NORMAN — Three Oklahoma freshmen who stole starting spots and the basketball spotlight go by “Three The Har' Way.”
Not the Three Amigos. Not the Three Musketeers.
“That's not original,” one said.
“That's not tough enough,” another said.
The third just kind of smiled.
Three The Hard Way. It's based off an old movie about three tough guys destroying their enemies.
That's where Je'lon Hornbeak, Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins are at in the world of college basketball — three freshmen just looking for more competition to destroy. And next up is Arkansas in Fayetteville. They already nicknamed themselves individually after kitchen appliances that “heat things up,” but now they are Oklahoma basketball's version of the football team's Cali Trio.
“We like to listen to Reggae together,” Hornbeak said. “It started back in July, when after a week of avoiding us, Isaiah finally started talking to Buddy and me.”
They made a sort-of pact then that they would play hard and do what it took to get the starting spots — spots that could have been owned by five returning starters. Now, the only two players who started games both last year and this are Steven Pledger and Romero Osby.
Two of the freshman, Cousins and Hornbeak, along with transfer Amath M'Baye kicked seniors Andrew Fitzgerald, Cameron Clark and Sam Grooms from the opening rotation — and even though Hield has yet to get a start, he is the hottest member for the Sooners off the bench.
Last week, after Oklahoma walked away from a last-minute victory against Oral Roberts in Tulsa, the team said collectively that last year, they would have lost the same game by 10. A lot of that credit goes to second-year coach Lon Kruger, who is known for rebuilding programs. Some of it goes to the freshmen. Hield provided a lift late in the second half, along with senior Steven Pledger, that helped Oklahoma in the comeback.
But not all the credit can fall to the trio. They've been just as large in Oklahoma's struggles — not being aggressive enough, playing too quickly.
“Our hope is to slow down as a team,” Hornbeak said. “When they really want us to speed things up, we tend to get out of control.”
Speeding things up is exactly what Arkansas is known for doing with teams. They like making teams play too fast, and they've surely seen on film how Oklahoma fell into the trap against Northwestern State (La.), Oral Roberts and Texas-Arlington.
“It's going to be a task,” Hornbeak said. “I'm not going to say it's going to be a walk in the park.”
If Oklahoma happens to fall into a speed game, it will need one of two things to happen. First, a point guard will need to grab the ball, hold it and tell the team to slow down, like Hornbeak did against ORU. Second, the Sooners will need to continue to hit critical shots, like Hornbeak did with his 3-pointer against Northwestern State that swung the momentum back in the Sooners' favor.
“We all want the same thing,” Cousins said about why Three The Har' Way works. “We have one goal. We want to win.”