NORMAN — Lost in the shuffle of an NCAA investigation, the departure of five underclassmen and exit of two assistant coaches is the fact the Oklahoma men's basketball team will feature nine newcomers next season. A staggering figure. Nametags might come in handy the first few days of practice. Thankfully for the fans, the names of the new players will be on the back of their jerseys during the season. For now, The Oklahoman breaks down these newcomers and how they might integrate into the rotation, as the Sooners attempt to bounce back from last year's disappointing season.
BackcourtLast month, coach Jeff Capel emphasized the importance of finding a point guard to replace Tommy Mason-Griffin and Willie Warren, who handled the bulk of the ball-handling last season. Capel didn't just land one point guard. He landed two. How quickly Carl Blair, a transfer from the University of New Orleans, and Calvin Newell, a prep school product out of the Philadelphia area, pick up Capel's offense could dictate whether the Sooners are competitive within the league next season. Blair averaged 9.2 points and 3.7 assists for New Orleans last year. Unlike Mississippi State transfer forward Romero Osby, Newell will be immediately eligible because New Orleans is transitioning from Division I to Division III. "I think Carl is talented,” Capel said. "I also think he has a toughness and really wants to prove he can play at this level and I think he can.” While Blair is known for his on-court leadership, Newell's reputation is built on scoring. As a senior in high school, he averaged almost 30 points a game, and will be asked to provide the Sooners with much-needed perimeter scoring punch. "He can really, really score the basketball,” Capel said. "Very, very competitive kid. Really tough kid, with his upbringing in Philly.” With Blair and Newell probable to platoon the point-guard duties, that will free up Capel to utilize the strengths of incoming freshman combo guard T.J. Taylor. Stoutly built at 6-3, Taylor is capable of handling the ball and running a team, but more effective when he is able to focus on scoring, which he can do in a variety of ways. "He's got really good size; strong, athletic,” Capel said. "A left-hander. As a guard, that can be difficult to defend.” With senior Cade Davis a lock to start at the off-guard, Taylor could vie for a starting role if Capel decides to start three guards. Or, along with rising sophomore shooting guard Steven Pledger, be asked to provide offensive pop off the bench. With his size and potential to defend either guard spot, Taylor could develop into OU's top perimeter defender.
FrontcourtOf all of Capel's recruits, the player who could make the biggest impact is 6-foot-6 slashing wing Cameron Clark. The favorite to start at small forward, Clark averaged 21 points and 7.5 rebounds a game as a high school senior. "Cam is very athletic,” Capel said. "Can really score. Kind of an elite-level wing, an elite-level athlete. I think he has tremendous potential.” The skills of Putnam City West product Tyler Neal could complement Clark's strengths of well. While Clark thrives on finishing in transition, Neal, the Oklahoma high school player of the year, is a shoot-first wing, who's also a competent passer. "He's got really good upside,” Capel said. "An inside-out player. He just turned 17, so I think he has so much room for growth in his game.” Capel has added three bodies to help out rising sophomore Andrew Fitzgerald, the team's lone returning player inside. The two most likely to make an impact next season are junior-college transfers Nick Thompson and C.J. Washington, who should battle for the bulk of playing time alongside Fitzgerald on the post. Washington, a junior-college All-American and a native of Stringtown, averaged 19.3 points and 13.0 rebounds for Connors State last season. Thompson, out of Eastern Idaho, scored 8.6 points and grabbed 4.4 rebounds a game last year. "C.J. put up great numbers, but the thing I was most impressed with was his rebounding. He'll give us depth,” Capel said. "Nick is a skilled 4 man. He played the 3 last year for his team, a little out of position. He's a stretch 4, a guy who can stretch the defense out. He has a good skill set, really good size. He has to work to put on weight, but I don't think that will be a problem.” Rounding out the incoming class is Abdi Ahmed, who while intriguing, could be a year away from contribution. A London native, Ahmed spent last year refining his game at a basketball academy in the Canary Islands. But at 6-foot-10, he could end up becoming one of the top finds of this class. "He's a kid that's big, a good athlete,” Capel said. "He plays hard, competes. And he wants to be really good.”