STILLWATER — Rough summer for OSU basketball. Rough, Rough summer.
Not as rough as the summer for the women who testified that OSU player Darrell Williams sexually assaulted them. Not as rough as the summer for Williams, who in July was convicted of two counts of rape by instrumentation and one count of sexual battery.
But several Cowboys regularly traipsed to the Payne County Courthouse in a show of support for Williams. Including the night Williams was found guilty.
And suddenly basketball didn't seem so important. Either someone they considered a “father figure” was wrongfully convicted of a horrific crime, or someone they trusted wasn't who they thought he was.
Which made the Cowboys' trip to Spain for four exhibition games a welcome respite.
Those overseas trips are billed as a combination athletic/academic excursion, but make no mistake. They are for basketball purposes. Extra practice time. Some game competition. A head start on the coming season.
But hoops took low priority in Spain. This was a chance for the Cowboys to make sense of what had happened.
“Much-needed break for our basketball team to get away,” Ford said of the trip. “It was a very tough summer. One of the toughest things I've ever gone through. It was good to get away. Our team really jelled.”
No staff member families went along. Just the players, coaches and support personnel. They played together, ate together, sight-saw together and talked.
“Very important time to get away and really bond,” Ford said. “It accomplished everything I wanted to and more.”
Ford said his Cowboys were more compatible than most college teams with which he has traveled abroad. No complaining about the food or searching for a McDonald's; no grumbling about touring a monument or landmark.
“Nothing I would change” about the trip, Ford said. “Our team got up every single day and embraced the whole trip.”
But Williams always was in the back of minds.
“Our players were very, very close with Darrell,” Ford said. “He was almost like a father figure to many of them. We talked about that over there, what to learn from all this.”
When the Cowboys returned to Stillwater, Williams' saga had not settled. The Rev. Jesse Jackson was in town a few days ago to stage a rally in Williams' defense, and Williams' sentencing, scheduled for Friday, was postponed until Sept. 14 because his attorneys filed a motion for a new trial.
Williams continues to express his innocence, and Ford believes him, just as he said when testifying at the trial.
“I just know Darrell Williams had done many things to prove to me he wasn't involved in this,” said Ford, who said he couldn't expound until the case was settled for good.
The victims' testimony was the compelling state's evidence, but this wasn't a he said-she said case. Williams didn't testify. If he's innocent, not testifying was a mistake.
But Ford said his players believe in Williams' innocence, too.
“They're a tough group of guys,” Ford said. “But it was very impressive to me, their loyalty to him. I wouldn't support somebody … I thought had done this. Our players are the same way.”
And now they're home from Spain, starting a new school year, having been changed by one very rough summer.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.