STILLWATER — Le'Bryan Nash's early season struggles at Oklahoma State may prove to be an indictment on his high school playing days.
A heavily hyped freshman pegged for a prominent role and handed a starting job, Nash initially recoiled at the requisite transition from the preps to the Pokes.
“You could see the look in his eyes at times,” said Cowboys coach Travis Ford, “‘I used to do this in high school and it's not working.'”
Nash, adjusting on the fly, has it working much better now.
His 19 points at Missouri State led a Cowboys rally to a road win, followed by a 20-point performance in a tough loss to No. 15 Pittsburgh in Madison Square Garden. While he's been shifted to a bench role, although with major minutes, Nash leads the Cowboys in scoring at 13.4 points a game.
Next comes an All-College Classic test against New Mexico Saturday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“He's still a freshman,” Ford said. “He's still going to have his ups and downs. But I think we're starting to see his capabilities and what makes him such a special player.”
A top-10 national recruit, Nash found resistance in OSU's biggest early games – losses to Stanford and Virginia Tech – and he responded with little production, many missed shots and turnovers and a perception problem based around bad body language.
His confidence was shaken. And it showed.
“Most of the times (in high school), my team was the North Carolina, the best team in the country and stuff,” Nash said.
And at Lincoln High in Dallas, where he averaged 22 points with 8.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists as a McDonald's All-American his senior season, he dominated with regularity.
“He was always more talented,” Ford said. “He was always bigger. He was stronger. Things came easy.
“And when you have the skill set that he does, where you can bring it up, pass it, shoot it, post up… in high school that's tough for a lot of people to defend.”
The defenders are better now.
And with the Cowboys, Nash must fit into Ford's system, playing less with the ball in his hands and freelancing, instead being asked to screen and move without the ball on the offensive end.
“I think I'm getting in the groove of playing college basketball,” Nash said. “And from now on, you'll see more of me doing what I've got to do.”
Ford said Nash has always been willing.
“He's been so receptive to learning the past couple of weeks,” said Ford. “I think that's really shown. When you start playing harder and you're receptive, then your talent can show.”
Along with the increased effort, Nash has gone to more of a variety of post moves, working for easier shots through, between and around defenders. Expected to be more of a perimeter presence, Nash said he's doing whatever's necessary to help the Cowboys succeed.
“The post is working for me right now, so I'm not going to stop doing what's working for me,” he said. “I just try to help this team win. I really want to win at this university. I want to help this university get over the top. Not just be a good basketball school, but a great basketball school.”
Nash is playing harder. And better. And with improved focus, after being bothered early when he struggled or when official's calls didn't go his way.
“He is coming into his own right now,” said freshman teammate Michael Cobbins. “He is starting to settle down and really work on his game. His game is improving. LB's improving in practice from an offensive and defensive standpoint.
“A big shout-out to him on that.”
And Ford said there's much more to come from Nash.
“He's going through the natural progression a lot of star high school players go through,” said Ford. “And he had to learn the hard way. And he's still learning; he hasn't conquered it yet. He's not a finished product and he hasn't gotten near what he wants to be or what we expect him to be.
“But he's gotten a lot better.”
ALL COLLEGE CLASSIC
* When: Saturday night
* Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena
* Games: Houston vs. Oklahoma, 7 p.m.; New Mexico vs. Oklahoma St., 9:30 p.m.
* TV: Houston-OU (ESPNU, Cox 253); New Mexico-OSU, ESPN2, Cox 28)
* Ticket information: $32 lower bowl both games; $55 club level both games
* Ticket locations: Chesapeake Energy Arena box office, www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 1-800-745-3000