STILLWATER — The automatic glass doors slid open for a pair of twentysomethings in sweatshirts and khakis, the winter uniform of college students everywhere.
“How are you guys?” the greeter said.
The broad-shouldered man in the bright yellow shirt with the Best Buy logo smiled at the two customers, but they didn’t break stride. Didn’t glance over. Didn’t even realize that they were walking by someone who’d been cheered by thousands of college students just like them a decade earlier.
It’s been 10 years since Ivan McFarlin and his Oklahoma State teammates had one of the greatest seasons in Cowboy basketball history. They won 31 games, claimed the Big 12 title and went to the Final Four. While several of the players from that team have drawn NBA paychecks — two still are — none became stars after their Cowboy careers. Not Tony Allen. Not John Lucas. Not the Graham twins.
But together, they were greater than the sum of their parts.
“We had something special,” McFarlin said as he sat at a coffee shop after his shift at Best Buy ended one day last week.
McFarlin was the glue guy of that team, a workhorse who played the post and battled anyone who dared come into the paint. Nevermind the fact that he was undersized at 6-foot-8. He would rebound and defend and dive on the floor and rebound some more.
He originally arrived at OSU as a partial academic qualifier, so he redshirted his first season in Stillwater. But once he got on the court, he always played like he had something to prove.
That was a common theme with that 2004 team.
Allen arrived at OSU from the junior college ranks. Ditto for Janavor Weatherspoon. Lucas transferred from Baylor, Joey and Stevie Graham from Central Florida, Daniel Bobik from BYU and Jason Miller from North Texas. Each of them wanted to prove that they could play big-time college basketball.
Bobik remembers his first months in Stillwater. He wasn’t on scholarship, and with a wife and baby, he had to work while taking summer school. He would rise before the sun and meet Joey Graham, who didn’t have a scholarship either. After they worked out, they’d go to their part-time jobs at a gas station.
The details were different, but pretty much every player on that team had a similar struggle somewhere along the line.
“We sacrificed together,” Bobik said. “Each one of us had to make a sacrifice to be at Oklahoma State.”
It created a team with great talent but little ego.
“I’ll be honest, I wasn’t happy with my role at Oklahoma State; I wanted to score more, right?” Bobik said because, hey, everyone wants to make it to the pros but it’s hard to catch the eye of NBA types when you’re averaging only 8 or 10 points a game.
“We all kind of checked our egos at the door. None of us have had a great NBA career or were a lottery pick, but ... that’s the power of coming together as a team and playing your role.”
McFarlin said, “If you play together as a team, who cares if some guy gets 16 points and you get eight?”
That a refrain that McFarlin repeats often to kids who he coaches and trains.
A couple years ago when he retired from playing — he appeared in 11 games for Philadelphia in 2006-07 but spent most of his professional career overseas in places such as Bolivia, Australia, France, Japan and Israel — he settled in Stillwater. His wife works at OSU, and their three kids are fast approaching school age. He wanted to be there for their games and recitals and first days of school, and being overseas didn’t allow for that.
But he wasn’t done with basketball. He quickly fell into coaching junior high and training players of all ages.
Even though McFarlin has been approached about high school jobs, he’s not sure where basketball will take him next. But whatever he does, he preaches lessons learned during that Final Four season.
“If you get eight points, nine rebounds, good defense, three steals, people are going to notice that, too,” he said. “It’s all about together. If you play together, then everybody’ll get noticed.”
This from the guy who stands at the front door of Best Buy only a couple miles from the arena where he had his greatest triumphs and is ignored by college kids who would’ve fallen all over him back in the day?
McFarlin isn’t mad about any of that.
Sometimes, his buddies joke with him about working at Best Buy, but he doesn’t hesitate to tell them that he likes having a job there. He likes the hours, the people, the paycheck and most of all, the flexibility.
“It gives me the freedom to do stuff,” he said. “I still train kids all over. I still coach.”
And just maybe, he can teach the lesson that he lived a decade ago — subtract ego, add sacrifice and it can equal something great.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.