STILLWATER — Oklahoma State held its annual Winter Sports Media Day this afternoon, with Cowboy Basketball, Cowgirl Basketball and Cowboy Wrestling represented with the local media. Here are some quotes from select men's basketball players as well as head coach Travis Ford as they prepare for the 2013-14 season.
Senior guard Markel Brown On what makes this year different “We have a target on our back now. Normally in the past, we have had to prove ourselves. This year, everyone knows that we are good and are aiming to beat us. We have a target on our backs this year and every night, someone is going to come out trying to beat us. I think it’s a great thing. We just have to go out there and live up to all these expectations.”
On having four top-10 returning scorers in the Big 12 “It gives us a lot of confidence. Especially with the new rules this year. Offense is going to be the focal point of this team. Like (Phil) Forte said, anyone on this team can go off, and that’s what makes this team so special.”
On adjusting to the new rule “It’s very hard. We play a good and physical defense. It’s going to be a challenge, but we have been working on it throughout practice.”
On having Brian Williams back “It’s very important to have him back. Brian does a lot of stuff for this team that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. He plays great defense, and brings toughness to this team. We couldn’t ask for a better X-factor on this team than Brian.”
Redshirt junior post Michael Cobbins On entering his junior season "I look back at our freshman year and how we came in and who we went against in practice. I consider it to be a big learning curve. I was glad that I did it (redshirted) because I learned so much in the offseason and going up against Marshall (Moses) and them and learning the physicality of what it takes to play down low. It was a great learning year for us."
On weighing 230 lbs right now "Right now, we're maintaining it and doing good with the all-you-can-eat diet. But I'm not having any problems with it."
On transition with new players "It's going to be a little different. Those are some big shoes I have to fill in. Coach (Ford) has told me my role on the team and what I need to do. I feel prepared and ready to go."
On what he sees in the younger players "I see a little bit of us. A lot of young guys ready to play right now and they'll learn a lot during their time here and get better and probably be where we're at right now as juniors and seniors."
On the high expectations for the season "We just have to put that on the back burner. We know we have a great team and we just have to do everything we can to get there.
On motivation coming from high expectations or how last season ended "I'd say it's a little bit of both. More so, the way last season ended than the preseason hype this year. None of us finished the way we wanted to last year and we just wanted to continue where we left off and get better."
Junior wing Le'Bryan Nash On the hype coming into this season "It can be very special for us. Everybody is talking about how we're one of the top teams, so it's a high expectation for us. Hopefully, we can deliver."
On what the fans can expect from Homecoming & Hoops "It's going to be a wonderful show. There are a lot of shooters on the team now, so you're going to see a lot of three-point shots taken. We're still athletic, so you're going to see a lot of dunks. You're going to see us getting after it. We promised each other this year that we're going to play for the crowd and we're going to play for each other."
On what defines this team "We're still looking for what defines us. We're still adjusting, and now we're adjusting to the new rules that we heard about last Saturday. We still identify ourselves as a defensive team like last year, where we're trying to force turnovers. We have to adjust to the rules and find out what we can do well now.”
Redshirt junior wing Brian Williams On entering his junior season "Time flies, we're really supposed to be seniors but we're juniors and we've learned a lot. We've watched a lot of guys in front of us and watch a lot of guys pass through in and out. We were just waiting on our time and now it's here."
On his health "I feel great. I'm glad I'm back 100 percent and I'm ready to get out there."
On missing the first half of last season "I feel like a gained a lot more respect for guys that have to do rehab. I was in the training room everyday before and after practice doing what I had to do to get back healthy. I had to do some other stuff too that the other guys were doing. It was a learning process but I'm glad it’s over and ready to play ball."
On his effectiveness when he returned last season "It was somewhere in the 60-70 percent (range). It wasn't until after the season that I really started to get back healthy. I didn't have any time to during the season, I just had to hop back in and do what I could. And now I'm back and ready to go."
On goals for this season "We just have to stay focused and keep our eyes on the prize. Obviously, we want to just take it one game at a time and win a Big 12 Championship and take it one game at a time and win the NCAA Championship."
Sophomore guard Phil Forte On the team’s goals “Getting knocked out in the first rounds of the NCAAs last season is still fresh in our mind. There are so many great teams we play this year. The Big 12 is very deep this year, and we are going to take this season game by game. A deep run in March is what we have been working towards all off-season.”
On having four top-10 returning scorers in the Big 12 “I think it just shows how much talent this team has and I think everyone is aware of that. Since day one, we have just been focusing on playing as a team. We feel like if we can share the ball as a team, it will only benefit us more. There’s going to be nights where we just have to find the guy who has the hot hand, and roll with him.”
On the new rule “It’s different. They’re trying to take out the physical part of the game. They want to see a lot more scoring because of this. We had a scrimmage this past weekend, and it took some time to adjust to the new rules. Any touch on the hip is a foul now, but I feel like the team that can adjust the quickest will benefit the most. Whether we like it or not, that is the way the game is played now.”
Sophomore guard Marcus Smart On how he feels being back on campus after making the big decision to return for his sophomore year "It feels great. This is a special team this year. We have a lot of key players back, and we have some great freshmen coming in, like Stevie Clark, Leyton Hammonds and Jeffrey Carroll, and Gary Gaskins, our junior-college transfer. We've brought all the pieces together, and we're just tuning everything up in practice."
On the hype coming into this season "This year, more than any year we've ever had here, is unique for us. We are a very special group here, and the brotherhood on this team is stronger than it's ever been, even more so than last year. There are a lot of expectations behind us. We're going to try to live up to them, but that's not going to define us as a basketball team."
On if experience helps with the new rule changes in place this year " With that experience, we can understand the rules and know that when guys play us, there are going to be a lot of exotic zones and defenses against us. We can keep our team calm and collective. I heard this one saying, someone said, 'What is pressure?' Pressure is not knowing what you're doing. With that experience, you know what you're doing, so pressure is taken out of the equation.”
On if coming back for another year is still fresh on his mind "I mean, I wouldn't say it is as much as it was a couple of months ago, but it's still there. It was a real big deal for us. It showed how much everybody cared about us coming back that they stopped what they were doing, got out of class and came out to support us. It was a big deal, but it's not as fresh as it was a couple of months ago."
Head Coach Travis Ford Opening Statement “We’re excited about our team. I think any coach gets excited whenever you have some returning players that played significant roles from the year before. That’s what we have, a lot of returning players who have experience, who experienced some success last year. Hopefully we’ve learned a lot from last year. Hopefully, our guys fully understand what makes us a good basketball team and what holds us back at times.”
“It’s been good that we’ve gotten the early start time for practices because what it’s allowed us to do is have more competition. I have not yet put a starting five together or anything like that. I have always divided the teams evenly in practice, which in turn has given us an incredible amount of competition. It’s a high level of competition in practice because these guys are going against each other. We’ve made the teams as fair as possible, and it’s because of the early start time that we’ve been able to do that. When you’ve had the later start time, you go ahead and try to put your top five or six together and you’re a little more rushed. But this basketball team has been very competitive in practice.”
“I think in two weeks, we’ve had one bad practice that I would consider not very good or productive. Their attitudes have been great and we’ve had good leadership. As for the returners, none of the returners have surprised me; they’ve all kind of been what we thought. Some of the new guys have surprised a little bit. It has been different, though, the early start time is different. It has made us really analyze how you manage this early start time. You have to manage it, especially with a returning team. If you have a really young team and nobody knew what they were doing, it would probably go by a little bit quicker. With our team, veteran guys, we can already tell they’re ready to play against somebody else. We’ve still got two and a half more weeks before we play our first exhibition game, so we really have to manage it.”
On the new rules “From talking to our head of officials, Curtis Shaw, and to different people, they said it’s the most defining rule change that they’ve ever seen, and that it’s going to change the game probably more than anything has changed the game since the three-point line. We’ve talked to our team about how I think it helps us in many ways on the offensive end; how we play and do certain things. I think some people are going to take this rule to say you can’t play defense. I think the team that says, ‘Hey, we’re going to figure out how to be a great defensive team within the rules’, I think those are the teams that are going to be successful. You can still play great defense, you can still stop teams if you adapt to the rules. But you just can’t say, as the officials are saying, that they want it all to be offense. They’ll tell you that. Now they don’t care about winning and losing. We all understand that defense and rebounding wins. It wins championships, it wins games. Officials don’t care about that, it’s not their problem. But for us, we understand defense wins and we have to learn to play great defense within the rules.”
On having a mature player like Marcus Smart “There are not many people who approach their job like Marcus Smart does. Not just our players, but anybody. We have scouts come in here every day. I tell them all the same thing … ‘you’re about to see the hardest working guy out here and he’s going to be the most vocal’. I don’t care what you day you come. I don’t care if it’s the second practice of the day, or the day after a game, or the day before game. Whatever it may be, he does it the same way every single day I’ve ever been around the young man. As hard as he possibly can, with the most enthusiasm and energy, and he’s always leading and talking in everything that he does. I think that’s uncommon for anybody. So my expectations are I don’t expect to have everybody like that. I hope some of it rubs off and it can become contagious within our program. But there’s not many that lead and get it like he gets it.”
On handling preseason expectations “We’ve talked a lot about the expectations. You embrace them in the right way. We’ve talked a lot about how we ended the season last year. We don’t hide anything because it’s all out there. They get it; they get told how great they’re supposed to be when they’re walking across campus every day. I said that’s great that they feel that way about you, but as we use the phrase, ‘great expectations haven’t won anything for anybody, ever’. Just because you’re supposed to win something doesn't mean that it’s automatically going to happen for you. You have to be humble enough to understand that you have a chance to be a good basketball team, or they wouldn’t be talking about you. So you have a chance. So what are you going to do with the opportunity that you have, because you do have some good players and you’ve got some guys returning. So be humble enough to understand the expectations, but be hungry enough to try to back them up as best as you can.”