STILLWATER — Wrapping up the final practice before leaving for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, Cowboys coach Travis Ford gathered his squad to discuss goals and expectations.
His guys offered one of their own.
“I don't remember who it was,” said Ford, “but someone said, ‘Let's come back ranked.'
“I said, ‘Well, you better win all three.'”
Oklahoma State rolled back into Stillwater on Monday evening with a Tip-Off championship trophy, a 4-0 record and, yes, Top 25 status, entering The Associated Press poll at No. 20 and the coaches poll at No. 22.
The Cowboys swept through the tournament with wins over Akron, Tennessee and then-No. 6 North Carolina State, routing the Wolfpack 76-56 and adding credence to optimism that has surrounded a team seeking a return to the NCAA Tournament.
That optimism is spreading, with the first ranking of the Ford era as evidence. The last time the Cowboys were ranked: the week of Feb. 12, 2007.
“Rankings are all about the present,” Ford said. “It's what's happening right now, not a prediction of what's going to happen in the future necessarily. What we've done so far, it's been a good thing.
“So it's always fun to achieve a goal, and it was a goal for the team. My big thing is to always improve. But it's fun for them to set a goal and come back and be ranked.”
The news wasn't all good from Puerto Rico. Jéan-Paul Olukemi and Marek Soucek each suffered knee injuries that will be more closely examined in the coming days.
Ford said Olukemi's appears to be more severe than Soucek's, although he's holding out hope that neither is long-term.
“It doesn't look great with JP,” Ford said. “He's going to have an MRI. I keep praying, we all do, that it's not as bad as we think. Maybe it's not. Maybe it's a severe sprain or something like that. But the initial indications, it doesn't look good.