NORMAN — Je'lon Hornbeak has made a subtle change in practice.
Instead of driving with his dominant hand — his right — the Oklahoma sophomore guard is trying to broaden his game by concentrating on ignoring that side during practice.
“Most of my drives in practice are left-handed,” Hornbeak said this week as the Sooners continue practice in advance of a trip to France and Belgium that begins next week. “Just to show something different and get comfortable with it.
“It's just about being more comfortable so whichever way I go, they (defenders) have to square me up instead of just forcing me one way.”
Hornbeak sometimes felt uneasy with the ball last season.
“I'm just working on handling it under control at my pace, speeding up and changing pace and things like that and just reading the floor,” he said. “I felt like I could read the floor last year, I just wasn't comfortable with the ball. Now, I feel more comfortable with it and it's getting better.”
Hornbeak's offseason didn't get off to a roaring start.
Not long after the Sooners were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, Hornbeak suffered a stress fracture in his foot that kept him out of action for a few weeks.
Hornbeak was ready to get back to work after a disappointing first-round exit and instead had to sit and watch.
“We really took it hard, even though we did make it to the NCAA Tournament,” Hornbeak said. “That just wasn't enough for us. We wanted even more. That really helped us work even harder and push each other even harder, then I got hurt.”
Hornbeak has come back strong, though, showing no effects of the foot injury that slowed him in the spring.
Hornbeak credits Sam Grooms, who graduated after last season, with helping bring him along quickly.
Since Grooms arrived back in town recently, the pair spend plenty of evenings together, doing ball-handling drills in the practice gym at Lloyd Noble Center.
Grooms has also helped Hornbeak work to improve his balance.
“That was a big thing too last year,” Hornbeak said. “I would get by a guy and lose balance and fall. So just keeping my balance, even through contact, is something we've worked on. He's been working on hitting me so I get strong with that.”
Hornbeak started 29 games last year, including the final nine, averaging 5.6 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists.
He and the other returning guards, especially fellow sophomores Isaiah Cousins and Buddy Hield, figure to key the Sooners this season, especially early.
The Sooners will press more this season than last year, when the trio were freshmen just getting acclimated to college basketball and the Big 12.
“We're a little quicker than we were last year,” Hornbeak said. “We're going to fly around and use our length against them. We don't get tired.”
The main thing Hornbeak is looking for is consistency, for himself and for the team.
“We had ups and downs last season,” he said. “We weren't real consistent, especially on offense. We just want to level that out so everybody's shooting the ball well every night.”