When Oklahoma basketball coach Lon Kruger sent out a starting lineup that included just two of five returning starters this season — and despite returning 100 percent of his starting lineup from last year — people were shocked.
OU's veteran depth is what has saved the team in times of confused youth, but youth is what has helped spurn talk about Selection Sunday, Big 12 championship runs and dancing in March.
During Oklahoma's game Saturday against Oklahoma State, there was a point when freshman Isaiah Cousins looked at senior Romero Osby.
“What play are we running?” asked Cousins, Oklahoma's starting point guard.
Osby gave him a stern look, inbounded the ball to Cousins and whispered something to him as he ran past. A few plays later, while Cousins still looked lost and unaggressive — Kruger made the switch to veteran point guard Sam Grooms.
Grooms exploded for a career-high 18 points. A veteran stepped up.
“He battled it all day long, and he's a big reason we were in good position there late,” Kruger said. “(Grooms) handled the position there well in the back court.”
Luckily for Kruger, he knew that by benching a handful of former starters, it would light a fire when he gave them minutes. That's what Sooners fans have seen from former starters such as Andrew Fitzgerald and Cameron Clark.
Clark is known for adding a burst of points. In OU's game last Monday against TCU, Clark came in and quickly scored six straight points.
He did it against Texas Tech and Kansas State, too.
“Points sometimes are hard to come by, so any time you can get them, you like that,” Kruger said. “Cam seems to do that, getting back-to-back buckets or three in a row real quickly. That's always nice whenever anyone can do that — whether it's Cam or anyone else.”
Fitzgerald has been adding rebounds defensively. In Oklahoma's last 10 games, Fitzgerald has grabbed 40 rebounds in 152 minutes — including eight boards in 12 minutes at Kansas; five in 17 minutes at Baylor; six in 16 minutes against Kansas State; and seven in 17 minutes against Iowa State.
That's 10.52 rebounds per 40 minutes.
“I think it's me working again,” Fitzgerald said about his improved rebounding in conference play. “It's just me staying aggressive. I'm just going to stay aggressive and keep going after boards.”
Now, with a handful of young talent that has pushed its aggression early and veteran depth that pushed in lulls, Oklahoma is a totally different team. For the first time in four years, there's talk of postseason tournament runs. And that makes the Sooners — the young and the old — very happy.