STILLWATER — Coach Travis Ford wants Oklahoma State's foreign tour to Spain to be a bonding opportunity for his family — his basketball family that is.
The team departed Wednesday morning and will play four games, two in Barcelona and two in the Canary Islands. The coaches left their wives and children behind so their entire focus would be on the players.
“I want to spend quality and quantity time with my basketball team myself, and we're all going to do that and get to know each other, bond, spend 10 great days together,” Ford said.
The trip could be exactly what the Cowboys need after a rocky patch that has seen defections from the program, a series of injuries and unwanted, off-the-court issues.
Most recently, center Phillip Jurick was suspended indefinitely after being charged with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. Jurick, who started 16 games last season before being one of the players lost to injury, pleaded not guilty to the charges but will not make the trip.
Jurick's arrest came less than two weeks after suspended power forward Darrell Williams was convicted of two felony counts of rape by instrumentation and one count of sexual battery. Williams was also acquitted on two other counts of rape by instrumentation.
Those issues came after a season when two point guards with starting experience left the program and injuries to Jurick, Jean-Paul Olukemi and star freshman Le'Bryan Nash further depleted the roster. At times, Ford had to go with four freshmen on the floor for extended stretches late last season.
So, the Spain trip offers a chance to regroup and try to create some positive momentum heading into the upcoming season.
“It comes at a good time for our basketball team,” Ford said. “We've got some returning players that are still young, but they're returners. They look like they've matured. By working with them, they all look bigger, stronger and just playing more physical. And then the freshmen are one of the most mature freshmen (classes) I've ever had, some of the most ready-to-play freshmen I've had.”
During the trip, he has some team-building exercises and sightseeing outings planned to try and foster a better sense of unity.
“We're using it to accomplish, hopefully, a lot of different things, first and foremost just a great opportunity to spend 10 days together as a basketball family,” Ford said.
NCAA rules allowed Oklahoma State 10 days of practice leading up to the foreign tour, and Ford tried to cram in as much as he could.