STILLWATER – Travis Ford insists he can't dwell on the hiccups already confronting his Cowboys.
Can't afford it.
Yes, Brian Williams has been lost for the season and will be missed. And Michael Cobbins faces a month of recovery form a fractured toe. And Jéan-Paul Olukemi and Philip Jurick continue slow recoveries from last year's ailments.
All four have started games for OSU and Williams and Cobbins were sure things for this year's starting five.
Still, Ford's focus must stay sharp. The Cowboys – and Ford – approach a seemingly critical juncture, needing a bounce-back from two disappointing seasons to restore the program and reignite the fan base.
The regular season begins Friday night against UC Davis (tip time 8 p.m.) and distractions can't be tolerated.
“No use worrying about it at this point,” Ford said. “Whoever's dressed out, that's who we'll play.
“Last year, I probably worried about it more. I'm to the point where I don't worry about it. It is what it is. There haven't been a lot of seconds worrying about what we don't have. I'm concerned about what we do have.”
On the bright side, the Cowboys still have plenty, despite the early issues.
In Le'Bryan Nash and Marcus Smart, they have a couple of recent McDonald's All-Americans. In Markel Brown, they have a dynamic athlete who should flourish with Smart taking pressure off him at the point. In Olukemi, they have a player who posted 20 double-figuring scoring games two years ago, before a knee injury wrecked his junior season.
There's more, too, with freshman Phil Forte doing a pretty good Keiton Page impression, freshman Kamari Murphy delivering energy and work ethic and Marek Soucek garnering high praise as the team's most-improved player, and Kirby Gardner offering depth at point guard. Cobbins will return, too, and Jurick should continue to improve after tearing his Achilles late last season.
“We've still got some good players, no question,” Ford said. “Things have changed a little bit. But that's part of it. We'll adjust. We just need a little more out of some people.
“But we're all right. Once we get Cobbins back, if we can survive this early schedule, we'll be fine.”
This team feels different from Ford's last two, which finished 20-14 and 15-18 and were plagued by roster turmoil and injuries.
Ford's first recruiting class, a thrown-together lot collected on the fly after his hire, has now completely washed out. His latest classes, however, seem to boast more character than characters.
“I just look at the toughness of this team,” Brown said, “the competitiveness of everyone coming to practice, working hard trying to make the team better. We all just feel good about this team.”
Said Olukemi: “It's a more mature group of guys. Hard working. No shortcuts. That's what you want to get back to the tournament. I definitely like the feel of the team. I feel like everybody has each other's back and wants to play for each other.”
And wants to play on – into March and in the NCAA Tournament.
“We know last year wasn't a good year for us,” Nash said. “We look back on that and try to respond from that. We're talented. There's no doubt about that, we're talented.
“Now it's just go out there and do it.”
OSU MEN'S SCHEDULE
9 UC DAVIS — 8 p.m.
15 vs. *Arkron — 9:30 a.m.
16 vs. *TBD — TBD
18 vs. *TBD — TBD
25 PORTLAND STATE — 1 p.m.
1 at Virginia Tech — 1 p.m.
5 SOUTH FLORIDA — 8 p.m.
8 MISSOURI STATE — 3 p.m.
16 CENTRAL ARKANSAS — 3 p.m.
19 UT ARLINGTON — 7 p.m.
22 TENNESSEE TECH — noon
31 GONZAGA — 5 p.m.
5 at Kansas State — 12:30 p.m.
9 TCU — 7 p.m.
12 at Oklahoma — 2 p.m.
19 TEXAS TECH — 1 p.m.
21 at Baylor — 4:30 p.m.
26 WEST VIRGINIA — noon
30 IOWA STATE — 7 p.m.
2 at Kansas — 3 p.m.
6 BAYLOR — 6 p.m.
9 at Texas — 12;30 p.m.
13 at Texas Tech — 6 p.m.
16 OKLAHOMA — 12:30 p.m.
20 KANSAS — 8 p.m.
23 at West Virginia — 1 p.m.
27 at TCU — 6 p.m.
2 TEXAS — 3 p.m.
6 at Iowa State — 6 p.m.
9 KANSAS STATE — 12:30 p.m.
13-16 #Big 12 Tournament — TBD
* Puerto Rico Tip-Off
# Sprint Arena, Kansas City