OU men's basketball: Lon Kruger says Sooners 'just hope to get to a game' in pandemic season
As the battle with COVID-19 continues, the Oklahoma men’s basketball team will return to action on Wednesday with a season opener against Texas-San Antonio.
An unprecedented season awaits the Sooners, whose 2019-20 campaign came to an abrupt halt just hours before the team’s first postseason game at the Big 12 Championship.
“It’ll be different for sure,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said in a Monday Zoom news conference. “We just hope to get to a game. There is so many games being postponed or canceled around the country. And yet I really believe this is the way it’s going to be every week of the next three or four months.”
The cancellation of last year’s season was a gut-punch to OU, which won three of its last four games, with two of those wins coming against ranked opponents. The Sooners trailed only Kansas and Baylor in the Big 12 standings to end the season, finishing 9-9.
The upcoming season brings new challenges for Oklahoma, but a senior laden team bodes well for Kruger in an uncommon year.
The Sooners return two of the top scorers in the conference in seniors Brady Manek and Austin Reaves. At guard, Reaves (14.7 points per game) had an up-and-down season but showed promise on multiple occasions, scoring 20-plus points in seven games. Manek (14.4 ppg) has seen consistent improvement to his game. He also and grabbed 6.2 rebounds a game last season, and added 1.2 blocks per game.
Manek, alongside Kur Kuath and redshirt freshman Rick Issanza, will shoulder a majority of the center position this season.
In the backcourt, Kruger added four guards to the roster this offseason, bringing in freshmen Josh O’Garro and Trey Phipps, as well as transfers Umoja Gibson and Elijah Harkless. Both transfers have two years of eligibility remaining.
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Gibson transferred in from North Texas and was the Mean Green’s top scorer averaging 14.5 points. The shifty 6-foot-1 Waco, Texas, product is a career 39% 3-point shooter. He was declared immediately eligible by the NCAA in October.
“He’s a playmaker,” Manek said of Gibson. “A lot of people knock him for his size. I think he’s a true playmaker. He makes shots, he finds the open guy, he gets to the hole, he’s an awesome defender.”
Gibson's added scoring will be much needed for OU, which graduated the Big 12’s fourth-leading scorer in Kristian Doolittle.
Athletes across the world have made tough decisions on whether or not to continue playing. Oklahoma football saw several players opt out of the 2020 season.
“No one even thought about it,” Kruger said of his team. “They were all interested in playing, they all felt safe.”
After the opener against UTSA, OU will face non-conference opponents Central Florida and Florida before taking on TCU for its first conference matchup.
Kruger, who has led OU to six postseason appearances in the last seven seasons, said the Sooners are ready to start the season.
“They’re ready to play someone else,” Kruger said. “And we need to play someone else to find out where we’re at. They’re anxious to play and see where they are.”