STILLWATER — Keiton Page poked fun at Le'Bryan Nash the other day.
Yep, the most earthbound college basketball player around was giving grief to one of the most athletic players in the country.
“Coach, didn't Le'Bryan win the McDonald's dunk contest?” Page joked with Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford. “How'd that happen?”
Sometimes, you have to wonder.
But not Monday night.
Nash showed that athleticism in a 72-65 victory over Oklahoma. He drove to the basket. He beat defenders off the dribble. He crashed the boards. He created for teammates.
As a result, Nash had the best all-around game of his Cowboy career, and a team searching for offensive life got a surge.
He tied a career high with 21 points, but he had eight rebounds and three assists with only three turnovers.
“I liked his gears,” Ford said. “I like the fact that he decided to turn it up a couple times.
“We tell him all the time, ‘Show your athleticism.'”
Maybe that message is starting to sink in.
Nash was clearly the most athletic guy on the Gallagher-Iba Arena court on Monday night. Truth is, he's probably that guy most nights the Cowboys take to the floor. The 6-foot-6, 230-pound freshman has a rare combination of strength, leaping ability and agility.
But you wouldn't always know it.
It wasn't all that many days ago that Nash had back-to-back four-point games. One came against Virginia Tech, but the other was against SMU.
Four points against SMU?
That doesn't exactly sound like a guy who most folks said could've gone to the NBA out of high school if the association allowed such things.
Ford admitted some of the blame for Nash's erratic play this season goes to the coaches. They thought he would be their low-post scorer.
The role didn't suit him.
Now on the perimeter, Nash looks more comfortable. Still, the preps-to-college transition hasn't been as easy as everyone thought it would be for him, so the adjustment period continues.
“I'm being more aggressive,” Nash said. “I know I'm a good scorer, so I just try to help this team out how I can.”
Ford said: “We're trying to get him in better spots to score. We're going to try to get him in some situations where he can get guys one-on-one.”
If I was Ford, I'd grab Nash by the shoulders and tell him if he found himself in a one-on-one matchup, he'd better put the ball on the floor and go to the hole.
When Nash does that, something good is almost always bound to happen. Maybe he'll have a shot that's closer to the basket and easier to make. Or maybe he'll get all the way to the hole and score. Or maybe he'll draw a foul.
All are good options, since he's got a good jump shot, can finish around the rim and is even a darn good free throw shooter.
“We like it when he puts the ball on the floor,” Ford said.
He tells Nash as much.
“But Coach,” Nash will answer, “I can shoot the three.”
True, but he can dominate if he goes to the hole.
Take a sequence late in the first half Monday night. Nash caught the ball in the corner with only one Sooner between him and the basket. The defender was well off him, but instead of taking it at him, Nash pulled up for a three.
It clanged off the rim.
Even with those type of moments, this Bedlam game was another big step for Nash. In OSU's conference opener against Texas Tech, he went for 21 points, and the other night at Texas, he had 12 points.
He seems to be hitting a stride.
He even showed some of the flair that helped him win the McDonald's dunk contest with last spring. In the second half, he drove the lane and tried to throw down a big slam.
A Sooner foul sent him instead to the line, where he made both free throws.
“I don't know what he was trying to do,” Ford said, chuckling. “He looked at me like, ‘That's what you've been telling me to do.'”
He showed that athleticism.
If the Cowboys want to have a chance at navigating this conference, they need to keep encouraging that kind of play from Nash. Grab him by the shoulders. Subject him to ribbing by 5-foot-9 guys. Do whatever it takes.