NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma head men's basketball coach Lon Kruger held a season-ending media session Monday afternoon at Lloyd Noble Center, reflecting on OU's 23-10 campaign and discussing elements of the offseason and next year.
The Sooners surpassed just about everyone's expectations in 2013-14, going 12-6 in the grueling Big 12 Conference and finishing in sole possession of second place. OU was picked to finish in fifth place (tied with Kansas State) in the Big 12 Preseason Coaches Poll, and most preseason magazines and online prognosticators pegged the Sooners even lower than that. For OU's performance, Kruger was named the AP Big 12 Coach of the Year.
As good as the Sooners were this season (they were a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament), prospects for next year and beyond are even more promising. OU loses only two players from this year's roster (seniors Cameron Clark and Tyler Neal) and will welcome three high school signees next year.
The Sooners will return 73 percent of their scoring from this season, 75 percent of their rebounding and 88 percent of their assists. And next year's lone senior on scholarship will be forward D.J. Bennett.
Below are selected quotes from Kruger's media session Monday.
On the mood of the team:
"It's typical when the season ends abruptly that there is great disappointment. The (NCAA) tournament is kind of cruel in that way because it ends in a disappointing way for all but one team, really. You're going to go through that moment of depression and disappointment and our guys went through that. With time, things get back to normal and they get to working out and start focusing on next year. It's kind of a process you go through there when the season ends. It's a good group. They'll bounce back well and prepare to have an improved season next year."
On the biggest positive takeaway from this season:
"Generally, the progress individually. It seemed like everyone improved significantly from the year before. As a team, it was a good step there. The excitement and enthusiasm for continuing that momentum and going forward with a new starting point that's improved -- (we) have to keep getting better."
On who made the biggest progress this season:
"From the year before, Isaiah (Cousins) obviously jumped a bunch both offensively and defensively. I thought his play was good. You can say that about a lot of people though if you consider the improvement of Buddy (Hield) and his shooting percentages and Tyler Neal's shooting percentages; probably those guys more than anyone else from the year before. Obviously, the new guys -- Ryan (Spangler) was great, Jordan (Woodard) had a terrific freshman year. A lot of guys did a really good job. But from an improvement standpoint, probably Isaiah and Buddy as much as anyone."
On what he would like to see from D.J. Bennett in the offseason:
"It's a huge offseason for D.J. We need D.J. to jump in there and play a lot more minutes. I thought in stretches he had really good minutes this year. He has to invest in this offseason in a way that he is prepared to have consistently really good minutes and a lot more of them. He'll do that. He's got the capability to do that. Again, at times he was very good this year and at other times he wasn't quite as consistent as we would like to see."
On what the team has learned from the postseason:
"Throughout the year, not just the postseason, I think they learned how tough it is to win games. You have to prepare to do battle on each possession. You have to be consistent for 40 minutes and try to mature to the point where you have more good minutes out of the 40. There were some good stretches and bad stretches. We have to try to improve the number of good stretches, increase the length of the good stretches and reduce the length of the bad stretches."
On if there is anything that can be learned from watching the teams still playing:
"You learn a little bit. Most importantly, probably that feeling of 'we'd rather be playing' and the motivation that provides. Again, as disappointing as it is in the short term, when you look back through the course of the year this group made a lot of progress and took good steps as a program. Yet, there's a lot of work still to do and this group understands that."
On what signees Dante Buford, Khadeem Lattin and Jamuni McNeace need to bring:
"The three of them bring length, athletic ability, enthusiasm and energy. How quickly that translates to minutes in Big 12 play remains to be seen. The new rules allow us to get them in here in the summertime and I think that helps everyone across the country with the transition from high school to college. The intensity, the strength difference, the quickness difference are things high school guys typically refer to as a little bit of a surprise. Maybe they can get through that a little bit in the summertime and helps them with the transition more quickly."
On lacking a back-to-the-basket scorer:
"We do. Ryan (Spangler) and D.J. (Bennett) will both improve that a lot. We got pretty one-dimensional late. The results were still OK through the last month of the season. We kind of leaned on the 3(-pointer) more it seemed like late. We stopped attacking, we stopped getting the ball in the paint; not that we got it in there a lot. We have to get in there. We have to be more balanced inside, outside. We need to be more physical, tougher to loose balls, 50-50 balls and all of those things. We kind of became a skilled group as opposed to a blue-collar, gritty group. Look at who is (still) playing in the (NCAA) tournament right now. Obviously they are skilled but they are also very physical and very tough."
On if the two new inside guys (Lattin and McNeace) have the ability to do that:
"They have the potential to do that. Again, how quickly that happens I don't know. Everyone kind of progresses at a different rate. They have the length, the energy and the athletic ability, but both are very lean. They're not rugged in nature, but I think aggressive."
On what the next step is for Buddy Hield:
"Buddy is going to work a lot. He has already started. It's amazing because we haven't even started individual workouts and so many of them have been in here every day since (the season ended), which is not a surprise. Buddy became a stand-still shooter when the year before he was much more of a slasher, much more aggressive on the offensive boards. So we need to combine the two. Buddy has to be a lot more physical, he's got to attack. Ball-handling -- he will work a lot on that. Working through contact, finishing through contact, getting to the free throw line a lot more. Buddy became a guy who didn't shoot many free throws. We need him to get to the line, be more aggressive in earning his way to the line more than he was this year."
On what Hield can learn from his tough last game:
"I don't know that anyone goes into the offseason based off of just one game. But overall, Buddy's a guy who is really motivated when he doesn't do as well as he wants to. He's proud and he knows his role with the team is significant. He will work hard regardless of how the previous year went. You know he's going to work hard. That's kind of the nature of all of these guys."
On if everyone is staying:
"No comment or conversation about anyone not being here. I have talked to all of them and they have all indicated it. At the end of the year, you always talk about what was good, what we need to improve on individually as well as a group. There's always the craziness out there with agents and different decisions. You're always asked that question specifically, but no surprises there. All have indicated feeling good about coming back and getting better."
On if he is surprised that no Big 12 teams made the Final Four:
"It's just tough to get to the Final Four. I don't think you can ever be surprised that someone doesn't get there. It's definitely more of a surprise when someone does get there, because it's so hard. Those teams that are there are playing great and had great years. Kansas is so much different without (Joel) Embiid. That's tough. I thought Iowa State was great without (Georges) Niang. I mean I wouldn't have thought they would have a chance against North Carolina. They did a great job and lost right down to the wire in the next one. Baylor was great although they didn't have a good one in the last one. That's typically the way it works. You go along there, play great, and all of a sudden have one that isn't quite as good and you're done. That's why the tournament is so cruel."