KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In mid-February 2012, Larry Spangler took a seat at Lloyd Noble Center.
Sometime during the Oklahoma-Texas basketball game that followed, Spangler pulled out his phone and fired off a text message.
“Buddy, you made a good choice,” the message to his son, Ryan Spangler, then a freshman at Gonzaga, said.
Two years later, Ryan Spangler is the leading rebounder in the Big 12 and has helped the Sooners to the No. 2 seed in the Big 12 Championship.
Oklahoma opens the tournament against Baylor at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Sprint Center.
Spangler’s defection to Gonzaga wasn’t so much a choice as a forced hand.
Ryan Spangler grew up wanting to play for the Sooners, but Jeff Capel and his coaching staff didn’t recruit the 6-foot-8 forward from Bridge Creek.
But Mark Few’s staff jumped on Spangler early and convinced him to go to school more than 1,500 miles away in Spokane, Wash.
Spangler enjoyed the school and got along with the coaching staff at Gonzaga, but there were two issues that weren’t going away — Spangler was stuck behind a solid contingent of big men, and Spokane was still a long plane ride away from his home just outside Tuttle.
“My family’s always watched me play,” Spangler said. “They came up there at least once a month to watch me play but here, they come every game so there’s nothing like it.”
Almost immediately after the Zags’ season ended in the NCAA Tournament, he talked to Gonzaga coaches about leaving to get closer to home.
Then-assistant Ray Giacoletti tried to talk Spangler into staying, but two weeks later Spangler was granted his release.
Oklahoma was involved almost immediately.
Spangler still longed to be a Sooner, and coach Lon Kruger saw a good fit.
“We didn’t know all the details and all that, but we’d just heard about his talent and we knew he was a terrific rebounder and we knew that if he was a guy that would come back home, how much it would mean to him to play at OU,” Sooners assistant Steve Henson said. “That’s always a big factor with guys. If guys are really, really hungry to play for their local school, that can be a special situation.”
Before contact was made, Kruger and his assistants had talked to Gonzaga’s coaches about Spangler.
“We knew they wanted him back,” Henson said. “They liked him, and they were happy with what he was doing. He was a little bit homesick, and they had a logjam at the time.
“It worked out very well for us.”
It’s not the only time things have fallen into place nicely for Spangler.
When his family moved back to Oklahoma from Texas, when Spangler was in middle school, his parents liked what they heard about the Newcastle school district.
Newcastle had solid athletic facilities and had success in football and basketball.
That was important for Larry, who had coached football and whose two older boys had gone on to play college football.
But when the house was built and the paperwork started rolling in, the family found out the house was actually in the Bridge Creek school district.
Bridge Creek had struggled at both sports for a long time.
The Spanglers tried to transfer Ryan to Newcastle, but they were told the district wasn’t accepting outside transfers.
They went to Tuttle, where Larry knew Tigers football coach Phil Koons, but got the same response there.
So he was stuck at Newcastle for at least a year.
But during his eighth-grade football season, at Bridge Creek, Spangler knew almost immediately where he should’ve been all along.
He put up huge numbers and helped Bridge Creek to playoffs as a quarterback, then as a senior led the Bobcats to the Class 4A championship game.
“The group I had with me, we were athletic so I just stayed and it worked out for the best,” Spangler said.
First with Bridge Creek and then with OU, the route wasn’t always the direct one or the preferred one but each time, things have wound up for the best.
“My wife and I tell each other all the time, ‘We’ve been living good,’” Larry said. “Because everything’s worked out.”