NORMAN — With his eyebrows raised and speaking through a half-smile, Romero Osby's voice rose two levels. He was messing around with teammate Sam Grooms like they were two best friends on the playground at recess.
That's Romero Osby — a big kid at heart. Except there was a time in his college basketball career when he was just an immature kid, when he thought everything would come easy and things would just go his way. That was during his two years at Mississippi State.
During his years as a Sooner, Osby has grown from a kid to the father of a kid. He has become a leader and a big, but stern, brother to his teammates. In his final home game, which comes Wednesday at 8 p.m. against West Virginia, he'll be all business on the court. There's a time and a place to be serious — and to be a kid.
When Osby was turning 17, he said he weighed a lot of options. Go to Kansas and play for Bill Self? Go to Louisville and be with Rick Pitino? Sit the bench at both? Or go to Mississippi State and contribute right away? He chose Mississippi State.
“I was a kid expecting to play ball and thinking everything was going to be easy,” he said. “Not as far as on the court, but life would be easy.”
But that's when he got a wake-up call. He wasn't playing as much as he thought, and basketball and life started to change.
“My life was just different because basketball was different,” he said. “That really made me kind of be different. That really made me kind of be stubborn sometimes. I wouldn't really listen anymore because things weren't kind of going my way ...”
Osby's wife, Shalonda, who was his girlfriend while he was at Mississippi State, said he became “boxed up” and he felt like his dreams were “slipping away.”
Nothing was forcing him to mature. He was a 45-minute drive away from his home in Meridian, Miss. Coaches weren't saying what they wanted from him, according to Shalonda, and things on the team, which Romero declines to go into detail about, just weren't good.
“Mississippi State is a great university,” Shalonda said. “It's the things that transpired down there that nobody should ever be a part of.”
Then Romero transferred to Oklahoma, and on the first day, then-coach Jeff Capel told him he was going to have to work harder.
He spent his first year away from his wife and their newborn daughter. He began to grow and mature. He wasn't a kid anymore.
“When I was at Mississippi State, I could run home whenever I wanted,” he said. “Now, being 10 hours away, I can't go home except maybe once or twice a year.”
He learned how to be a husband and a father, a teammate who players could look to for guidance, as well as a well-developed threat on the court.
“He's matured tremendously,” Oklahoma assistant coach Lew Hill said. “He went from being a young man who didn't understand his potential to realizing his potential. He went from a guy who just wanted to shoot 3s to knowing he's a great inside-outside guy and he starts from the inside. I think he understands his potential and he's grown leaps and bounds, as far as being a leader.”
Osby got a second chance to prove that he could be a great basketball player. This season, he leads the Sooners in scoring (15.2 ppg) and rebounds (7.1 rpg), as well as field-goal percentage (.522). Although there are some first halves where it seems like Osby is having an off game, he has come back in the second half and has led (or tied for the lead) in scoring for 11 of Oklahoma's last 16 games. He is also one of the major reasons the Sooners could reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years.
But he's not one for individual accolades. When Shalonda asks him about the possibility of being a big star in the NBA, Osby told her “if that's God's plan.”
Right now, Romero's all about business on the court and a lot of goofing around, just off of it.
Oklahoma vs. West Virginia
*When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
*Where: Lloyd Noble Center, Norman
*TV: ESPN2 (Cox 28/HD 721; Dish 144; DirecTV 209; U-Verse 606/HD 1606)
*Radio: KOKC 1520 AM
Three things to know
*This is the first time in Big 12 Conference history that two teams have met three times in one regular season. Oklahoma won both of the previous meetings.
*Oklahoma has scored at least 72 points in its last seven games.
*The Mountaineers rank eighth in the league in scoring (61.1 ppg) and eighth in field-goal percentage (.404).