June 27, 2012
NORMAN, Okla. -- For the first summer in his 26-plus-year head coaching career, Oklahoma's Lon Kruger is spending time on the court instructing his players.
Don't get the wrong idea. It's not that Kruger and his past staffs didn't want to preside over their teams' summer workouts, it's just that by NCAA rule they weren't allowed to.
Previously, coaches could not be in a gym with a player and a basketball in the summertime. Now coaching staffs get two hours per week to work with players on the court during an eight-week period that coincides with summer classes. Newcomers must be enrolled in school in order to participate in the workouts.
It's no surprise that Kruger is a huge proponent of the new rule -- all coaches probably are. But the second-year OU head coach claims his support of the NCAA legislation isn't based solely on the benefits of getting a head start on drill work, installing an offense or implementing a 3-2 zone.
"The biggest thing is just the opportunity to spend more time with the players in the summer," said Kruger. "Being in the gym with them, talking about academics, talking about how the transition is going -- that's what's most important, especially for the new guys.
"The freshmen are making the transition from home and high school to college, and many times it's their first time away from home for an extended period. So access to them in the summertime benefits us as a staff, but hopefully it helps them even more."
Some hoops teams may elect to work out as a full squad once a week for two straight hours, while others may choose to break up practices into two 60-minute or three 40-minute blocks. Still others, like OU, might utilize a combination of team and individual sessions.
Kruger said he likes to get his whole team together once a week for at least an hour. Other workouts may be reduced to smaller groups of four, or even a single player, allowing for more detailed one-on-one instruction.
Asked if he thinks his players are in favor of the new NCAA rule, Kruger was quick to respond.
"For sure they like it. Anytime you can play basketball in a little bit more organized situation, players enjoy that and look forward to it. Our structure is upbeat, it's positive, it's encouraging, so it's not like they're dreading that time."
Freshman Buddy Hield concurred with his coach.
"It's been very beneficial to me," said Hield, a 6-4 guard from the Bahamas who played his junior and senior seasons at Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire, Kan. "It's getting me ready for the season. It's shown me how the competition is going to be, because we go hard in our practices. Now I have a better idea of what it'll be like in a real game situation."
Explained senior Romero Osby, "It gives the coaches a chance to evaluate us instead of waiting until September. So it's kind of like September in June and July. You get a chance to get some teamwork done as well as some individual work.
"The coaches put us through some really beneficial drills and things we need to be doing this time of year, really pushing us. They push us harder than we can probably push ourselves. So I think it's been great."
Two hours a week may not sound like a lot, but it's two hours more per week than Kruger has ever had with which to work.
MORE NCAA RULES CHANGES
Another significant NCAA rules change went into effect June 15. That's when regulation that limited the number of phone calls and prohibited all text messages from Division I men's basketball coaches to recruits was lifted. Now, as long as a prospective student-athlete has completed his sophomore year of high school, coaches may contact them as often as they like by phone or by text.
Kruger said he thinks the new rule has the potential to be both beneficial and detrimental.
"The jury's out on that a bit," said Kruger. "If we as coaches don't abuse it, it does give us the ability to get to know prospects a little better, and prospects get to know us better. So that's a good thing.
"I'm sure the concern, however, is that coaches might be texting or calling several times a day. That's not the intent of the rule."
Additionally, coaches are now allowed to send general and electronically transmitted recruiting correspondence to a prospect beginning June 15th at the conclusion of his sophomore year.
FIFTEEN HERE, TWO MORE ON THE WAY
The Sooners' 2012-13 roster will consist of 17 players, and 15 of them are already on campus participating in workouts.
The squad will be made up of 10 players returning from last year (seniors Casey Arent, Andrew Fitzgerald, Sam Grooms, Romero Osby and Steven Pledger, juniors Cameron Clark, Amath M'Baye and Tyler Neal, and sophomores James Fraschilla and Jarrod Kruger) as well as seven newcomers (junior college transfer D.J. Bennett, sophomore Gonzaga transfer Ryan Spangler and freshmen C.J. Cole, Isaiah Cousins, Jelon Hornbeak, Buddy Hield and Steve Noworyta).
All but Cousins and Noworyta (a walk-on) are in Norman attending the first summer school session. Cousins and Nowortya are expected to arrive the second week of July.
NEWCOMERS IMPRESSING VETERANS
Top-100 national recruit Jelon Hornbeak said his first week or two on the practice court transitioning from high school to OU proved somewhat difficult. But now he says he's in a better spot.
"The speed and strength aspects were a challenge at first," said Hornbeak, a 6-4 guard who attended Grace Preparatory Academy in Arlington, Texas. "It took me probably a week and a half to get used to everything. Now I feel a little more comfortable and I know my teammates a little better. Seeing their tendencies on the court is also really helping me out. I'm thankful to be here for the summer."
Consider seniors Sam Grooms and Romero Osby impressed by what they've seen so far from Hornbeak and OU's other newcomers.
"They have a will to work," said Grooms. "They work hard every single day, they're hungry and they learn quickly. They learn on the go, which makes it easier for the returning players. Sometimes with new guys it seems like you're going backwards, but this group picks up on stuff so fast that we don't have to slow down."
Added Osby, "As a group, they're tough guys who are willing to work and are happy to be here. That's important to have guys who actually want to be here and work hard for the program. I think that's what we have this year. They're fired up to be here."