Oklahoma State could return five starters next season.
Well, five who have started. And significantly.
Still, the Cowboys are due for a makeover.
And, oh yeah, new go-to guys.
They’ll be familiar in many ways, even if Le’Bryan Nash opts to jump to pro ball, yet require a new look and feel. But Marcus Smart and Markel Brown are moving on, and with them go the two main scoring cogs from the past two seasons. Nash could follow, after he reiterated at the NCAA Tournament that he remains “50-50” on his decision to stay or go, although his comments seem to hint at a return.
So where does that leave the Cowboys?
Different, for sure.
Yet not necessarily worse. There’s reason for optimism, because of the core that’s coming back, and the potential of a boost from what’s coming.
“I see a lot of great talent,” Brown said in assessing OSU’s 2014-15 possibilities.
Some are known.
Phil Forte, who moved into a starter’s role and thrived down the stretch, offers a key piece.
“One of the best 3-point shooters in the country,” Brown said.
Forte doesn’t fit the mold of an offensive focal point, at his size needing to feed off a primary scorer or two, yet offers a reliable weapon on the perimeter. Forte also revealed more layers to his game in the expanded role, showing an ability to drive the lane and create for himself and others.
Inside, the Cowboys should be much improved. Michael Cobbins must prove that he’s back to form following Achilles and shoulder surgeries, but he’s ahead of schedule so far. His return will allow Kamari Murphy to slide out of the post and back to his natural position off the block. With a nice jump shot that extends to 15 feet – not fully taken advantage of with him needed in the middle – Murphy is capable of assuming some of the lost scoring load.
Brian Williams lost confidence during this season, but he has a history of being a productive player and will be given an opportunity reestablish himself next season.
Those four – Forte, Cobbins, Murphy and Williams – have all been Big 12 starters.
And should Nash return, he’d be one of the conference’s premier players.
Is that enough to contend at the top of the Big 12? Probably not, although that’s a solid squad.
OSU’s hopes for moving up rest with new, or improved, parts.
Freshman Leyton Hammonds, in a limited role, finally showed glimpses of his ability down the stretch after struggling to adapt to this level initially. A former high school star, the 6-foot-7 Hammonds got everyone’s attention in practices. Same with Jeffrey Carroll, another former prep standout who redshirted this season in an effort to add bulk to a thin frame.
“Leyton Hammonds, he’ll be ready to go next year,” Brown said. “He’s a great ballplayer. I’ve seen it in practice all day long.
“And Jeffrey Carroll, he shoots heck out of the ball.”
More help – OSU coaches believe significant help – is on the way.
The Cowboys have a top-20 recruiting class already signed and remain on the list of elite 7-footer Myles Turner. If they could somehow land Turner, they’d soar in the recruiting rankings and Big 12 projections.
Even without Turner, there’s much to like about the four players already on board: four-star prospects Jared Terrell, Joe Burton and Mitch Solomon, and junior college point guard Jeff Newberry.
Terrell and Burton were both premium scorers in high school who picked up multiple postseason honors, while Solomon is a much-needed big man with skills and a reputation as a bruising screen setter. Newberry answers an immediate need at the point.
The Cowboys also have a commitment from Louisiana prep point guard Tyree Griffin. He was recently named All-Metro Player of the Year for large schools by the New Orleans Times-Picayune after leading his team to a state title, averaging 17 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Griffin is expected to officially sign with OSU in April.
So the Cowboys have pieces for a makeover, a new look and feel.
They’ll be different without Brown and Smart, and perhaps Nash, too.
But what if different isn’t such a bad thing?