NORMAN, Okla. -- Five days before hosting NCAA Division II Washburn in a season-opening exhibition game, head coach Lon Kruger and 11 members of the Oklahoma men's basketball team met reporters at Lloyd Noble Center for the program's annual local media day.
The Sooners will blend of mix of experience and youth in 2013-14. Cameron Clark, Isaiah Cousins, Buddy Hield and Je'lon Hornbeak have started a combined 116 games, while nine of the team's 15 players have never suited up for OU.
Said third-year OU head coach Lon Kruger, "Hard to believe it's here already. This is a great time of year. We're excited to get started and the players are ready to work against someone other than themselves every day in practice. We'll get the opportunity to do that this Saturday. We're really looking forward to that, especially with a lot of new bodies and new people. We have a lot of minutes, rebounds, and points to replace from a year ago."
More select quotes from Kruger and OU players are below. Kruger's entire press conference can be viewed above.
Oklahoma plays its first exhibition game this Saturday at 2 p.m. CT at Lloyd Noble Center against Washburn. The Sooners turn around and play two days later (Monday at 7 p.m. CT) against Oklahoma Christian inside McCasland Field House on the OU campus.
Tickets for the general public for the exhibition contest start at $5, while OU students will be admitted free to both games with a valid school I.D.
HEAD COACH LON KRUGER
"Hard to believe it's here already. This is a great time of year. We're excited to get started and the players are ready to work against someone other than themselves every day in practice. We'll get the opportunity to do that this Saturday. We're really looking forward to that, especially with a lot of new bodies and new people. We have a lot of minutes, rebounds, and points to replace from a year ago. The opportunity to get out there and play against someone else is exciting for the coaches as well.
"The guys work really hard. They are a bunch of gym rats. They love being in the gym and they love playing. The trip to Europe in August certainly helped, especially this group, given that so many of them have not played any Big 12 minutes. We got 10 extra practice days under our belt, five games over there and time off the court as well. We probably got as much from that trip as we possibly could have. It's an exciting time and we are ready to get started."
On what specific things the team got out of the summer trip to Europe:
"With so many new guys and 10 days of practice, we had the opportunity to identify roles and try to develop an identity and personality of the team. It was a jumpstart on that more than anything else. Also, it was very educational with the trip into Belgium, Paris and Normandy Beach. It was very enlightening for our guys and I know they enjoyed that and appreciated that."
On Ryan Spangler:
"Ryan has been great. He took advantage of that redshirt year last year as much as a player can in terms of working hard every day, working to develop a little more range on his shot. He is a blue-collar type guy that loves to play. He has a very high level of competitiveness and is a rebounder. He runs the floor. He'll score for us. He'll be one of the leaders right off the bat."
On who has taken initiative in filling the leadership role:
"Naturally, with Cam (Clark) and Tyler (Neal) being seniors they have done a nice job. Cam is not the most vocal but he brings it every day in practice and he had a great trip to Europe. All of the other guys appreciate how hard he works and what he has invested in the program."
On how sophomores Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Je'lon Hornbeak have improved since their freshman year:
"They have all grown significantly. The period between freshman year and sophomore year often times is one of big change. Coming out of high school you don't really know what to expect. And after going through Big 12 basketball for a year you focus a little differently in preparation for the next year with how fast the game is and how big and strong the opponents are. All three of them have done a nice job and their roles will change. Je'lon, being a combo guard, will probably play a little more point than he did last year. Isaiah will play a lot more wing and he played more point last year. Buddy has gotten bigger and stronger.
I think all three have done a really good job and taken the appropriate steps."
On freshman guards Frank Booker and Jordan Woodard:
"They have done very well. They're two guys coming in as freshmen who did have the luxury of 10 days of practice in the summertime with five games in Europe. They're both doing a really good job. Jordan will figure into the rotation right off the bat. (With) Frank, we're a little deeper at the wing than maybe at the point, but he is doing a good job and will probably figure into the rotation. He had maybe his best week of practice last week. It was good to see the aggression out of Frank. Jordan has done a pretty good job and he had a pretty good trip to Europe in terms of production. He's a true point guard. He's very quick off the dribble and likes to push it, which fits right in line with what we like to do. He's a scoring point guard which we love. He's able to create for others and is very active defensively as well. He has a very good blend of skills that should translate very well into Big 12 play."
On the injury situation:
"D.J. (Bennett) has missed about 10 days now with a slight tendon tear in his foot. He's making very good progress in his recovery. What that means about him being back, we can't really say for sure. He'll probably have another MRI in five to seven days. He's feeling good and we hope to have him back for the (regular season) opener. Everyone else -- we have had several ankle injuries that cost them a day or two. There's about three or four players. Other than that, everyone's doing fine."
On the Big 12 and where his team fits in:
"I think the preseason rankings are understandable. I think with Kansas coming back with their run of championships and the new guys coming in, they are right there at the top. Oklahoma State, with all their guys back, I understand that entirely. Baylor, they're right there near the third spot with their frontline back and new guys. After that I think you have got a pretty good balance. You've got a group of people who will work hard to get into that mix of the top three and we feel like we're one of those that deserve to be in that conversation."
SOPHOMORE GUARD BUDDY HIELD
On how the offense is different this season:
"We're playing really up-tempo. It's fast now. We have chemistry and we share the ball. Everybody is like a guard. Cam (Clark) is like a guard but he plays the four (position) for us. Everybody is doing their part and we are sharing the ball. We're just trying to push the tempo and increase the scoring."
On what he worked on in the offseason:
"I developed my jump shot and made that better. I was a shooter in high school but I fell off last year. Being more mentally focused, I think I'm ready to make that step to become a better basketball player this year."
SOPHOMORE FORWARD RYAN SPANGLER
On how much of Romero Osby's former role he can accept and take on:
"I can accept a lot of it. I wouldn't say that I'm going to fill his role completely but I can some of his leadership, some of his hard work that he did. He did all the dirty work, anything necessary to win. I'm going to be able to work hard, rebound and score some points but I don't think you can ever replace a man like him just after one year. Hopefully in time I'll be able to do that."
On what excites him about this team:
"How young and athletic we are. We are going to run on people this year. We're very fast, we have people who can come in and fill our place and be able to run and score. Young legs and being able to play together. We went to Europe and played five games so I think we are ahead of everybody now just by leadership."
SOPHOMORE GUARD JE'LON HORNBEAK
On he learned from his freshman season:
"With the grind of the season there are certain things to expect. You expect some losses, you expect some tough times and some bumps in the season. Now, I know how to get through that. I know to just keep grinding. Things are going to happen; it's basketball. You're not going to win every game or make every shot and last year I think I let that get to me. Now I feel like I've grown up a little bit."
On Ryan Spangler:
"Spangler, he's going to be real big. He might not be one of the big stats guys on the team but he will have a definite meaning to the team. He's a real defensive anchor, he talks, and he does all the little things. There might be some games where he has 15 or 16 boards and eight points but those will be meaningful eight points. Or it might be that he has 20 and 17. He commands the paint and he talks so well that it really allows us to work and move as a unit. He's going to be special for us."
FRESHMAN POINT GUARD JORDAN WOODARD
On building on last year's NCAA Tournament berth and what his teammates have told him about it:
"They have been giving me a lot of motivation and telling me how hard it is. They told me that it's not easy to make the tournament. It makes me want to work that much harder to be able to contribute to this team going back to the tournament."
FRESHMAN GUARD FRANK BOOKER
On what he expects his role to be this season:
"I expect to be a spot-up shooter and a person who when the point guard drives and my man helps out he can kick it to me and I shoot the ball. Make shots and play good, solid defense."
On who he watched most on last year's team:
"I watched (Steven) Pledger. He was the shooter of the team and I watched him and where he got his shots, how he got his shots and the moves he made to get open looks."