STILLWATER — Travis Ford avoids most media reports, good and bad, so pointed criticisms must work their way to the Oklahoma State basketball coach.
And they eventually do.
“I hear about it all. I hear everything,” Ford said Thursday, chatting with reporters during a postseason wrap-up inside his office at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
“It doesn’t affect how I work every day. I’ve always been very, very driven, and probably overly competitive.
“Do you wish it weren’t there? Yeah, you wish it weren’t there, because you know what’s driving it is wins and losses. You want to win.”
To that end – the wins and losses part – Ford said he shares the same pain.
Expectations soared for this season, both nationally and inside the OSU program. And the result failed to deliver, with the Cowboys going 8-10 in the Big 12 Conference and suffering another first-round loss in the NCAA Tournament, with injury and incidents a part of the narrative.
Now the Cowboys are set to lose their top two players, Marcus Smart and Markel Brown, casting concern over next season.
Ford, however, casts a different outlook: optimism.
“I’m anxious to get started,” he said. “I believe in this team.”
Why? And how?
More pieces, with ongoing recruiting efforts offering a boost in depth and perhaps overall talent.
And better-fitting pieces, with the newcomers, along with the expected return to health of big man Michael Cobbins, suggesting improved versatility and more natural roles for players forced out of position this season.
“As we saw this year, nothing guarantees you. Nothing,” Ford said. “There are teams that lose a bunch of players and come back and do great. There are teams with players coming back with high expectations and things don’t go the way they want.
“But I like our basketball team. I like the pieces of it. We have good experience, combined with good freshmen coming in. We’re going to have a whole lot more depth, especially inside. I like our pieces a lot.”
The return of Cobbins allows Kamari Murphy to slide from the post to a forward spot, where his skills play better. And if Le’Bryan Nash returns, he benefits, too, with a move further from traffic.
OSU will add at least one more big man to the mix in Bixby four-star recruit Mitchell Solomon. And the coaching staff isn’t done yet in its search for big bodies, with elite prep center Myles Turner still in play, as well as others, including Tennessee State transfer M.J. Rhett, a 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward who has already visited OSU in his search for a new college home.
Along with Solomon, the Cowboys have already signed four-star prospects in guard Jared Terrell and wing Joe Burton, as well as junior college point guard Jeff Newberry. They also have a commitment from prep point guard Tyree Griffin, who will sign during the next period.
There are known pieces, too, in Cobbins, Murphy, Phil Forte, Brian Williams and perhaps Nash, who has strongly hinted at a return for a senior season. And there are youngsters Leyton Hammonds and Jeffrey Carroll, whom Ford and players have raved about regularly.
“(Carroll’s) nickname is cannon, that’s what they nicknamed him,” Ford said. “And he is.”
Hammonds, after misplacing his confidence early, finally started showing some glimpses of what he can offer as an athletic 6-7 wing man down the stretch.
“Leyton Hammonds, he’s a guy who will be three times as good next year as he was this year,” Ford said.
So Ford has optimism. And to be better, it’s not like the Cowboys have some high bar to stretch for in the 8-10 conference mark that resulted in an eighth-place finish.
Next season will be big for OSU basketball.
Big for Ford. Big for fans. Big for support.
“We always want to do more,” Ford said. “You want to win games. You want to go further in the NCAA Tournament. There is no doubt about that. There is no question.
“With that said, our kids are working hard every single day. They played hard every single game. They fought through a lot of adversity this year to do some good things. We won 21 games after going through a tough stretch. We’ve gone to the NCAA Tournament four out of six years. Those are good things. We’ve won a lot of big games. There are some things that are very positive.
“Do we want more? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That’s the goal. I promise you, I live and breathe it and eat and sleep it. That’s my plan. That’s what I’m focused on.”