Most believe new OU men’s basketball coach Lon Kruger will need at least one more season before the Sooners realistically are an NCAA Tournament contender.
But since he was hired three weeks ago, Kruger has signed three players, including two junior college prospects that could make the Sooners one of the conference’s surprise teams his debut season in Norman.
Sam Grooms, a Juco point guard from Chipola (Fla.), will compete for the starting job. Later this week Casey Arent, a 6-10 Juco center from Sierra (Calif.) will officially sign. Arent gives the Sooners a big man they need after starting four guards last season.
The biggest impact will be the addition of forward Romero Osby, an inside-outside weapon who sat out last season after transferring from Mississippi State. Former coach Jeff Capel said Osby was the best player on OU’s roster.
Add those three newcomers to the roster Kruger inherits and the Sooners have some upside. Maybe it will take another year, and another recruiting class which will include Amath M’Baye, a Wyoming transfer who will be eligible in 2012-13.
But the Sooners might contend next season. OU returns four starters from a off a 14-18 team that beat Baylor twice and Colorado.
Known for turnarounds at other schools facing rebuilding projects, Kruger and his staff will have at least eight players for the rotation, a major upgrade from last season.
Grooms, 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, is a pass-first point guard who has a reputation for playing solid defense. Grooms isn’t a top NBA prospect. But Grooms and Carl Blair, last year’s starter, should form a solid combination.
Forward Andrew Fitzgerald shed more than 30 pounds and was the Big 12′s Most Improved Player. A consistent inside scorer with 15-foot range, Ftizgerald gives Kruger a valuable weapon to build around, especially if Arent can ease the load defensively.
Wing player Cameron Clark had a solid freshman season. A top 40 consensus national recruit, Clark should average double figures. Long and athletic, Clark could develop into an elite defender.
Guard Steven Pledger expanded his game, putting the ball on the floor more but primiarly is a shooter. Ideally, Pledger would be a scoring threat off the bench. Regardless of his role, Pledger is a double figure scorer to build around.
Tyler Neal flashed potential his freshman year. The 6-foot-7 Putnam West product has 3-point range. He was overmatched defensively in the paint. But if he adds 10 or more pounds of muscle in the off-season, he should be part of the rotation.
How much has the roster been upgraded? Forward C.J. Washington and backup point guard Calvin Newell — two reserves last season — will have to battle just to carve out some playing time.
Several Big 12 teams, including Kansas, Texas, Missouri and Kansas State, must regroup. The revamped 10-team league will be competitive but a little down.
If Kruger and his staff can get the right pieces to mesh, especially by conference play, there could be enough talent the Sooners might be one of the Big 12′s surprise teams next season.