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Oklahoma’s 81st day of practice

Stephanie Kuzydym Published: February 22, 2013

Je’lon Hornbeak stood at the free throw line, bounced the ball twice, held it in his hands and looked at the rim.

Surrounding him was utter chaos.

Have you ever thought it might be hard for a college basketball player to concentrate on his free throw when the students behind the basket were waving big heads or jumping up randomly like popping popcorn?

None of that compared to what was going on after Oklahoma’s practice on Friday.

A week and a half after losing freshman Buddy Hield, the strongest energy of the team, there was a returned energy to the team — and Hield wasn’t even in the gym.

As his teammates laughed and shouted, they shot at, ran around and dunked on the rim Hornbeak was using to practice his free throws. It isn’t uncommon for the guys to share a rim, though.

What was different was the free-spirited team post-Hield injury.

Senior forward Romero Osby lay on a roller laughing at his teammates. James Fraschilla was throwing balls off the side of the backboard to junior Tyler Neal for an alley oop. Then there was Amath M’Baye.

The junior forward — coming off his best game of the season — was the most energetic. He was shooting threes, dunking over people and even played a little batting practice with the basketball.

And Hornbeak continued to shoot free throws.

The team didn’t need to be reminded that their next game is against Baylor — and like all the games before — is seen as a ‘must win.’ They had just come off a practice in which multiple guys ended up on the floor due to toughness. Heck, they’re 81 percent of the way through their regular season basketball practice schedule.

The sights of Friday’s practice were of renewed energy. The Sooners were running around and laughing like a group of kindergarteners who got a few extra minutes at recess.

For the first time since Hield went down, there was an authentic energy at practice — added with a splash of college boys just having fun.

After about 10 minutes of chaos, Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger walked out to his gym and toned it down.

And there remained Hornbeak, still glued to the free throw line — except now, it was just him and the net.