STILLWATER — Travis Ford remains in search of three key pieces for his latest basketball team.
The good news for Ford and Cowboys fans: those pieces may be considered a bonus.
“I know who my top seven are,” Ford said. “I knew that before the season started. I knew that when the season ended last year.
“Now, the challenge — and every team has its challenges and there are things we've got to get better at, that are concerns for us — the challenge is who's eight, nine and 10.”
As Oklahoma State opens the exhibition portion of the schedule Sunday against Campbellsville (Kent.), Ford's focus will be as much about trying to further define those players who can provide help in spurts — or longer — as making the first step toward what the Cowboys hope is a special season.
Tip time is 2 p.m. inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.
OSU, ranked No. 12 in the preseason USA Today Top 25, returns the bulk of a team that finished 24-9 and returned to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year absence.
Ford's top seven starts with reigning Big 12 Player of the Year Marcus Smart, who along with Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash represent the top three returning scorers in the conference. Michael Cobbins, Brian Williams and Kamari Murphy have also started. And Phil Forte led the Cowboys in 3-pointers a year ago as a freshman, when he averaged starter minutes and 10.2 points a game.
So those seven players are a given, forming the basis of an anticipatory buzz surrounding the program and fueling optimism that includes Big 12 and even national contention.
Now, who else factors into the mix?
“We have a lot of guys who can play ball,” Williams said. “Some are known more than others.”
Figuring out the unknown, especially in game situations, is a priority for Ford in the early going, beginning with Campbellsville, an NAIA program that launched Ford's head coaching career in 1997.
And Ford's mention of Nos. 8 through 10 isn't necessarily a reflection of their roles or potential impact.
Prized recruit Stevie Clark figures prominently. With a background as an elite prep scorer at Douglass High School, he could provide the Cowboys instant offense off the bench and help spell Smart at the point guard spot.
Marek Soucek offers size in the paint, if he can finally make the breakthrough coaches have hoped for. Leyton Hammonds, another true freshman, has shot the ball well in the preseason. Junior college forward Gary Gaskins is long and athletic and another potential contributor to a frontcourt lacking depth. And freshman wing Jeffrey Carroll has been coming on, further crowding the rotation.
Who will emerge?
“That's what we're looking for,” Ford said. “You can go a really long way with seven (players). But there's going to be some games when No. 8, 9 or 10 can be a difference maker. So we've really got to develop No. 8, 9 and 10 right now.”
No. 12 Oklahoma State vs. Campbellsville (Kent.)
* When: 2 p.m. Sunday
* Where: Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater
* Radio: KXXY-FM 96.1
* TV: FSOK (Cox 37/HD722; Dish 416; DirecTV 679; U-verse 754, HD 1754)
Three things to know
* Keith Adkins coached for Travis Ford during Ford's tenure at Campbellsville, before taking over as Tigers head coach in 2000.
* The Cowboys' No. 12 ranking in the USA Today Coaches Poll is the program's highest since 2004-05, when they were No. 8.
* OSU beat Campbellsville 102-38 in 2010, the first meeting between the two coaches. Markel Brown, Michael Cobbins and Brian Williams remain from that Cowboys team.