NORMAN — Last year could've been lonely for Ryan Spangler.
It could've been the same for D.J. Bennett.
But for Oklahoma's duo of 6-foot-8 forwards, having each other to go through the process made the time easier to swallow.
After both Spangler and Bennett sat out last basketball season, both figure to play important roles this year for the Sooners — Spangler as a starter and Bennett playing significant minutes off the bench.
Oklahoma opens its season against Alabama at 4 p.m. Friday at Dallas' American Airlines Center.
Spangler grew up just down the road from Norman, starring at Bridge Creek High School.
But then-Sooners coach Jeff Capel didn't recruit Spangler, and he wound up signing with Gonzaga.
Bennett, from Chicago, went to Indian Hills Community College in Iowa. He seemed destined to wind up at Arkansas before a visit on a weekend filled with severe storms in April 2012 changed his mind.
A big part of that was Spangler's decision to come to Oklahoma, though that was pretty much decided when Sooners coach Lon Kruger told him he had a spot in Norman.
The pair committed to the Sooners on the same day.
Spangler had to sit out last season after transferring, but Bennett approached Kruger just before the season and asked to redshirt in order to work on his game and play a bigger role.
That meant Spangler had a redshirt partner.
“It was definitely nice,” Bennett said. “The better thing about it is we both like to work hard. We worked harder off each others' energy.
“That friendly competition made us go harder at each other so it's definitely helped us.”
The back-and-forth competition was nice, but Spangler was ready for a game situation long before the Sooners left for a five-game tour in Belgium and France in August.
“I've been getting a little tired of practicing for a year,” Spangler said.
Now Spangler is ready to make his regular-season debut with the Sooners.
In Monday night's exhibition finale against Oklahoma Christian, Spangler showed off the change in his game from his freshman season at Gonzaga.
He spent last year and the offseason refining his shooting touch, working with assistant coach Steve Henson to add 3-point shooting to his repertoire.
“In high school I could shoot a little bit, in college (at Gonzaga) I could shoot a little bit, but when I came here, Henson really worked on my form and worked on my confidence and I think that's where I've taken the biggest step,” Spangler said. “Once you can hit outside shots, everything on the inside opens up and it's so much easier.”
Spangler flashed that against the Eagles, knocking down a 3-pointer early in the game.
But Spangler's inside game remains the cornerstone of his game.
“He commands the paint and he talks so well that it really allows us to work and move as a unit,” sophomore guard Je'lon Hornbeak said.
Bennett, still recovering from a partially torn tendon in his foot suffered last month, saw more action than in the first exhibition.
He should be close to full strength in time for the season opener.