NORMAN — "Playing with a chip on their shoulder."
You hear that clichÃ© often when talking to the University of Oklahoma's men's basketball team. But the Sooners' motivation goes beyond Big 12 coaches picking them to finish 11th.
"We have players that want to work, that are ready to prove something to people," said sophomore forward Andrew Fitzgerald. "We have a lot of players people have been doubting since their high school career."
Cade Davis, the Sooners only returning starter, said Tuesday at OU Media Day that eight eligible newcomers displayed an exceptional work ethic in the off-season. Davis added the Sooners have more talent than prognosticators realize.
"I think we got some steals from schools that didn't recruit a lot of these guys," Davis said. "We have talent. It might not be the best talent in the Big 12 but these guys have skills. We'll prove to a lot of people we can match up with them."
Freshman small forward Cameron Clark was a top 40 national recruit that signed in November. T.J. Taylor, another top 100 national recruit, also signed in November. But Clark and Taylor are the exceptions.
OU's other six newcomers that will compete for playing time signed late in the recruiting process in April and May. A few had a handful of offers from BCS schools. But most were recruited by schools like Oral Roberts, Colorado State, Ball State, Wright State and Western Kentucky.
Still, the Sooners proved last year highly-ranked talent doesn't assure winning. OU finished 13-18 with three McDonald's All-Americans.
"Our guys understand we're going to have to play harder than everyone to put ourselves in position to win games," said coach Jeff Capel. "We're not going to overwhelm you, out-talent you. I've had teams that could do that here and at VCU. But that's not who we are.
"That's not to say we're not talented. But we're not going to out-talent you. We have to be a team that out works you and does all the little things better than you."
The Sooners have nine newcomers but power forward Romero Osby, a Mississippi State transfer, won't be eligible until next season.
Listed below are eight newcomers projected to compete for playing time:
* Carl Blair Jr.: The sophomore point guard started as a freshman last season at New Orleans. The Privateers dropped to Division III which makes Blair immediately eligible. A pass-first point guard that OU recruited out of high school, Blair averaged 9.2 points and 4.4 assists at UNO.
* Cameron Clark: A consensus top 40 national player, Clark is an athletic small forward who could develop into one of the top freshmen in the Big 12. One of the favorites to fill one of four starting vacancies, Clark averaged 23.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.7 steals at Sherman, Texas. Clark was recruited by Kentucky, Texas, Kansas, Arizona and Baylor.
* Barry Honore: A walk-on, Honore started 54 games in two seasons at Southern before transferring a year ago. A rare big body on the roster (6-foot-7, 258 pounds), Honore averaged 8.8 points and 4.5 rebounds his sophomore year at Southern.
* Tyler Neal: The 6-foot-7 Putnam West forward was The Oklahoman's Player of the Year. He wasn't highly recruited but is very athletic and has good range, capable of draining 3-pointers. Neal was voted by his teammates as the team's best dunker. Leading Putnam West to a school record 22 wins, Neal averaged 18.2 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.0 blocks.
* Calvin Newell Jr.: The combo guard from Philadelphia is a scorer who will also compete for point guard minutes. Recruited by mid-majors after averaging 29.4 points his senior year, Newell went to Prep school in Charlotte, N.C., where he averaged 26.1 points. Newell chose the Sooners over Baylor, Providence and Rutgers.
* T.J. Taylor: Ranked the No. 78 freshman by ESPN, the left-handed combo guard is the all-time leading scorer at Denison, averaging 27.2 points as a junior, 20.7 his senior year. He suffered a concussion early in preseason workouts but has good strength for a guard. His versatility will allow coach Jeff Capel to use him in various roles.
* Nick Thompson: Named a team captain a few months after arriving on campus, the 6-foot-8, 210-pound forward helped lead Eastern Utah to a third place finish at the Juco national tournament. A versatile big man who can handle the ball and score from the perimeter, Thompson averaged 8.6 points and 4.4 rebounds.
* C.J. Washington: A first-team Juco All-American, the 6-foot-7, 210-pound Stringtown product averaged 19.3 points and a school record 13.0 rebounds at Connors State. Washington isn't a bruiser but uses good positioning to block out.