We’ve concluded our project on the 10-year anniversary of OSU’s 2004 Final Four team. For the Wednesday Oklahoman, I wrote about the bond that team built with OSU students and fans. You can read that column here.
But there was tons of stuff we didn’t get to. Not all of it’s connected. Just a bunch of interesting memories about a great team and an amazing season. Jenni Carlson interviewed Ivan McFarlin, Joey Graham, Daniel Bobik and Janavor Weatherspoon. I chatted with John Lucas and auxiliary personnel.
* John Lucas raves about his days in Stillwater. Now a backup point guard with the Utah Jazz, Lucas said: “The funnest times I had in college was that group of guys we had. We still stay in contact today. They honored us this year during the all-star break. Got a chance to go back and be around the guys.”
Lucas says Eddie Sutton remains a mentor. “I still talk to him every other day,” Lucas said. “Stay in contact with him. He’s coming to my wedding. We always talk to each other, not just about basketball. He keeps in contact, talks to us about being a man, makes sure we’re doing the right things still, to this day. Me being 31, he still gets on me about something.”
Lucas said those memories, and the chance to return for reunions like in February, are treasured. “Just being around those guys, having a chance for my fiancé to see where I went to school,” Lucas said. “The pride and joy you have of being a Cowboy. I always talk about my school just like she talks about her school. But I’m like, ‘You don’t understand. It’s like a family.’ You see old faces, you see old friends. You just have that connection. Just like your ring say: ‘Once you’re a Cowboy, always a Cowboy.’”
* Robe Boy, Eric Epplin, provided some history about his famous orange robe. Epplin is the student who became a virtual mascot, courtesy of his orange robe. He ended up following the Cowboys all along the post-season road. Epplin missed the Sweet 16 game against Pitt because he was headed to Minneapolis for Visiting Student Weekend.
Then-OSU president David Schmidly found out Epplin would miss that trip and sprung two surprises. Schmidly himself dressed in an orange robe for the Pitt game, then arranged for Epplin to make it to East Rutherford, N.J., for the Saint Joseph’s showdown in the East Regional final. Schmidly contacted University of Minnesota officials and arranged for Epplin to get an expedited tour of Minnesota U., plus had Epplin an airplane ticket on Saturday morning to Newark.
Epplin arrived at the Meadowlands arena just after tipoff, and Schmidly ceremoniously passed over the garish orange robe.
Epplin’s mother had made the robe for him in 2000, when he first enrolled at OSU. His brother had gone to Saint Louis University, and Epplin’s mother had made a robe for him. “She told me if I stayed close to home, she’d make one for me,” Epplin said. “We were in Hobby Lobby, and I was in a sarcastic 18-year-old mood. She asked what color I wanted, and I picked the brightest orange I could. I found I never wore it around the dorm. Sophomore year, big opening game was against Cincinnati, I decided, ‘let’s do something special for this game. Just be crazy.’” So he wore the orange robe to the game. “Sort of stuck,” Epplin said. “Kept wearing it after that. Added a necktie and some orange Converse shoes and some orange windpants. Had a whole ensemble.”
Epplin now is an Oklahoma County assistant district attorney. He reluctantly admits he graduated from OU’s Law School. “Had to spread the gospel,” Epplin said. “A missionary in a foreign land.”
* Daniel Bobik, who grew up in California and originally attended Brigham Young, transferred to OSU, primarily because his dad had played for Sutton at Creighton. Now Bobik works for Devon Energy and is stationed all over. He’s in the process of moving from Canada to Wyoming.
“I grew up in Los Angeles,” Bobik said. “I tell people, I’m from Oklahoma. I love the type of people that are there.
“From a fan standpoint, absolutely, people gravitated to us, because we represented Oklahoma people in general. The thing I love about Oklahomans, they tend to be humble, simple, in a great way. A simple, humble, grateful people. And they appreciated the way we played the game. We represented the way they lived their lives. Which was hard working, which was thankful, humble people. That’s what attracted people to us as a team. People appreciated the little things we did.
“People in Oklahoma, they know basketball. Whether coach Iba or coach Sutton, they’ve had great coaches. I think people can see we played the game the right way. They wanted to be a part of who we are. They felt like they could appreciate who we are and who we represented. Oklahomans are awesome people.”
* The Cowboys were sick in New Jersey. “It’s a funny story,” Graham said. “Right before we got on that trip, three or four guys caught stomach viruses. Started with Tony (Allen) or John (Lucas), then Ivan (McFarlin) got it, then I got it. So were actually quarantined.
“Coach put us in a separate room, on a different floor. We were throwing up at shootaround. Me and Tony, we were throwing up everywhere before the game. We told him, ‘Coach, we might not be able to play today.’ I was so exhausted. Tony felt the same way. Ivan was just getting over the hump. I chugged some Gatorade, said, ‘Hey, this is what I signed up for.’ We sucked it up and went out there.”
* That OSU team was the last Big 12 squad other than Kansas to make the Final Four. OU had made it in 2002 and Texas in 2003. Kansas went in 2002 and 2003. So in many ways, 2002-04 were the glory days of Big 12 hoops.
The 2004 Cowboys beat Texas three teams. “That’s hard to do, considering the team they had,” Ivan McFarlin said. “That game, when we beat ‘em there, that’s when we knew, hey, we’ve got something special.”
Lucas said the players wore “something that said ‘Oklahoma State’ every day on campus. Something that represented us. Even when we came to Oklahoma City to come down to the mall. We said, ‘This is where we go to school.’ You see some OU players, we let them know, ‘we’re running this state right now.’”
* Epplin on Eddie Sutton: “Obviously, coach Sutton was an absolute icon. Larger-than-life figure. Still is to this day for those of us who were there back then.”
* Ten years ago, before the Final Four, I did a project on a bunch of support personnel who went along for the wild ride to the Final Four. One of my subjects was pep band member Sherry Tripp, who now is Sherry Tripp Ketchum, a physical therapist at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa.
“It’s crazy to think it was 10 years ago,” Ketchum said the other day. “I really feel like I was lucky to be a part of it, to get to go through that with my friends. Now, you watch the NCAA Tournament and think about how cool it was you got to go through it. Everyone was excited about basketball campus wide. We had a common purpose, or excitement. It was cool.”
* Josh Pulver grew up in Elk City, came to OSU and became Pistol Pete. He was the mascot on the New Jersey trip. Which means he was there for John Lucas’ shot against Saint Joseph’s.
“I get chills talking about it,” Pulver said. “It was unbelievable. I had limited vision for that shot. I had to remember to sit down real quick, because I had jumped up so hard when he hit that shot. It’s hard to explain, quite honestly, how exciting that was, for the guys to play that hard. St. Joe’s, they were playing real well, of course. Just one more notch of excitement to add on to everything else going on.”
* Joey Graham was the team cook. “We had long practices, and coach Sutton was trying to get everyone on the same page,” Graham said. “In the apartments, in order to get everybody on the same page, I would cook food. ‘Look, if you guys want to eat, come eat.’ Turns out, college guys, they’re tired of cafeteria food, they’re tired of whatever food. They were ready for home-cooked food. That kind of built up the camaraderie we had on that team.”
Graham said he had no specialties. He just cooked stuff he remembers his grandmother teaching him.
* OSU opened the NCAA Tournament with Eastern Washington in Kansas City. And the Cowboys started poorly.
“I remember we was tied at halftime,” McFarlin said. “I remember coach Sutton came in, he was like, ‘you’ve got two choices. You can go out there and play like you’re supposed to play. Or tell ‘em we’re going to forfeit. We’ll just go home.’ We worked too hard to be tied with some team that was a 15 seed. That’s not us. From that moment, we bonded up. Came out second half, smacked ‘em. That game, we came together.”