The Oklahoma State men's basketball team hits the court tonight in their first official practice of the season.
The Cowboys are returning four starters and nine letterman from last year's team, while adding several newcomers. Four of the Cowboys' top-five scorers from last season return, including preseason All-Big 12 selection Le'Bryan Nash, who averaged 13.3 points and five rebounds per game a year ago.
Along with the sophomore Nash, the other three starters returning are all underclassmen. Junior Markel Brown averaged 10.5 points and 5.1 board per game a season ago, and also led the team in assists with 80. Redshirt sophomores Brian Williams (9.6 points per game) and Michael Cobbins (5.7 rebounds per game, 49 blocked shots) both started 20 or more games last season.
Senior Jéan-Paul Olukemi, who started 11 games last year before suffering a knee injury in the non-conference finale against Virginia Tech, was averaging 9.4 points per game before missing the conference portion of the schedule. Fellow senior Philip Jurick started 16 games for the Pokes and was averaging 4.9 rebounds per game with 47 blocked shots before he injured his ankle against Kansas State. Sophomore Marek Soucek was just coming into his own when the season ended last year.
Newcomers to the squad include McDonald's All-American Marcus Smart, who led the USA Under-18 squad to the FIBA Americas championship this past summer. His high school teammate, Phil Forte, won two separate 3-point shooting contests over the summer, one at the NCAA Final Four in New Orleans and the other at the Kentucky Derby Festival Classic. Kamari Murphy, a forward originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., spent the past year at IMG Academy in Florida, honing his basketball skills.
"I'm excited about the first day of practice, because of the potential of this basketball team," said head coach Travis Ford, entering his fifth season at OSU. "Potential is a big word, but I like the makeup of this team. I like that we have some returning players, although they are young, they're returners that got some valuable experience last year. We're also adding some impact-type players. And, with our opportunity to take a trip to Spain, our first day of practice should run smooth. We won't spend a lot of wasted time teaching terminology, teaching certain drills, it should be very sharp. We should be able to get a lot more accomplished than a normal first day of practice. And that's exciting."
Homecoming & Hoops, the annual event showcasing the Cowboy and Cowgirl Basketball squads, will take place on Friday, Oct. 19, at 9 p.m. inside Gallagher-Iba Arena. OSU opens the season unofficially on Thursday, Nov. 1, when the Pokes host Ottawa University in an exhibition game starting at 7 p.m. The season opener against UC Davis will be on Friday, Nov. 9, as the second game of a doubleheader with the Cowgirls, which begins at 5:30 p.m.