget that he's experienced all this, so he knows what he's talking about."

Griffin said there's no common message among Capel's stories, and he's certainly not preaching about the wonders of Duke.

"Sometimes it'll be just general philosophy, basketball philosophy, Coach K's philosophy or something that he did when he was the captain, point guard or whatever. Or it could be just stuff that they did goofing around," Griffin said.

There are also tales about Virginia Commonwealth, the school where Capel got his coaching start before leaving to take over Oklahoma after Kelvin Sampson went to Indiana this spring. Junior David Godbold remembers Capel talking about going through his sophomore year without coach Mike Krzyzewski on the sidelines and then his junior year as the team captain.

Senior Nate Carter's favorite Duke-ism: "When I was at Duke, I didn't care about scoring. I don't care now. So you guys shouldn't care."

Players say the stories are well-received.

"It's going to be something that is going to help us out in the end," Godbold said. "He played for Coach K and Coach K is a great coach, so we know it's going to help us out in the end."

Even though the stories come out every now and again, Capel isn't trying to make Oklahoma into Duke. In fact, far from it.

"I really make a conscious effort to not say that, to try not to say that, because I don't want just to refer to my Duke time," Capel said. "That's their program, that's Duke's program. We're not Duke. We're OU. We're pretty doggone good."

The Duke stories and experience are only a part of Capel's coaching philosophy. Early on, they've played a role in helping the new coaches form a close-knit group with the players.

"You can be a great X and O guy, you can be a great basketball mind but if you can't relate to the players and they don't want to play for you, it's probably not going to work," Capel said. "There's a lot of chemistry that goes along with it."

Capel said he'll use all his experiences -- from Duke to pro basketball to VCU -- to try to make improvements at Oklahoma. The Sooners, who've been to the postseason 25 straight seasons, lose more than half of their offensive production with the departure of seniors Taj Gray, Terrell Everett and Kevin Bookout.

Big 12 coaches picked Oklahoma to finish ninth in the conference.

"I don't concern myself with expectations other than mine and other than expectations that we've set for our program," Capel said. "We expect to become the best team we can be, we expect to get better every day and I expect our guys to work hard to grow themselves into this program every day.

"If we do that, then I think our chances of becoming a good team are pretty good."

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